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 down. 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 on. 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 you? 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 me. 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:
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.
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.
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?
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 collapses 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 right? Grammar will not protect us from disappointment no one not one, none but this one hurts. 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 understand standing back Back to understanding might take a while.
I have way too many tabs open in my browsers. Yes, browsers plural. One for work, one for everything else. I have done the reading and am eager to share but don’t have the time I’d like to engage with all of them in writing. So I’ll just share the tweets/links and invite you to check out what grabs you.
On talking to kids about Covid:
On reading queer authors. Whew! this one by Koritha Mitchell blew my mind wide open! Very affirming for me both emotionally and intellectually.
On alibi DEIJ initiatives Scott Woods has some excellent points.
Need a bit of memoir inspiration? Try “Beauty Is A Method” by Christina Sharpe.
I’m currently enrolled in an affinity space writing course on personal essay led by Shea Wesley Martin. Every assigned reading/listening/viewing has sparked my imagination and courage in untold ways. One piece we read by Dulce-Marie Flecha took me by surprise and opened new doors of possibility. A soup recipe as a deconstruction of a human condition.
Take time for this remarkable interview of Dr. Andre Brock Jr. on why people do what they do on the internet. He is the author of Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures.
On another note, Chris Gilliard has been publishing amazing articles on surveillance capitalism and all that that entails. To read any of his work is never a mistake.
Robert Jones Jr. is an author of whom I was tangentially aware but this blog post on an ER visit due to a severe MS flare up shook me up and brought me into the fold of dedicated readers.
Thanks to my friend, Kathleen Naglee, I was introduced to Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price. Such a welcome intervention!
Finally, I’m going to add a post of my own that was recently published on the Teachers Going Gradeless website. The piece emerged from a real struggle with myself to come clean on my ideas about assessment in my area of elementary physical education.
Of course, taken together, this is too much. Who has the time? And yet, how many tabs do you have open on your devices? We do what we can, when we can and work with it. The more stuff I post on Twitter and elsewhere, the more I worry about taking up too much space, about staying on the mic too long. Granted, that’s a me problem. But it also reminds me, that maybe it’s my way of making up for lost time, lost ground, never-held status. I keep posting, talking, sharing because it’s my turn, too.
In this dynamic environment, I post, you choose. You post, I decide. We toss ourselves into ongoing cycles of give and take, receive and transmit, call and response, speak and listen. I suppose this post is about economy; a kind of efficiency. Let it be that and also the gift it aims to be.
Enjoy, be edified, be well!
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.
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.
Sentences I’m thinking about as we crack open 2022:
Rather than link increasing velocity to liberated exuberance, Virilio, in Speed and Politics, suggests that “the more speed increases, the faster freedom decreases”: By the time an action is required in real time, the moment to act is already swiftly disappearing into the past. Freedom requires the time in which to deliberate and to act, and extreme speed deprives individuals of that time.Zachary Loeb, Inventing the Shipwreck, Real Life Mag, Jan 3, 2022 (emphasis mine)
“Freedom requires the time in which to deliberate and to act, and extreme speed deprives individuals of that time.”
Rather than anticipating what might happen out of the myriad and unknowable possibilities on which the very idea of a future depends, machine learning and other AI-based methods of statistical correlation “restrict the future to the past.” In other words, these systems prevent the future in order to “predict” it—they ensure that the future will be just the same as the past was.Chris Gilliard, Crime Prediction Keeps Society Stuck In The Past, Wired, Jan 2, 2022 (emphasis mine)
“In other words, these systems prevent the future in order to “predict” it—they ensure that the future will be just the same as the past was.“
Untitled anticipating what might happen, the moment to act is swiftly disappearing. the time in which to deliberate the very idea of a future depends on the past: ensure, predict; restrict, prevent. “the more speed increases, the faster freedom decreases” "the future will be just the same as the past was." Rather, rather.
Rather than helping us to manage social problems like racism as we move forward, as the McDaniel case shows in microcosm, these systems demand that society not change, that things that we should try to fix instead must stay exactly as they are.Chris Gilliard, Crime Prediction Keeps Society Stuck In The Past, Wired, Jan 2, 2022
It may seem obvious today that there had never been a car crash before the car was invented, but what future wrecks are being overlooked today amidst the excited chatter about AI, the metaverse, and all things crypto?
Virilio’s attention to accidents is a provocation to look at technology differently. To foreground the dangers instead of the benefits, and to see ourselves as the potential victims instead of as the smiling beneficiaries.Zachary Loeb, Inventing the Shipwreck, Real Life Mag, Jan 3, 2022
amidst the excited chatter
what future wrecks are being overlooked today? things that we should try to fix helping us to manage social problems like racism; To foreground the dangers instead of the benefits may seem obvious. as we move forward these systems demand that society not change; to look at technology, to see ourselves as the smiling beneficiaries instead of as the potential victims. things must stay exactly as they are.
Welcome 2022 and take this thought with you, too.
Protect your energy and help your friends and loved ones do the same.
A snow day is a gift, rare and unexpected. It’s an opportunity to pause, breathe, not go anywhere. I am at ease and grateful.
Lots of things have happened since the last time I wrote. I’ve participated in two large virtual conferences, published a newsletter, helped coordinate the launch of regional accountability and affinity groups, made the first batch of bourbon balls, and finally discovered the secret of speedskating. A good bit of growth for a short stretch of time.
The two big conferences were first the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual, Nov. 18-20 and the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference (NAIS PoCC/SDLC), Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2021. As member of a substantial contingent of educator-writers from the #31DaysIBPOC project, I joined a session co-hosted by Tricia Ebarvia and Dr. Kim Parker: “We Teach Who We Are: Unpacking Racial Identity and Literacy.” The title rings academic but the experience felt like a reunion, a revival, a rest stop. To be in the same room with so many folks I admire and cherish, both up close and from afar, almost undid me. It was not the words I remember as much as it was the love, the warmth, the care – the reasons I said yes, when the invitation was first issued the year before.
It was Tricia and Kim’s invitation that brought me to #NCTE21. But, as much as I love literacy and how it comes to fruition, I cannot call myself an English teacher as it is suggested here. That said, the conference focus on “equity, justice and antiracist teaching” produced a lineup of speakers and workshops that captured my interest on multiple levels. I felt more at home than I anticipated, more in my element that I imagined possible. As a run-up to PoCC, #NCTE21 felt just right.
At #PoCC I had the honor to offer a pre-recorded workshop with my dear friend, Minjung Pai, “A Love Letter To Women Of Color.” Min and I have only seen each other in person a handful of times and always at PoCC but our sense of sisterhood across continents and time has remained remarkably steady and deep. When we collaborated on the proposal back in the spring, we were envisioning a room full of women of color holding space for each other, celebrating the fullness of our gifts in an atmosphere of unconditional love. Then we prepared to bring that atmosphere to life via zoom and then we learned that our session would need to be pre-recorded. Although disappointed about not being able to deliver our session live, we created a presentation that felt meaningful for the two of us, and agreed we would make the most of the chat box when our session was aired during the conference.
Well, friends, again I learned: You don’t know what you don’t know. Over 160 folks turned up for our session on the platform and the engagement throughout exceeded our wildest dreams. Folks were not just watching a presentation, they were feeling it! And letting us know! It was humbling, astonishing and one of the most incredible online experiences I have ever had and I would not have had that possibility without Min!
The rest of the conference held mighty surprises and highlights. Teacher/librarian and activist, Liz Kleinrock, gave one of the best keynote talks I have ever heard at an education conference. I mean, she took us to church! This tweet from Jonathan Ntheketha captures the mood so well:
Having rewatched Liz’s keynote and the Q&A that followed, there were simply so many moments of connection. I also was deeply pleased with Kalea Selmon as moderator who kept it real and brought her full self to the conversation. The fact that Liz has consistently worked in schools, and continues to deal with all the aspects of navigating an institution at the faculty level gave her message a sense of proximity that I often miss in mainstream keynotes. I felt seen, heard and genuinely understood.
At one point Liz asked: “Thinking about professional development and learning this year, what does that even mean in a pandemic?”
I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
What Liz also did in this talk was differentiate particular pieces for specific audiences: white folks, BIPOC, and school leaders, for instance. That’s not as common an occurrence as one might expect among speakers. She asked school leaders, “How have you redistributed power since spring of 2020?” and suggested that if various members of their school community cannot name what has changed as a result of any anti-bias or inclusion or equity initiative, then they are not being fully honest with themselves or their communities. *mic drop* Meanwhile, BIPOC were encouraged to build in cross-racial solidarity as she offered multiple historical examples. Further, she insisted that white folks get used to holding two truths simultaneously, to let go of the tendency to buy into either/or binaries.
As Jonathan’s tweet makes clear, there were many more gems in the 76 minutes we got to spend with Liz. I’ve wanted to write about it for a while, just to be able to hold onto those gems beyond the immediate post-PoCC afterglow.
Which brings me to a final thought about all this professional and personal learning-to-go or on-the-go. On the one hand, there’s something very humanizing and grounding about spending time with folks speaking from their home and office spaces. Picking up on details in the background – bookshelves, pictures, posters, furniture – helps us see each other often as the real and regular folks we are with lives beyond the topic in which we’re engaging at that moment. On the other hand, we’re delving into themes that demand more of us than passive listening. At an identity-focused conference we are asked to show up differently than within the framework of a traditional professional learning event. In nearly every session at PoCC I was encouraged to bring my full self into the space, to take risks, to engage honestly and thoughtfully with fellow participants. And in many cases I did that to the best of my ability.
PoCC has always meant more to me that attending a conference. And particularly in these virtual renditions, I have felt both a need and responsibility to contribute what I could to help the event live up to its vision of being a true oasis for BIPOC at independent schools and in related organizations. As I carve out time to watch or even rewatch sessions that intrigued me following the live event, I am asking myself some key questions:
- What am I trying to hold onto from this experience?
- What are my key memories and how do they make me feel?
- Where and when did I contribute to making the conference meaningful for someone else?
- What can I let go of without fear or worry?
These allow me to center my experience as a whole person, complete with the full range of emotions that that entails. Clearly, I’m a feeler. I take lots of things to heart. I’m trying to do stuff with what I’ve learned – not necessarily to suddenly toss these ideas into my classroom – but allow them to work their way through my consciousness, to let them bump up against previous instances and find a place to settle for a time. This is what the writing of it is for.
Of course, the snow day I had when I started this post is a few days old. I’m well into the following weekend and still surprisingly deep in my feelings about all the things mentioned. That’s the news, and it’s good.