Speaking Truths, Acknowledging Loss

image: S.Spelic

I’ve been feeling a little emotional lately. No specific cause, really. I mean, we’re healthy, school is fully back in session and it looks like we’ll end the year on a positive note. But I keep feeling … a lot. This evening I’m a bit teary; other times I’m just spent or a little extra cranky. My teen navigates all these mood appearances with remarkable equanimity and for that I am extremely grateful.

I’m fine.

This week I read a post by Sara Rezvi for the #31DaysIBPOC series and it made me stop, think and catch my breath. In it, she asks:

“What if we were honest enough to bear witness to our pain?”

from “We shall revel in the abundance of each other”

Lord, what if?

I remember when it dawned on me and my siblings that my mother’s memory was deteriorating. The initial signs were subtle but presented a clear enough pattern. As her dementia progressed she managed to retain so many of her distinctly prosocial qualities. She was kind, gracious, appreciative and curious. Any upset was quickly forgotten. At some point it was no longer possible for her to stay angry. When she passed away, it was the sound of her voice that continued to ring in my ears. That upbeat tone of interest whenever she picked up the receiver. I believe she left this world thinking the best of everyone.

Of course in her dementia, she also knew pain, frustration and sadness. But her reservoir and access were severely curtailed.

Through the course of this pandemic year plus, I have had some ups and downs but my existence was never threatened. My health and that of my loved ones was never significantly impaired. We have come through this world crisis relatively unscathed.

But not untouched.

At the end of her post, Sara encourages us:

So, reader, speak whatever must be said. Speak for what you know is true. Speak when your body tells you something isn’t right. this…isn’t right. Speak even if you are conflicted (maybe especially so). Speak and release this energy that threatens to consume you. Speak because you know that ultimately this action is fundamentally one of armed love.

Speak. And know that you are not alone in the telling.

Precisely here is where I felt fully unmasked and my losses were revealed. I haven’t cried a lot during these pandemic months but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want or need to. I experienced loss and change and painful adjustments. My marriage of 15 years broke up. Not in a knock-down, drag out kind of way but in an entirely practical and unremarkable way. Our common household was dissolved and two separate but satisfying new living arrangements established. There was mainly agreement and cooperation. But it still hurt. It still constitutes a loss.

I’ve muddled through a year of pandemic teaching and my students are alright for the most part. I learned some new skills, discovered some hidden capacities. Progress showed up in predictable and also surprising places. And yet, I wasn’t able to teach my best. The year was rife with improv and scrambling to adjust to shifting conditions. My case was not at all special, I know. At the same time, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t disappointed. I missed teaching with the benefits of consistency, routine and a dedicated enclosed space. That was a loss and I feel it in lots of small ways. Taken together, they’re like a slow-healing bruise. Not really painful but tender and sore; sometimes on the surface, other times deeper in the tissue.

Thanks to moving house and making the most of a new set of circumstances, I’ve been confronted with myself in a way that hasn’t happened in quite a while. I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions about who I am and who I intend to still become. What do I like? What are my priorities? Who is on my team and what is worth doing together? In principle, I love these kinds of big picture questions. I’m a trained life coach, after all. But the introspection remains challenging. I don’t have more or better responses than anyone else. I get tired. I lose steam, motivation and sometimes heart. Here, too, amid discovery I also found holes.

The older I become, the more similarities I find with my mother as I remember her in her 60s and 70s: I keep mini Snickers on hand in my pantry, I’m more interested in cooking by recipe, I like gin with tonic or ginger beer, I’m concerned with what ails the world, I still celebrate and relish independence. It’s a funny/not funny thing to notice. If I can stay stay so stubbornly optimistic about humanity like my mom, then I’m pretty sure I’ll pull through these and the next challenges and the ones after that just fine.

In the meantime, I hope I have courage enough to speak my losses and hurts. Also that I may bear witness for others with humility, honesty and presence. In speaking my pain, I also tell you: I’m here, I’m here, I’m here and for now, we are alive.

That’s a lot and also a gift.

Unload.

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.

What good is writing?

That it is.

Truth Lookout

edifiedlistener

Truth is slippery in certain folks’ hands. I say

I’m looking for truth and what I mean is that I’m expecting

an insight I can connect with,

a plausibility that makes strong common sense.

My ears are open for that deep, drumming undertone that I felt before I could actually hear it.

I long for one clear explanation

a sermon on the mount to relieve all my worries that I might be

out of my mind and yours, too.

Ed Yong writes that America Is Trapped In A Pandemic Spiral and he’s correct it seems to me.

I want to clap, say Amen and ‘Truer words were rarely spoken”

He produces a laundry list of reasons why America, home of the brave, is marching resolutely in unwitting pursuit of its own demise. Like ants in a circular death march. The comparison is apt and painful.

In a country that seems to prefer off/on switches rather than dimmers or dials for EVERYTHING including thought patterns, it makes sense that

“Showiness is often mistaken for effectiveness.”

“Fixing systemic problems is more difficult than spewing moralism, …”

“…we started working our way through a serial monogamy of solutions, and, like spiraling army ants, marched forward with no sense of the future beyond the next few footsteps.”

That feels truthful. full of truth.

From where I sit and where I stand

I can know what it means to live in a country where the virus is managed, where health care is part of the package, where a pandemic federal response exists and can take effect. It’s not perfect but at least we know what works. And those are the things that get done.

Meanwhile, I read.

This time about feminism. Not in the abstract, not in the upper echelons of corporate management, no, feminism that is much closer to home, the kind I grew up around, the kind my mother and grandmother and aunts raised me in: Hood Feminism. A survival and every-day feminism of poor folks, working folks, queer and trans folks, Black, brown and Indigenous folks. I was familiar with academic feminism, with ‘we need more women CEOs’ feminism which felt like yeah-I-get-it-but-that’s-not-me feminism.

Reading Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism feels like a homecoming. She takes on everything from gun violence to housing to health care to eating disorders and explains how white feminism has managed to sidestep or purposefully limit the scope of concern about topics that affect a much higher proportion of women in the US and the world.

Over and over again, Mikki Kendall illustrates all the reasons mainstream (read white and middle class) feminism has failed women who do not fit that demographic, particularly women of color and poor women.

“…you can’t “lean in” when you can’t earn a legal living wage and you still need to feed yourself and those who depend on you.” (p. 36)

“Why is it that we’re more inclined to create programs to combat obesity than ones that meaningfully address hunger?” (p. 37)

“We expect marginalized voices to ring out no matter what obstacles they face, and then we penalize them for not saying the right thing in the right way.” (p.134)

“…the reality is that white, mainstream feminism has to confront the idea that the power to do harm rests in women too.” (p. 165)

“The fact is that harm-reducing votes of marginalized people will never be enough to outweigh the stupidity of white people who vote for racism at their own expense.” (p. 183)

So much truth!

I call it a felt truth. An undercurrent truth, the kind that runs through arteries – makes a heart keep beating. Experience truth.

Black girl woman experience truth. American truth. Slippery truth. Threatened-to-be-ignored-dismissed-overlooked Black girl woman American truth.

When Ed Yong is describing the American hankering for normalcy, the insistence on either/or framing, a media and public resistance to embracing necessary complexity, I hear reality speaking. I recognize the commanding voice of grade school film strips and pledge-of-allegiance-first holiday ceremonies. I know that America he’s talking about. I am a product.

An export.

Like most folks I want to believe that I will know truth when I see it.

For now I’d rather be honest.

Quantities of truth have not saved us so far. There’s more truth than we know what to do with. We’re not acting on the truths of climate destruction (we can really dispense with “change” by now). We’re not acting on the truth that rampant inequality is a societal design feature not a bug. So many truths!

Qualitative truth? Is that a thing? Should it be?

Truth with a quality that causes us to bend, to stretch, to reach, to remember.

These truths, the ones I feel and have felt, that have kept and keep me alive. I’m holding onto those and finding mirrors where I can.

Truth doubled makes me braver.

Remote Possibilities: A String of Thoughts

Scrolled learning

Tell me an order – abstract-1846059_1280

  • From top to bottom or
  • is it top down?
  • From beginning to end
  • but the learning never stops

 

 

 

Activity feed

Interactive to-do list

scroll up, scroll down

sideways is for walking

or dodging while distancing

not for this app.

Scrolled learning (resumed)

“Messy learning made tidy!”

“Clear instructions, clear demonstrations, clear outcomes!”

“Turn up, tune in, take off – your learning adventure can begin!”

I think of all the promises

we heard and wished

in our heart of hearts

they could be true.

All the while knowing

that for learning tojapan-956073_1280

take root and become a growing thing

it’s the messy parts

that make it even

possible.

 

App -etite

An app can work wonders with things

count, sort, tag, track and archive –

measure, deliver, broadcast, keep –

link, link, link and link again –

An app can give us the impression of movement

a single stream of discrete activities

flashes and pops as we scroll down;

our learning past:

axe-984008_1920

a straight line collage,

an imagined education

in snapshots and clips,

yet nothing designed

to stick.

For that would halt the

endless scroll

of consumable tidbits.

Because in order to make this all work,

to handle the volume of posts,

it’s important to prune the feed,

to archive the couple days’ old content

and put it nicely out of view.

Out of sight, out of mind –

but here it means

out of the way

of what’s next,

of what’s coming up.

 

What it is not   lumber-84678_1280

An app is not a brain.

Constructed with code; clever.

It tells us which way it will work

and which way it wont.

Brains develop and adapt

That’s what they do.

We can’t pay a platform to adapt,

or

entreat an app to be more flexible.

An app is not a brain.

The platform is not a curriculum.

Robin says, “Modality is not pedagogy.”

But why does it seem like we are just learning these things

right now?

As if this were news?

 

Even this blog frustrates my need to put things side by side

I cannot really compose the way I want

I compose the way the interface allows

We have an agreement:

I will make do.

 

Not A Song, A Dispersion

This is a song (although it’s not)

For all the things we can’t see, hear, catch

of/from our students tucked behind screens.

The motivational battles that rage within

and without,

The confusion that crops up,

the relief when a hurdle is crossed,

the questions that never get asked.

The nail-biting parents aching for a moment’s peace.

The pace of the guide, the scope of the sequence

these become pearls that fall off their string.

Instead of a necklace

we have a dispersion

with no means

to recover the order

we knew.

 

 

Real Talk

Can we be honest and not mistake the clean interface and charming video responses

for deep learning?*

Even if it’s the best we can do for now and doesn’t seem half bad, our kids are learning

all the time

and it may not be that carefully prepared content we’ve prepared after 4 or more video takes

that sticks and stays.

It will be other things: a postcard in the mail, a cat that came to zoom and wouldn’t leave, the way family felt different from before school closed, that time the teacher called on the phone.

The platform does not make memories. That’s something we do. We humans. We teachers, learners, adults, kids. The platform stores our artifacts. We humans, we users, we learners, we are art. We are fact.

Let’s use the apps we need. Rely on the platforms that serve us.

Let’s make our art. Let’s share our facts. Let’s weave our memories and make them count.

 

 

 

*(Understanding, too, that deep learning is not a given in classrooms either. It’s a long term gamble, the thing we hope against hope for but almost never get to witness when it surfaces 5, 10, 20 or 30 years later…)

images all CC0 via Pixabay.com