The Problem That Is/Isn’t

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“The problem,” she said, “is not that I read too much. It’s that I feel too much of what I read.”

“The problem,” he said, “is not that I watch too much, It’s that I have seen more than I know how to handle. And I cannot turn away.”

“you know what your problem is?”

“My problem? My problem is that I am empty and full at the same time.”

My responsibilities are not my regrets, but they do cost me some energy. I take these responsibilities. I have chosen these responsibilities. They give me purpose and keep me going but they are not weightless. They don’t defy gravity. I get tired. I run out of steam. And my stuff still gets done. That’s the deal. That’s how this works. You know that.

I put words on the screen. Not even on the real page. So that I’m writing without really writing. Just putting stuff down. And then someone will come along and say, hey, I get it. I hear you. That’s the shit! And I will feel humble and arrogant at the same time because nothing is just one thing anymore. It’s always more than one thing. Multidimensional both/and, never ever just tidy and set. And it tires me out. And here I come again, scrolling right through to the next set of problems I want to think about but don’t have time because you know, I need to hang up the laundry and clear the dishwasher and thank God, the cookies are already baked and packaged for tomorrow.

Then someone asks, “Hey Sherri, can you…?” And I say “sure, not a problem.”

Because what is and what isn’t a problem can shift.

“My problem,” I said, “is, in fact, nothing more and nothing less than me just trying to live a life that makes sense some or even most of the time. I’m a beginner and a veteran at once. I’m gifted and I suck. I need more sleep but I keep staying up late. I’m a mess and a marvel.”

“Hey,” they said, “what you need is a vacation!”

And I said, “you know what? You are right.”

 

Stuck.

As in failing to move forward. Failing to make visible progress.

Stuck. As if plastered to the spot.

Willing and unable to pull the lever, unlock the lock, or do whatever that thing is you do to start something rolling.

Scrolling through social media, clicking and stabbing at so much emptiness. Pausing occasionally to say please and thank you and hmph.

Stuck.

Release. My release when it comes

will be sudden and unexpected as if it had been there the whole time and saying, “what do you mean you were stuck?”

“That’s ludicrous.”

This is no way to approach writing a substantive piece of work that people should read and congratulate me on.

No way at all. Stuck.

Creativity on hold. Backed up communication channels. System blockage.

Remembering: No one is waiting up late for this.

There is no stop watch running.

Tomorrow is another day.

I’m stuck.

And I am.

 

Writing My Way Out of a Paper Bag

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I can write my way out of a paper bag.

There, I said it.

“I am large, I contain multitudes” wrote Walt Whitman.

“Me too,” I replied.

I’m trying to pull a book together. I won’t say write a book because not all of it will be from scratch. The goal is to compile, gather, thread and punctuate several pieces of writing with new connective works. On some days I am fully convinced that this is a great idea. On other days, I end up shaking my head and walking away. And here’s where it gets interesting.

When I walk away (or even run away), what do I do?

I go hustle for approval. That’s right, hustle for approval.

I do this at home, at work, in the car, on my phone, in every imaginable context. I make the play again and again, always hot on the heels of some kind of affirmation goodness. Like this:

I run the dishwasher before my partner gets home.

I pull the secret sweets out of my backpack and hand them to my grumpy 10 y-o late in the afternoon when I still have to go grocery shopping.

My students ask, “Is it Awesome Gym Day?” and I think for a moment before saying “Yes, but you’ll have to set it up.”

I return my library books on time and take out two new books. The librarian smiles at me.

I get on Twitter and start scrolling and read two or three blog posts. I quote retweet with a passage from the piece so folks know that I actually read it.

I sweep the bathroom floor after combing my hair because, you know, all those brittle ends go flying all over.

Of course I braid my big puffy hair so that it lays graceful and flat against the side of my head and provides little cause for comment.

I put plenty of cream on my face so my skin looks smooth, even the bags under my eyes.

When I’m talking to others I try to focus on listening even if I’m not all the way in the mood.

I stand at the far corner of the track so that my athletes struggling through the last 150m of a 400 can hear me cheer them on.

So I far I’ve kept my body in about the same size category for about 40 years. People see me and say “you haven’t changed in years.” The effort required is an ongoing accomplishment and never ending challenge at the same time. The hustle is real.

At the end of the school day, I pack up my equipment and drag it back into storage and try to make sure it goes back into the right spaces. My colleagues trust me not to leave a mess.

At home I maintain a particular level of messiness but I can still find things pretty easily. It’s a skill. I may straighten my space up if we have company. (Rare)

I don’t write on a schedule. But someone somewhere always reads what I post and I can’t really quite get over the miracle of how that all takes place.

When I meet parents I usually know their child and have something good to say about him, her or them.

I read to my youngest before he goes to bed. Both of us love this ritual. There’s a special mutuality to this hustle.

Lots of people I know have a hard time imagining me angry. They have simply never seen me that way.

So these are some of my every day hustles. Writing this post certainly falls in that category, too. Hustling for approval is what I do. I want to be seen, liked, appreciated, and loved.

When I am not working on this larger piece of work that is begging for its own future, this is how I am spending my minutes, hours, days. No mask, just the real deal.

I contain multitudes as much as Walt Whitman and I can write my way out of a paper bag while I run around gathering approval points anywhere I can. Truth.

 

  • I am borrowing the term “Hustle for approval” from Brene Brown who uses “hustle for worthiness” in her work.

 

*Cough, cough* Is this mic on?

Once upon a time, I was a runner. I rose each morning filled with thoughts of what my workout commitment was and how everything else fit around that. Work, child care, housekeeping and all the rest were all set up to insure that my running time was secured. I was focused on achievement and I experienced, for my standards, reasonable success. When it came time to shed this blanket identity, I struggled to find a replacement. When I could no longer call myself a runner, I felt somewhat adrift. For a while I became a seeker without a title.

I discovered new interests. I invested in education, became a frequent-flyer at personality seminars and coaching workshops. Within a few years, I arrived a new identity: coach.

*Reached this point in the post, looking for a possible exit*

*Blah, blah, blah, coaching… passionate…blah, blah…*

Part of me hates telling these kinds of stories: I did this, learned that and became this. Introduction, build-up, (there’s rarely a climax), and resolution. The stories make a circuitous path seem like a neat and straight trajectory. Such stories are so incomplete and flattened that they undermine whatever truth remains in them.

*Decides to continue with flawed narrative format anyway.*

The reason I started all this was actually to make sense of where I am now: conflicted, overwhelmed, strung out on identity finding, making, affirming, doing. Without question this inner dialogue turned outward, made public for consumption by strangers, friends and loved ones has a lot to do with it. Since I have chosen a path in social media, in the blogosphere, that has consequences; benefits and costs which I continually weigh.

Sorting myself, my thoughts, my identities in public is a choice that is fraught, fraught, fraught. Knowing that feels like a win, though. So cognizant of this tension between being and performing, telling and dramatizing; seeking and shunning attention at the same time, I’m writing to say, I am tired and I’m still here.

Because while I arrived here (online) as an educator, coach and former runner, what I’ve become is a writer who sometimes struggles to live up to the all the other pieces of me that ultimately are on display. I go to sleep thinking about the read and unread, the writing completed and the writing ahead. I wake up with new ideas and old ones. I walk through my day immersed in composition of one kind or another, forming images that beg to be recorded but for which there are not enough hours in the day. My day is awash in words I want to use and bend to my will.

For now I have stopped denying myself the mantle of writer. Perhaps that will offer some relief. My privilege in this respect stretches far. I can do and be many things at once and few will contest my claims.

(Many, many thanks to @hypervisible for introducing me to my new favorite GIF which I plan to use as often as possible, even incorrectly.)

Die Sprachbürgerschaft is on the way

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I decided to publish a stack of poems I wrote 14 years ago.

In my e-mail inbox I have notice that the books will arrive on Tuesday.

Surprise, no surprise, I have feelings about this development.

I could tell you that I am happy, proud, relieved and/or excited.

For the record I think I’m some of all of those things.

And I am also nervous (in the little-girl-who-might-get-in-trouble kind of way), which makes no rational sense but the feeling is there.

The poems are in German. Like, literally, auf deutsch.

I am not a native German speaker, nor do I sound like one.

I am fluent in German, I live in a German-speaking country and engage my surroundings often in the local vernacular.

I am an immigrant in this particular German-speaking republic.

And now I’m publishing some poems as part of my journey.

Again and again though this voice comes and asks: Really? You? Writing poems, calling them poems in a language you didn’t even grow up speaking? In a language you don’t have a degree in?

That’s real, too.

One piece in the collection is actually a dialogue and also provides the title of the book:

Die Sprachbürgerschaft

which loosely translates to Language Citizenship.

I suppose it’s the dialogue in my own head played out between two people: The language immigrant and the language native. The native asks the immigrant about how she came to the language and what she does in it; then goes on to inquire about the immigrant’s qualifications to write, play and publish in the language. The native becomes increasingly irritated by the immigrant’s laid back attitude to accessing and using this language they have in common and concludes the conversation by threatening to report the immigrant to the language police at the local language protection office.

 

Several weeks ago, my mother-in-law, a native German speaker, read this dialogue aloud to me and in that moment, I could hear that my words had a relevance I hadn’t accorded them previously.

The poems exist as a kind of ode to my immigrant-ness of almost 30 years. Being in this country, yet never fully of it.

The poems are also a tribute to this language I have embraced and loved and which in its own way has loved me back and even chuckled at some of my creations.

What I found is that poems allowed me to play with German in a way I cannot play with English. And I wonder how other multilingual folks encounter these differences in use.

So yes, a premier is on the horizon. A book, a book!

One that few folks in my current circles will be able to actually enjoy but one I hope that we will celebrate and contemplate together.

Which language, whose language, which words, whose interpretations?…All the things.

Tuesday. Dienstag.

 

Because Someone’s Listening

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The sign that’s not on my fridge but should be:

“Don’t go there.”

Of course, I go.

Damn social media. Damn me.

The time I spend in my own head is no longer solitary.

I can hear myself think (still)

but

my voice is tempered for your possible reception;

my words carefully tested for palatability

before they can be released.

And I keep writing, writing, writing

straight onto the screen, so few

filters between this thought

and what you might make of it.

 

But let me say this:

I have an Alice Walker T-shirt from the Writing Project and the quote says:

“Writing has saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”

And every day that I come to terms with concentrated power

in the (tiny) hands of a federal administration bent on

harm, revenge and unmitigated selfishness,

I thank God for writing saving me from the sin and inconvenience

of violence.

 

My moral outrage is but a drop in the bucket of

untold suffering among

too many.

Some of whom understand what is in the making and many more

who have no inkling that they will not be spared

the pain and humiliation

of being discarded, dismissed, and annulled.

 

I regret to inform you that

I have spent time reading the incomprehensible

transcripts of a figurehead

who struggles to express one thought

coherently.

 

I regret to inform you that

these elementary and primitive

patterns of speech

appeal to some,

to many, in fact.

The joke that was now lays like detrimental oil spill

over the gulf of what we thought

was a semi-functioning democracy.

 

The bill for the clean up will be paid

by our children and grandchildren

But the spill is ongoing,

widening its toxic reach

seeping and tumbling past each new measure

designed to contain it.

 

I can be angry about social media

about myself on social media

and I can write

because someone, somewhere

is listening.

and sometimes that is just enough

of what is needed.

 

 

The Archive Project

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I was looking for some information in my archives. I’ve written and kept a lot: Workshop descriptions and agendas, decades of report card comments, professional letters, application essays, you name it. In the process I have come across some documents that remind me of what’s important still. Here are a couple of brief examples.

This is from a workshop introduction I did in 2014. The topic is trust.

 If the members of a large organization are surveyed, among the most common wishes expressed are those for better communication and greater trust. Not surprisingly these two aspects go hand in hand.  As members of an organization and community, we seek belonging and purpose. We join forces, bundle our resources, commit our energies, share our results and take pride in our accomplishments.  When our channels of communication are clogged, crossed or even haywire, we suffer.  Our contributions may be squandered, go unnoticed, never reach fruition.  What is our response? We doubt our leaders, withhold our best efforts and bemoan our organizational dysfunction.  In short, we lose trust in the very organization and community which we sought support and improve.

So often we wait for our organizations to finally change. We find new leaders. We restructure our staff. We announce sweeping reforms and initiate widespread training initiatives. And once again, the critical ingredient of trust remains outside these bargains, and the desired change almost never takes hold.

I also found this gem in a letter about professional development to an author educator, not sure that I even sent the letter, though.

The more I think of it, the more convinced I become that we only improve our educational offerings at the rate at which we improve ourselves by becoming students – struggling students, in fact. We need to spend more time not just attending PD, we need to be creating, reinventing, challenging the very notion of PD. Frankly, I’m tired of sit and (for)get. I’m in for get up, get busy and take charge of your own experience. That’s the direction we need to be moving as educators and our kids are already paving the way a million times over.

What sorts of treasures are in your archive? Just because it wasn’t written or created last week or last year doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Think about this with me. Dive into your archives and find out who you were, what you prioritized, how you’ve grown. Share out on your blog, in a reply, on Twitter or anywhere else. I wanted to give this idea a more formal kick-off because it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while. This will have to suffice for now. It probably needs a hashtag. Maybe #ArchiveProject?