Dis appointment

Disappointment happens when our expectations are not fulfilled.

From some we will hear that our expectations were in fact

the mistake.

Dis appointment – could easily be mis appointment

In correct

Dis connect

ill timed dispatch

which shall find no repair

or rematch

Dis joint time out of mind

Or mind out of joint

Or simply out of time

Disappointment stings not once but now again

and again

Disappoint me

measure my sag

Put that dent in my swag

Watch me deflate

go flat

step back.

 

I hear you revving up your optimism machine. Ready to aim it in my direction, pump me up with your elixir of cheer. Save yourself the trouble. Let me have my struggle and sway with my slump. There’s value in the valley so I’ve been told. Let me conduct my own investigations here in the dust and dregs.

The disappointment here is not just here

It’s part and parcel of an

enveloping

dismay

Me to the future: so you legit gonna be like that?

And the future’s like: Yup.

To hell in a handbasket

we thought we never knew what that really meant

but Surprise!

Now we will.

We’ll be in the basket

(In fact, we are the basket)

hands waving

careening hellwards,

our expectations

finally spot on.

Disappointment is no longer the word.

It is all that’s left.

Soccer unit inside and out

“Welcome to our soccer unit – highly anticipated for many of you – it’s on!”

(Some of them can hardly contain themselves, can’t wait to launch the ball towards the goal at record speed. Watch this one dribble like a pro, make the cross then execute that heel pass into the net right through the mystified goalie’s legs.

See how they run – chasing down that ball, beating the opponent – so much glory in 5 seconds before the ball is reclaimed by the better dribbler.

Soccer, my least favorite unit to teach. There, I said it. Yet, every year I get a little better at it. I let go of the reins a little more; observe and coach. I take on their input. I spend less time “curbing” their enthusiasm; more time letting them find their way into games they will deem satisfying. The know-it-all-bend-it-like-Beckham-watch-me-I’m-Messi Saturday morning experts can get under my skin if they press me too hard. But now I’m prepared for them: Yes, there will be games throughout the unit but small-sided. No, we’re not playing boys against girls, ever.)

*Students engage in free soccer play around the gym. No one is idle.*

(Why do I resist this unit so deeply? What am I afraid of? I can answer that. I am afraid of failing, of looking foolish, of missing the mark, of being mocked for my lack of visible expertise… Is that enough?

Every time I meet my classes, this fear is lurking beneath the surface – what if they resist my plans? What if they don’t follow the plan? What if they hate what I’ve written on the board? I am steeled for their push back and it almost never comes. Or when it does, it’s perfectly understandable. Like my Pre-K friends who resist anything with too much teacher directed structure. They all run in different directions and in their own way broadcast to me “WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR!! Which absolutely makes sense and they are simply demanding that I, too, make some sense.

So when it comes to soccer I am programmed for pushback. “Why can’t we play a game? When are we gonna play a match? This isn’t real soccer…” Feels like I have heard it all but actually, things go fine when I let them lead with their interests and introduce one bit of skill practice, a quick skill oriented activity and then another low stakes game that’s fun and lets players choose their level of active risk. It’s fine, fine, fine.  I’m ok.)

“What? It’s time to go? Are we doing soccer next time, too?”

One final kick into the goal. Smashed it.

Balls in the bag, please. Thank you. Tomorrow’s another day.

Winter Reads Bringing the Heat

Over the winter break, I was privileged with an abundance of reading time. I finished whole books! Each in turn provided so much joy, sustenance or entertainment or any combination of the three that by the end of the break my literary appetite was temporarily sated.

What did I read, you ask?

Going into the break I was finishing up, Dr. Joy Degruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, which after having heard her speak at the NAIS People of Color Conference offered a welcome and necessary recap of her arguments. Reading allowed me to deepen my understanding of the lingering impacts of  slavery over generations. I had never invested in making those direct connections previously between slavery and my own family’s (behavior) history.

After that, I was ready to read Ocean Vuong’s novel, On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. Written as a letter from an American born son to his Vietnamese mother who cannot read, as readers we are drawn into personal spaces at once intimate and charged. I don’t know what I expected but I found poetic passages page after page which blew me away.

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But the books I really want to tell you about turn out to be a rather unusual pairing: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty and Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger, edited by Lilly Dancyger. Death and Anger, Anger and Death! What a combination for the holidays!

Caitlin Doughty has made a name for herself on social media with her youtube series, Ask A Mortician and goes by the handle @TheGoodDeath on Twitter and Instagram. Smoke describes her initiation into the undertaking industry at age 23 when she got her first job at a crematory. Besides being a gifted storyteller, Doughty shares her wonderings about the way death is done in modern Western societies, particularly in the US. In the tradition of excellent non-fiction, she provides tricks of the trade alongside a bit of historical background mixed in with squishy messy details of preparing the dead. Author Doughty had me interested in all of it. Smoke emerged as an unexpected page-turner.

Before arriving at the conclusion that humans are “glorified animals” and that “We are all just future corpses,” Doughty describes how she came to this point early in her career as a mortician:

Less than a year after donning my corpse colored glasses, I went from thinking it was strange that we don’t see dead bodies anymore to believing their absence was a root cause of major problems in the modern world. p.168

She reminds us through stories and wit that “death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.” (p. 228) And this makes so much sense to me. Considering what my own “death values” are and where they come from is certainly a mental-emotional exercise in my future. Smoke provided me with an basis for reframing death and burial as processes that complete my humanity rather than erase it. That’s pretty significant.

If Smoke was the beer, Burn It Down was an extraordinary chaser. Behold, 22 essays by women from a variety of backgrounds all illuminating ways of thinking about, experiencing, managing, and expressing anger. So many spoke of the taboo surrounding feminine expressions of anger – about the shame and also manipulative capacity of tears, of being labeled hysterical, emotional, bitter, deranged… That rang entirely true and at the same time, I could also see parts of myself in the stories of those women who flew off the handle, who got loud and vocal when necessary.

While reading I thought of my many girlfriends and how seldom we have chances to be this frank with each other. Which is the beauty of having this collection of women’s voices which validate our right and need to feel and express our rage, particularly when we open our eyes to the underlying patterns in society which place all manner of hurdles in our paths. Especially striking for me were two essays, each penned by trans women, which made me think again about what it means to identify as woman.

Sheryl Ring caught me with this:

“…the reality is, I am a woman, and therefore, I am what a woman looks like. Every trans woman is what a woman looks like. It’s not that we all pass – it’s that whether or not we “pass” is a question we shouldn’t have to ask. (From “Crimes Against The Soul,” p. 191)

And in her essay, “On Transfeminine Anger,” Samantha Riedel proposes a vision of what could be:

Imagine radically inclusive spaces where inquisitive minds explore both cis and trans femininities, where we can each open ourselves to new possibilities of the self and take the next steps toward our collective liberation.

That is a form of vision that I don’t find everywhere. Until I read that passage, I hadn’t really recognized my own deep appetite for  pictures of what we could create, what alternatives to abrasive and harshly competitive existences might look like.

A different perspective that resonated profoundly came from Lisa Factora-Borchers, a daughter of Philippine immigrants who writes about living in middle Ohio and why she stays. She describes conversations with her kids and I am reminded that my friends, colleagues and I are navigating similar talks with our own kids and with students.

When we drive on Highway 62 and pass the Confederate flags and the billboards declaring “one man, one woman = real marriage,” I see it now as an opportunity to give my kids what I wish I always had: an example of how to embrace anger; how to use it as a natural resource, whether facing injustice of critically interpreting political and religious propaganda. “You see these big signs?” I ask my kids when we pass religious billboards. “There’s a lot of people out there who are afraid of anything different from themselves. People who are afraid will try to tell you who to love, how to love, or who to be friends with, but we’re not afraid of other people just because they may be different from us. That’s just not who we are.” (From “Homegrown Anger,” p. 189)

The struggle to convince our children that we have agency when there are whole industries dedicated to demonstrating the opposite can weigh heavily. In Factora-Borcher’s essay, I am reminded that I am far from alone; that as I teach my children, I can teach myself.

I’m sure it’s no accident that I raced through these essays and Doughty’s account of the undertaking industry in the matter of a few days. I clearly was in the market for some #RealTalk. Doughty takes time to meditate on what it means to handle the dead and death in a society that would prefer to pretend they don’t really exist. Throughout the book she makes a strong case for reclaiming death and its subsequent ceremonies as a natural part of life. Meanwhile, Lily Dancyger’s curated essays assure me that acknowledging  and expressing my anger will not kill me. Either way, I’m better prepared on at least two counts.

 

 

Wrong Way Round: A snag in the planning

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Struggling to do a thing. Of course I wrote up the proposal months ago. It sounded great. Even now it still sounds great.

When I conceptualize a workshop I constantly remind myself: I offer thought material, practice space and helpful structures for interaction. My purpose is to facilitate conversations, not deliver a lecture.

I promise not to waste people’s time and to be responsive their needs as participants.

This time I’ve felt stuck. I’ve been dragging my heels; avoiding the real work of planning the actual thing.

The workshop title is “Leading By Invitation.” And I think my mistake in planning has been letting myself get hooked on the “leading” part, when the actual game changer lies in the invitation.

Isn’t that funny? Simply by placing Leading at the front of the title, my brain assumes that’s where everything begins: Defining leader and leadership, assessing our affinity for leadership, and other blah, blah. No wonder I’ve been holding off. I’ve been looking at and trying to grab the thing on the wrong end!

Everybody and their cousin has a story to tell about leadership. Who spends time on the art of invitation?

When we talk about invitation we naturally need to talk about our audience – to whom is our invitation addressed? And based on that, what vision and purpose do we share? What urgency brings us together?

Identity enters: Who are we to invite others? We are the door, window and floodgate openers. Which discoveries are we welcoming into our midst? We cannot know in advance. We are the welcomers. We create and hold space; we listen, we organize and coordinate, we encourage.

To invite, we say: come. Welcome. Also become. Come learn, come laugh, come study, come wonder, come and weep; come and feel support.

To create a workshop with other humans, with other educators that sings a melody of invitation as a way to build the things that are needed – this is a gift and a privilege.

We invite others to share the work, share the load and also the joy! A workshop highlighting the power of invitation holds so much promise, offers so many entry points and leading is not the focus. Leading is not the priority. Building, growing, learning in community – these comprise the invitation.

Leading in this case emerges as a capacity to facilitate and mobilize; to coordinate and schedule. Leading in this case develops in dialogue and is shaped significantly by the community from which it arises.

It all makes so much more sense now!

Being stuck was my wiser self trying to call me back to attention.

Why am I inviting folks to come talk about this? Because I have some of the most compelling examples to share! And in doing that I hope to fire up some enthusiasm for folks to see the projects and initiatives they’ve always wanted to start, join, support, build. I’m inviting participants to a celebration of wonderful community ideas, led by living, breathing, working educators that offer avenues for us all to do better and be better.

OK, now I know what I’m doing, where I’m headed, what the thing is going to be. Thanks for listening to me unravel my confusion.

image: Spelic

In The Church of Grown Folks’ Music

Saeed Jones opens his memoir, How We Fight For Our Lives, and this happens:

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” comes on the kitchen radio                                                     and briefly, your mother isn’t your mother –

… Spinning, she looks at but doesn’t see you,                                                                           spinning, she sings lyrics too fast for you to pursue,                                                      spinning, she doesn’t have time for questions like:                                                               What is this nasty song and where did she learn                                                                    to dance like that and why, and who is this high pitched                                                      bitch of a man who can sing like a woman and turn                                                              your mother not into your mother but a woman,                                                                  not even a woman, but a box-braided black girl, …

( “Elegy with Grown Folks’ Music,” p. XI

My God, this scene. I can see it; I can see myself in my own kitchen caught in a revelry that envelopes me like a cloud when the right old school jam is on. One time I’m Chaka Khan singing “Sweet Thing,” the next time I am party to my own undoing while Barry White sets the stage. Grown folks’ music is right. It’s those tunes I knew and sang sitting on the back seat of my parents’ Chevy Impala and then later the station wagon.

WJMO – Cleveland’s soul station was on as long as my big brother was in the car. On the way to middle school, I memorized the lyrics to “You Are My Starship” in Mrs. Robinson’s carpool. I could sing all the songs but had less than a clue what they were really about. When I was maybe 7 or 8 our neighbor across the street, Mr. Bogan, liked to hear me sing “I’m Chairman of the Board” because I knew all the words and had it down. It always made him laugh and I was sure I’d become an actress one day.  My neighbors down the street, the Wheelers, their favorite song for me to imitate was “Can This Be Real.” Song imitations were my out-of-house social currency. Mimicry seemed to be a gift I had.

Like special aromas, the right melody can take us back to who we were in another time, practically in another life. Which how I can see Saeed Jones’s mother become the girl she was when Prince was brand new and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was all any of us wanted to hear on the radio. I always dreamed of myself doing that silky hand dance to “Yearning For Your Love” with a handsome Black gentleman who would have all the moves and eyes only for me.  It never turned out quite like imagined, though. That young gentleman I envisioned never materialized and the consolation prizes who showed up lacked both moves and real interest. Alas, the hand dance of the century would not be my destiny.

When I allow myself to dip into my soul music revelry for real, I am usually alone, free to hit the high notes without shame, to shoop and swing like back in the day. I throw on a little nerve, some attitude, close my eyes and testify.

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photo by Alexandra Thompson

*For those who can’t get enough of these sounds, here’s a playlist I made earlier this year for #31DaysBIPOC

 

Get Ready For PET

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I loved a story – its texture and colors, the surprise and its depth. It caught me unawares; didn’t know what I was in for but once I started, the story would not let go. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is young adult novel I would recommend for grades 7 and up.

Set in the city of Lucille which prides itself on having eliminated monsters, the novel is   populated with caring adults, curious young people and familiar structures – family, school, home. There are secrets plus a frightening history that should be remote but is not. The characters are black folks, people I can imagine in my family: big bold talkers, well-intentioned aunties and uncles, slick cousins. There are knowns and unknowns; patterns and assumptions, multiple lives unfolding at once.

And there’s a creature who arrives to enact a justice that it claims may not go unpunished. To accomplish its mission, it needs a human accomplice. The creature is Pet, teenager Jam is its accomplice. To be sure there are fantasy elements here but they interact reasonably with the rest of the story. Akwaeke Emezi is not offering us another planet, but a wider variety of ways of being for every single character. The names alone point to an almost poetic approach to building a cast: Jam, Bitter, Aloe, Redemption, Moss, Whisper, Beloved, Pet and Glass.

What struck me while reading was the way wisdom was dropped throughout the book, almost casually.  Like in this exchange between Pet and Jam:

If you do not know there are things you do not see, it said, then you will not see them because you do not expect them to be there. You think you see everything, so you think everything you see is all there is to be seen…

…There is more. There is the unseen, waiting to be seen, existing only in the spaces we admit we do not see yet.  p. 71

or when Jam’s mother, Bitter, explains how angels eventually rooted out the monsters of Lucille.

“It not easy to get rid of monsters,” she said. “The angels, they had to do things underhand, dark things”…”Hard things,” her mother continued. “You can’t sweet talk a monster into anything else when all it does want is monsterness. Good and innocent, they not the same thing; they don’t wear the same face.” p. 13

I have read and re-read these passages baffled by their profundity and charmed by their perfection. It’s the way these insights are woven into dialogue and emerge both authentic and extraordinary.  This happens not just once or twice but literally every few pages. There’s a nugget, a gem – a trail of the author’s craft that pulls the reader in to join the hunt.

And the hunt – a mystery wrapped up in questions of morality and ethics. To whom are we responsible? Whom are we required to protect? Which of our mental-emotional weaknesses will lead us astray, away from the truth we must pursue?

As Pet, Redemption and Jam inch closer and closer to an unraveled mystery, there are exchanges that as a reader, nearly stopped me in my tracks. (Pet and Jam can speak telepathically.)

All knowledge is good knowledge, Pet said.

I don’t know if that’s true, Jam thought back.  It doesn’t feel true right now.

Truth does not care if it feels true or not. It is true nonetheless.  p. 140

Pet is a sumptuous read that might easily go unnoticed especially by adults. Dig into this book with kids or on your own, it will not disappoint. Author Akwaeke Emezi has given the world a gift of mystery that calls forth understanding in the space of about 200 pages. Imagining that the book is crafted for young audiences makes me so much more hopeful about the power resting in our future generations.

I also tweeted about it here. This thread by Sarah Waites also sings its praises.

Thinking About Anxiety

So what’s an anxiety?

I read a post by Doug Robertson: Anxiety and Me and it has stayed with me. He writes openly about his recent bouts with anxiety and describes how it shapes his behaviors in a variety of contexts. He’s a witty guy so there’s a bit of self-deprecating humor to oil the wheels of reasoning that his writing invites. What surprised me was how familiar some of those situations were to me, how true they rang.

I have known for several years that closed spaces make me anxious – places where I submit to an order not of my making – airplanes, elevators, a bus or in my car stuck in traffic. I don’t mind flying, but waiting on the tarmac for long stretches truly challenges me. Elevators that work? No problem. But the prospect of being stuck in one is never far from my catalogue of worst case scenarios. These are situations I know about, so I’ve learned to mentally prepare and cope accordingly.

But Doug’s post led me to think a little more about what constitutes anxiety. My 12 y-o recently remarked on my standing in the doorway of the living room rather than sitting down. I admitted that I tend to feel a little guilty once we get home – like I should be cooking or emptying the dishwasher or doing something productive. So instead of actually doing one of those things, I stand and scroll through Twitter and e-mail. (At some point I do eventually cook something…)

Then consider this: Neatness is not my strong suit. Interior decor has never been an area of particular interest. My workspace is the end of a long table typically cluttered with stacks of books, papers, letters and other fragments which hold (or held) some significance for me. The order in my disorder makes sense to me, but it also makes the table (which is a beautiful, strong, warm wood construction) a collection surface more than a lovely piece of furniture (which it also is). Or that the table could be seen as a metaphor for the organization for other sections of the apartment. Sometimes I feel bad about this. Or even guilty.

Feeling bad, feeling guilty – these are common themes in my emotional line-up. Every day culprits that easily find their entry into my perception. I feel bad that I’m not a better housekeeper. I feel guilty that I currently prefer writing more than exercising. I feel bad (and guilty) that I’m as tuned in to my Twitter crew as I am to my family. Are you noticing a pattern here?

So now that I’m on vacation and I have more time to spare, I’m having a hard time just kicking back and relaxing. Instead, thoughts keep popping up of all the things I ought to be doing, finishing, thinking about, taking care of. There’s the fear of disappointing others. There’s a fear of the shame of disappointing others. And that’s the thought that really gives me pause: fear of the shame. I suspect there’s a lot to be uncovered in that particular hill of concern.

Thanks to Doug’s openness, I see an opportunity for me to take a new look at myself and my mental hygiene. Where anxiety fits into the picture may be one piece, and perhaps daring to name the daily demons constitutes a fresh start. We’ll see.