After The Fact

It went well, I understood. 
What follows, who knows?
Who follows, what is known?
I did my part and there is emptiness, a yawning gap
in experience
How will the results play out?
Who will play, who's out?

On stage, in the spotlight, I get to raise my voice
I am heard
I am seen
I am perceived
That is not my purpose, however.

Rather, what is worth your while?
How will we make good use of the time?
("The client does the work, the client does the work")
My ministry resides in involvement
I facilitate your engagement 
with the material.
My approach is relational  -
it's not enough to listen and watch.
That's why you must speak
to this partner, then to another partner
Again and again.

I am no one's answer
I come bearing resources
and ways of thinking, processing
We will always run out of time
I'm not interested in sales.
What did you learn?
Where are your thoughts taking you?

To facilitate necessitates letting go
The process belongs to participants
Outcomes result from honest engagement
(I am not the race whisperer)
Opening space means folks can fall
fall in, fall through, fall out
They can also stride in, spread out
stretch their thinking, claim their position.

That's why after the fact feels hard
having let go and not knowing
where seeds can perhaps take root.
Detachment and non-expectation become 
tangible practices in need of rehearsal.
Planting, growing and harvesting are 
each their own thing,
require their own seasons.

After the fact is before the next
Non-closure at the end that is only a meager
an tiny opening to a slightly larger
Making peace, an act of reluctant patience.
After the fact I am a full blown uneasiness
A swirling escalation of nosiness.
As usual I am a work in progress.

At some point
after the fact 
I will roll to a stop and rest.

Say What You Want

What I want to say is that I'm hanging,
hanging in there
but also           by a thread.
I seem to be in the middle of something that will never be finished that will never be over that will never be done. When life is a run on sentence
without parole.

The rules about what you can and cannot say, who you can and cannot be are constantly being hammered out by folks wielding hammers which is to say not everyone holds a hammer and certain hammers are only for pounding. Certain hands are only for punching

What I want to say is that I'm with you
I'm with you even when I'm not. I carry on, you carry on, we're carrying on like friendly acquaintances. We wave and smile and carry on. What I want to say is that I'm carrying you

What I don't want to say.
What I wish I could say.
What I'm saying by not saying.

There's despair and there's continuation. There's despair and there's laundry. There's despair and there's consumerism. There's a war and there's reporting on the war. There's despair and there's distance. There's the surface and there's the undercurrent. There's despair and there's another day.
There's me and there's absence. 

What I want to say is that I'm looking
I'm looking for something not forthcoming. I'm looking for something I know to be an illusion. I'm looking for what I can't see. I'm looking because I'm afraid of the dark, I'm afraid of listening, I'm afraid I'll miss the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm looking where there is no light. I'm looking for validation and credence. I'm looking for the impossible. Is it

What I want to say is that brilliance has an expiration date.
What I want to say is that brilliance is often mistaken for something else, somebody else what and who are not you. What I want to say is that brilliance burns. What I want to say is that brilliance can be contained. Brilliance can be buried. Brilliance can be smashed. What I want to say is that brilliance stays active. Brilliance fights back. Brilliance spirals. I'm not looking for brilliance. It finds 

What I want to say is not every word is truth.
There is room for exaggeration, for hyperbole, for tall tall tales. Let me tell you. What I want to say is that poetic license requires no application. Words released to the page have rules they either follow or don't. What I want to say is that you are the rule and you are not the rule. You may have license but you can't always get your way. What I want to say is that truth and honesty don't always have the same address.

What I want to say is that I'm hanging
hanging in there
but         by a thread.
What I want to say is that I'm hanging onto words and what they promise. I'm hanging on to the prospect of receiving myself, hanging on to the prospect of carrying on. What I want to say is that I still look for brilliance. What I want to say is that I forgive the truth for being dishonest. What I want to say is that validation is temporary and despair tastes like many things unsweet. 

What I do not want to say
What I wish I could say
What I'm saying by not saying.

*Here is an audio version recorded by my friend and colleague, Mischele Jamgochian:
Cluster of white bark birch tree trunks against yellowish leaf background near top of photo.
<a href=”http://Photo by <a href=””>Peng Chen</a> on <a href=””>UnsplashPhoto by Peng Chen

SOL 22 #13 I might be sick, but…

I might be sick, because I’m achy all over and my feet refuse to get warm.

I might be sick because it seems like everyone else is sick; why not me, too?
I might be sick but I really don't think we have any PE subs left.
I might be sick because I'm still freezing although snuggled under two blankets in a well heated room.
I might be sick because I had a slight temperature in the afternoon but a negative Covid test.
I might be sick because although I went skating for the last time of the season, my energy was low and it felt nearly impossible to stay warm.
I might be sick but I'm still functional, I guess. That's a problem.
I might be functional while sick and warrior-teacher mentality wants me to soldier on just to prove that I'm actually OK.
But I'm probably not.
I might be sick and I'm probably sick and really I should just throw in the towel and rest until I feel better.
And that's the hardest because who can afford to be sick at a time like this?
Rest is not the enemy, infection is.
I might be sick but... and it's time to follow all the advice I've been dispensing to others.

Let’s talk about fear

Of course the terms I would rather use include trepidation, hesitancy, or reluctance. Fear seems so stark, too strong a word to describe the feeling I get as I marshal my resources, gather my gumption, brace myself and go meet that class.
Fear before teaching? Before greeting a boisterous line of bubbly seven year olds or know-no-patience fourth graders? Fear of children seeking the the things that children seek: excitement, fun, attention, distraction, etc? What on earth is there to be afraid of?

I stopped saying 'practice makes perfect' because nothing can ever be perfect. I know it's just a saying but it's easy to get attached to the perfect part. I've been practicing showing up for kids for most of my adult years and I am no closer to perfect than when I started. I am practiced. 'Practice makes practiced' is true but has no ring. So there I am, practiced and handling my reservations (there's another nice term) like a too hot potato with no one to toss it to. I appear before students, practiced and masked, moderately prepared, while hoping against hope that the worst that could happen, does not.
The worst that could happen is this giant unknown - unpracticed, unrehearsed, unpredictable - that travels with me, never fully identified but weighty nonetheless. Visibly invisible, kind of like my fear (there, I said it!), the giant unknown turns out to be a me rather than a you problem. Turns out, the giant unknown is me. I arrive practiced and masked but know, by chance, by circumstance, by 9:45- the mask may drop, and I shall be revealed - the monster within becomes the monster without- and then we have a real problem on our hands.

Routines help. Rituals soothe. Sometimes there's a groove that cradles us all, holds us captive in an engrossing, absorbing kind of way. We run out of time, happily. Sometimes all my practice produces mysteriously inventive interludes; I exceed my wildest expectations. We experience a learning high. We - the kids and I and our ridiculous imaginations - pull it together and pull it off - the impossible possible: A good time, no take-backs.

A balancing act, the act of balancing. but that's exactly not it. Balance remains a myth, a thing we talk about in the abstract because we know it hardly exists in reality. I know no balance. I am present and I am praying. My spirit perturbed and jumpy; vigilant and at attention - time seeps through me from one end of class to the other. Not even the illusion of balance, my body performs a lucid survival ethic. I go down on one knee, I stand on my hands, I do cartwheel of uncertainty.
My education is physical.

Directions, instructions, reminders, requests - a relentless parade of communications. Containers for procedure, often leaky, never airtight. Written, oral; direct, in passing; an elaboration, a gesture. A shopping cart's pile of options, so often an excess. What needs saying can be hard to find. It takes time to dig through all that's there. So I improvise and miss the mark or catch the drift. Hearing and listening are not the same thing. I employ loud music to cover my tracks. What you see is what you hear is what's happening. What is happening?

Hello, experience, my old friend, home of all my educated guesses. Even knowing what I know, having seen what I've seen, when the going gets tough, I'm sure that's when you hide. I become a novice all over again. but not young. No, an old and tired and uninspired novice. How it feels to meet my match, to catch the resistance, to counter the pushback. I throw up my shield and appeal to their better angels. From the outside looking in, I am holding my own. I am breathing through the storm. Disaster averted. Miraculously, we are back on track.

The fear, the trepidation, the dread, the frightful anticipation - These all reside in me, in my practice. 
I recently received the most generous valentine from a students who wrote:
"You are a great PE teacher and always make the best out of terrible situations."
The best out of terrible situations... 
The fear and the discovery, the fear and the movement, the fear and the next time.
make the best out of terrible
make, not take; best out of, not best instead of
make the best out of terrible.
grow alongside fear; change while scared; shift under stress.

So this is what it means to be seen.
Sherri (black woman in a fleece red panda onesie wearing a black face mask) stands in a small gym with equipment set out in an obstacle course with mats, benches, wall bars, low balance beams.
Subject as masked red panda.

What happens when…

What happens when a student brings a problem that you can discuss but not solve?

What happens when that problem needles you for the rest of the day?

What happens when you realize that the sermon you gave in response was for someone other than the people who had to listen to it?

What happens when you discover that you were triggered, but only long after the fact?

What happens when you arrive home unexpectedly morose and depleted?

What happens after you drink the calming tea and settle into the big chair with a familiar text?

What happens when you decide upon arriving in the kitchen that it is in fact possible for you to cook a meal this very evening?

What happens when you’ve taken the last bite of satisfying homemade cuisine?

What happens when your sense of equilibrium appears reinstated, for the time being at least?

What happens when you allow your mind to wander and the words to march across the screen?

What happens when you release the steam of guilt/frustration/lethargy in a series of generous sighs?

What happens when you drop your shoulders and measure the tension they’ve been holding?

What happens when you realize that weariness and wariness are more closely related than you suspected?

What happens when it dawns on you that the trigger from the afternoon had to do with injustice and privilege and that it actually enraged you?

What happens when the awareness reaches you that the power to say when formal rules apply in informal situations is most often assumed, rather than negotiated?

What happens when you notice that we – educators, parents, adults in general – really avoid talking about power, I mean, naming it in our immediate surroundings?

What happens when you acknowledge that once you identify power, how it moves, how it’s shaped, that you can never unsee it?

What happens when you digress?

What happens when you give in to rest?

What happens when you learn to let go?

What happens when you just stop?

Words for now

Image via Pixabay
What's hard is
what's hard is reaching an understanding. We say
r e a c h an understanding like walking over a bridge,
a bridge over troubled water, perhaps,
to reach an understanding. 
But the bridge
right under our feet.
We are no longer standing
we can no longer reach
we have fallen down
and that's what's hard.

What's hard about people
What's hard about people is trying to 
understand them.
What's hard about people is trying to understand
why on god's green earth
they are not more like us.
What's hard about people is trying to understand
why in the world
we can't be more like them.
What's hard about people is trying to understand
why on god's green earth
it's so damn difficult to be a person.

What I see
What I see is that knowing is usually not enough
What I know is that feeling depends
What I hear is what others say
what I guess is that I don't know what to believe
What I think is not really the topic
What I suspect is that we are very afraid
What I imagine 
what I imagine
what I imagine remains a mystery.

How do we resist our own commodification as agents of change?

I want
you want
they want
Conjugation will not resolve the confusion
Human being doing
right wrong
Grammar will not protect us from disappointment
no one
not one, none
but this one

What will enable us to remain critical of the systems that employ our services yet fail to change policy & paradigms?

Critical as condition
critical as credence
critical as credibility
critical as calling card
critical as casualty
critical as casual
critical as clamor
critical as crisis
critical as content
critical as contentious
critical as contempt
critical as conflict
critical as conflicted
critical as collateral
critical as consumable
critical as credit
critical as clash
critical as cash

Back to understanding
Standing Back
to back
Backing up
standing back
Back to understanding
might take a while.

Tired of Achievement

Close up of tan short-haired dog stretched out on a sandy beach. cloudy blue sky and sea horizon in background.
Photo by Ruel Madelo on
I took my thoughts for a walk. Cold/cool/brisk air on my face feels good/not bad/needed. I walk
while others along the same route jog/cycle/push themselves. Few pant. Everyone in their own way is dressed for the elements. Everyone in their own way seems prepared for cold/cool/brisk air. All of us are out. I walk neither fast nor slow. This is no workout. I am walking to drop off our PCR tests then circling back, strolling through the little Saturday market, then past the side-by-side cemeteries. For a moment I think of ascending the big hill drive that divides them. That would feel like a workout. I easily decide against it. I walk and my head brims with useful and less useful thoughts. It's OK because I'm taking my thoughts for a walk. This is their chance. I don't begrudge my thoughts their moment in the sun.

I walk past the hillside vineyard which is striking in the midst of otherwise residential territory. The vineyard as breathing space, a clearing for the eyes to recalibrate. It is always a welcome break in the visual action. Today there is a small team of eight workers pruning the vines. I wonder which language they speak with each other, how much they get paid, how long it might take them to finish the whole plot. When I return on my way back they are absent, but their van remains. It's lunchtime. I wonder where they take their lunch although it is everything but my business to know.

I'm near the tail end of my loop. I notice the same venturers on bikes, on foot completing their own loop-de-loops. That's where it hits me that I am tired. Tired of achievement. Tired of driving/striving/edging myself and others forward, forward. Tired of achievement to measure my worth. Tired of achievement to identify belonging. Tired of achievement as the price of admission. Tired of achievement as the lens I use to recognize others. Tired of achievement as a false god to whom all sacrifices must be dedicated. Tired of achievement as gospel. Tired of achievement as mandate. Tired of achievement as an institutional safety blanket. Tired of achievement as a broken record. Tired of achievement as the only record.

Isn't it ironic that I have made a career working in schools? In achievement factories. 

But that's the thing. Students insist that there is always more than silly achievement. They show it. They speak and sing it. They write it. They play it. They dramatize it. They outsmart/outrun/outpace it. They skip it. They perform it. They hold it hostage. They hold it back. They hold it over our heads. They override it. They fake it. They make it. They deliver and withdraw it. They illustrate it. They erase it. They toss it. They remix it. They've got it. They are over it. 

They are why I stay in schools. I am studying their achievement of resisting/retiring/releasing achievement. They teach me. They make me less tired.

I make it home, allow my thoughts to run wild on the page. We are all relieved. Peace is a challenge and always only temporary. I can accept that on a walk in the cold/cool/brisk air. 

Decisions Instead of Reason

Fully foggy tableau with faint, shadowy outline of a broad evergreen tree in the middle.
We’ll see. We’ll wait and see. (image: Spelic)

I run on feelings and language. Emotions and words. When we return to school complete with our testing regime and mask requirement I should feel if not safe, then at least somewhat protected. After almost two years it seems silly to worry now, after 3 shots of the vaccine. We’ve come this far, right?

Austria’s newly appointed chancellor (who replaced the previous super young chancellor caught in the middle of a corruption scandal) tested positive for Covid-19 today. During a press conference of the government’s Covid Response Team, the health minister who is apparently a physician, took down his mask and coughed into his hand, only moments after reminding his audience about the importance of maintaining hygiene protocols. I suppose it could be funny, if it weren’t so tiresome. There is no Schadenfreude to be had here. It’s all the worst kind of cabaret. Bad jokes in poor taste.

Feelings and language. Emotions and words. Everything matters even if nothing matters – this is a whole mood right now. Ski season can crack on while infection numbers ratchet up. But now we should wear masks outdoors if we can’t maintain a baby elephant’s distance. Absurdity can have a certain charm on the page or the stage. It upsets my reality stomach though. When reason becomes the thing we choose to finally abandon, what’s the basis for making reasonable decisions? Aha! In that case, the only possible decisions become unreasonable! Decisions without reason; decisions instead of reason.

I think I finally grasp wit’s end. The Austrian government seems to have reached it and we are all spectators. We the people become the very end of wit. Humor lost, trust broken. The government’s credibility has been steadily gambled away.

Feelings and language. Emotions and words. Let me get this straight: if you’re vaccinated and boosted (3 separate shots) in Austria, you are no longer considered a contact person to a covid-infected person and must no longer isolate. That’s a new guideline. But now that the chancellor has tested positive, the health minister who has obviously been in close contact has decided to voluntarily self-isolate for 5 days although he just announced that this is no longer necessary for working folks.

Decisions without reason; decisions instead of reason.

I know that school will resume for at least a week or two. And then we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll watch and wait. See how attendance pans out. See what the test results tell us. Teach indoors, teach outdoors. Wear our masks. Carry on without carrying on. Do the deed. I’m bracing myself for not knowing. I’m bracing myself.

Emotions calling for words. Feelings overwhelming language. This is how I roll.

56=7 X 8 An Accounting

56 opportunities to say a thing, more than less, perhaps enough
Born, yes, in Cleveland. A negro of negroes. Documented.
Raised right, in the church Lutheran and steadfast
We lived down the street and had the extra key to St Philip's.
Wordy child, moody and temperamental
Youngest, some said spoiled; an entertainer.
Black neighborhood other
You talk like a white girl.

Independent School of East Cleveland
a mouthful
Belonging and not belonging, in and out
School life in a nutshell
Brady, Eric, Tia carpool 
Dads who called each other Mister
After school at Mrs Atwater's until mom came
I remember those days.

Middle school, Lutheran school
Desks, bells, grades, rows, blackboards
Obedient and built for it
3 wishes: cheerleading, saddle shoes, to be liked
Meatloaf sang: 2 out of 3 ain't bad.
Billy Joel sang: Vienna waits for you
Steely Dan sang: Sure, he's a jolly roger
Until he answers for his crime

I didn't know what that was about
Still I sang.
High school, preppy prep school
Button downs, corduroys, turtlenecks
Fit the fit, fitting in, to fit
Everybody's friend, 
bravely naive, blessedly compliant
Never a fuss. So nice.

Good girl goes to college
East coast Ivy league
Solo arrival by Greyhound with a heavy chest;
a literal cedar chest with my stuff
Best friend roommate from the coast of Maine
My biggest takeaway from the Hill
was Cath, the lack to my luster
What college was for

Everything else is Vienna
Everything else is German and English
Everything else is language and misunderstanding
Everything else is men, kids and change
Everything else is stories of the story of why I'm still here
Everything else is choosing and making the most
Everything else is living without so much knowing

What's missing is all the in betweens
What's missing is all the details no one needs
What's missing is where you fit in exactly
What's missing is when the scales tipped
What's missing is the time I chose to be me
What's missing is all the times I chose to be someone else.
What's missing is all the squishy parts
What's missing is the end.

This is just to say

Again, I'm speaking in emotions, that language you find so difficult. I'm sorry
not sorry, it's all I've got right now. How come feelings get such a bad rap?
How come you're not supposed to speak in feelings out loud where other 
people can hear you? Why are feelings supposed to be bottled up? Is it some
kind of marketing campaign? Is someone else going to sell my bottled up
feelings and make a profit but I'll never know about it? Is that how this works?
Let me say this: the right words to flimmer across my screen can make me cry.
Sometimes I shout to signal that I really prefer order and my voice wants to be
the law. I shout not to scare you but to command your attention. It's a 
primitive method, I'll agree. It often works. My emotions are talking and 
sometimes they get loud and don't ask permission. What I want for you and what you want for yourself 
are probably not the same thing but they might be related, like second cousins
once removed. And if you know what that means then maybe my emotion language
is not as foreign as you thought. And maybe my communication follows, falls, 
finagles a way into your hippocampus around about your frontal cortex circumventing
your hungry amygdala but probably not. Maybe it's just going in one ear and out the other,
unscathed, unbothered. This is just to say
This is just to say
just to say
to say
nothing more.
I might be done. You can stop listening if you ever were.