Some Thoughts

Anything I have to say about Charlottesville will have been said better by someone else already. I’ve been reading various responses and arguments and reflections, and I feel angry and sad and overwhelmed and inadequate.

What I need to write about, if only for my own processing, is being an educator right now. This shit is hard, people, when you have to remain calm and neutral in the face of what is, at best, ignorance, and at worst, evil.

Something I have struggled with for pretty much all of my career in school librarianship (12 years!) is the fact that our young students, primarily white and privileged, are growing up in what they see as a post-racial society. I may be totally wrong about this, so maybe “fact” is the wrong word, but it definitely seems that way to me. They can talk about racism, but they talk about it as a historical event. “Way back in the 1800s, there was racism!” “During World War II, there was racism!” I think I wrote about it before, how powerful it was when one of my 6th graders came out and said, “Guys, this stuff still happens today,” during a conversation about racism. She knew that our society is still messed up because she had experienced it herself, and her voice did more to educate her peers than any textbook or lesson.

There is a chapter of the KKK in my city.

This is not historical. This is now.

I do think that things are shifting in terms of awareness. Black Lives Matter is on our radar, and their voice is clear. Responses to Charlottesville are all over the place, loud and clear.

But then there’s the whole “both sides were wrong” argument, which I can sort of maybe wrap my mind around intellectually but cannot even come close to grasping emotionally.

It’s defense vs. offense. The counter-protestors were only there because the protestors were there first.  BLM only exists because our society says again and again that black lives don’t matter. The evidence is there, all over the place.  The KKK exists because some people can’t handle the idea that lives other than white lives matter.  Defense vs. offense.

I don’t condone violence. I do choose love. But if you are going to speak out against a bunch of white supremacists carrying guns and torches and sticks, then I can’t argue against you being able to defend yourself.

And I DO think it’s important for people to speak out.  Just meeting bigotry with silence is not going to work. Letting these people walk through a public university without any protest is not going to work. Silence just sends a message that we don’t care about the people being harmed. And if you think people aren’t harmed, you are dead wrong. This is not just an isolated little group. This is a movement, and it’s scary, and it can’t just be ignored in the hopes that it will go away.

So what do we do as educators? Seriously, this is my question. I don’t have an answer. I know that as a librarian, I can buy and promote books that educate kids about these realities. I can model empathy and inclusion and kindness and respectful discourse.

But I feel overwhelmed right now. And scared for my friends and students who are targeted by these idiots. I want to help make things better, but damn, we have a long way to go, people. If the last several years of news coverage haven’t shown you that, then probably nothing will.

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Reading/Living Without Walls

In my reading classes last week and today, I’ve been introducing Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls challenge. In short, the challenge encourages kids to read books outside their comfort zones–read about someone whose life is different from yours, or about a topic you wouldn’t normally read about, or a book in a format you don’t typically read.

Like most lessons, this one has sometimes been successful, with kids talking about a wide range of books and really tapping into the concept of empathy gained from reading, and sometimes a bit flat. Although I think the kids have all appreciated the Comfort Zone comic, which is brilliant!

In one class, the conversation veered away from books and really became more about living without walls. The boys wanted to talk about people they had met who they hadn’t understood at first. After one kid said something about someone seeming ordinary, another kid said, “There’s no such thing as ordinary.” (I love it when statements like that come from the kids!) We talked about books, and we talked about people. We talked about autism, gender identity, criminal behavior, disabilities, survival–all through the lens of empathy and trying to understand others by putting ourselves in their shoes.

This is powerful stuff, friends, when you hear it coming out of the mouths of children. It’s messy sometimes–they might say something that makes you gasp a bit in shock as they try to articulate something that is, at its heart, an attempt to figure out this whole humanity thing, but oh wow, it’s not there yet. They might laugh at something you wish they would cry at. They are fumbling their way along. What they are doing, as 5th and 6th graders, is really starting to see that the world they experience is just a tiny sliver of all that is out there. They are curious about the rest of it, but also a bit scared. Who wouldn’t be?  There is some crazy stuff out there.

And so what a gift books are!  They can show us that wider world while we are safe in our homes and schools. Wake us up to different experiences, and hopefully awaken our empathy and our ability to be a positive force for change.

 

 

2/21/17: Birthday

So, I kind of don’t like birthdays. At least not my own.  It highlights for me the fact that I am disconnected from much of my family of origin, which isn’t a bad thing and has been my own choice, but can still be a tender spot. I don’t mind at all getting older–I’m pretty much loving my 40s to pieces–but the day itself is something I do not look forward to. However!  In spite of my eternal resistance and dread, I tend to end up enjoying my birthday every year. Because I’m surrounded by a lot of good people who send love my way and let me know they are glad I was born. Who doesn’t like to be told that people are glad they were born?  Plus cake! By the time evening comes (which is when I’m writing this), I have typically gotten over myself and come to appreciate all the wonderful things I do have, the family that has always been there for me, plus the one I’ve created with Dan and Claire and my friends. I am deeply lucky and blessed.

Coincidentally, today was also the day my kiddo passed her driving test. Big milestone for any kid, but for a family that lives 45 minutes away from the kid’s school, this is HUGE. She’s not getting a car, but she’ll have the use of one of ours on the weekends, and words cannot express how lovely that will be for everyone! I’m sure I’ll have minor heart attacks for a while every time she pulls out of the driveway on her own, but WHEW, we made it!

Today was fairly quiet in the library, so I made some stuff–some little LED robots made with hot glue and a snack bag.

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Snack bag that is actually more like a pencil pouch

Cotton laminate is wonderful, but was too thick for my machine/needle once I was doing more than two layers, so I had to switch to hand sewing to pull it together. The snack bag was a prototype for a service project, and unfortunately wasn’t easy enough to work as a mass student project, but we’ll keep tweaking and try a bigger needle in the machine to see what we can come up with. I by mistake bought a TON of cotton laminate fabric (ordered online, had no clue how long the bolts were; I got a great deal!), so I’ve got to figure out something that the kids can do with it.

Making stuff feels good. I’ve been writing some, doing some rewarding lessons on media bias, and now, today, making stuff again. When this old world starts getting me down, I need to go back to the things I can count on to lift my spirits.

If my 48th year on this earth is as rewarding as my 47th, I will be able to handle that. Maybe at some point I’ll even stop dreading my birthday.

2/12/2017: Writing

Sitting in Barnes and Noble today, killing time while the kid was working on a science project with a friend, I was struck by a bit of energy and inspiration. I’ve been thinking about digging up the old young adult novel I wrote years ago (15 years ago, maybe? a long time ago) and trying to revise it. I have read so much YA in the interim, and also grown so much as a human being and learned so much about kids through working with them and living with one. I know that what I’ve learned will likely translate to being able to do a nice revision of that book. But I hadn’t even looked at it in at least 10 years, probably more. When it got rejected twice, after two promising responses, I just stuck it in a drawer (metaphorically) and stopped thinking about it.

But today, sitting there in the bookstore, I decided to try to find the file. It wasn’t on my laptop, so I texted Dan to see if he could find it on our old desktop. And he did! Found it and sent it to me.

So, I’ve read the first four chapters. What I see: the bones are good. The writing is good (I think). There are some big gaps in the emotional development of the main character that reflect the gaps I had in my own development when I was writing that draft. There’s too much anger and not enough love. But it’s real, righteous anger that is the heart of that early part of the book, so I don’t want to squash it. I just want to balance it some.

What struck me reading it, after all this time, was that I still felt that connection with the characters, like they were part of me. I feel like I cheated them some, didn’t give them enough space to be their full selves, but now, in a revision, I can do that, or at least try to.

This could be fun.

Or a total disaster.

I’m going to go with fun!

2/8/2017: The kid

Dan posted this poem on facebook the other day, in honor of Thomas Lux’s death.

A Little Tooth

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.

* * *
“A Little Tooth” from Drowned River by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 1990 by Thomas Lux.
 

No cretins or dolts or smooth talkers yet, and she’s a committed vegetarian-turning-vegan, but YES, this poem. YES, this experience of it going by too fast, this person who once was entirely dependent suddenly (it seems sudden! it’s not, but it seems it!) mostly managing her own life and making her own decisions and basically just walking around like an almost-adult.

So different from me, this kid. So different from her dad. So much like us in some ways, but mostly different. Extroverted where we are both introverted. Fierce in ways we aren’t and sensitive in ways we are. Strong and tender. Thoughtful and thoughtless. Sometimes so maddeningly typically teenagery, but as a person who wasn’t that, I take secret comfort in it. When she asks for advice, I’m mostly lost. My world has never looked like hers does.

Being a parent is kind of terrifying. You do the best you can, but you screw up, and every time you do screw up, it feels so much different from work screwups or other relationship screwups. It weighs more. But then they get older, and your chances to either screw up or not are quickly diminishing, because you just aren’t all that important anymore. You love them, and they love you, and you hope that you are always the safe place to land if they need it, but it’s different. When they fall on their face, it’s partly because you have given them enough space that they can fall. And then they get up! On their own! You’re just there watching on the sidelines, cheering and cringing and maybe providing a shoulder to cry on or a hug or just a set of ears that will listen to the ranting, but it’s not your life.  It used to feel like it was, but more and more, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.

Tonight that feels both beautiful and painful. As it should.

 

2/7/2017: Look Away

The temptation to look away is strong today.

DeVos.

Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Travel ban” possibly reinstated later today, but I’m writing early enough that I don’t know yet about that one.

This is just today’s headlines. I haven’t even gone the virtual equivalent of below the fold.

Friends, I am so weary. And angry. And sad.

Someone said to me recently, with very pure intentions, that none of this is really going to have a significant effect on me or my family. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I see where they are coming from. But THAT IS NOT THE POINT.  That DOES NOT MATTER. If we live our lives and cast our votes based only on what is going to happen in our little corner of the world, then aren’t we just casting away the very thing (empathy) that makes us human?

It’s impossible to hold in one’s head all the things going wrong and being mishandled in this world. This is not a partisan statement and is not even remotely limited to the last few weeks. I was just reading about Flint, Michigan’s continuing water crisis, and that sure as hell predates the current administration. And you only have to dip your pinky toe into the waters of either history or the present day to find a host of horrors committed by people of all kinds against other people of all kinds. Which isn’t to say that everyone is equally guilty, because I don’t believe that, but just that fear (which is where I think most hateful and harmful behavior originates) and ignorance (the other biggie in terms of causation) are not limited to any single group of people.

Recently, I overheard some kids saying cruddy things about another (not present) kid. They seemed sincerely baffled by my insistence that this was not okay, because the victim wasn’t present to hear their comments. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right? (And have I done the same thing?  Yes, of course I have.) If I don’t read the news, I can stay in my bubble, right? If I close my eyes and ears tight enough, and keep my arms close to my sides, I can ride this puppy out and it won’t even touch me.

It’s important to keep laughing. (Thank you, Melissa McCarthy.) It’s important to keep living in the present moment and the present surroundings. It’s important to keep hoping and keep loving and keep hoping that the loving matters. Of course it matters. Let’s just try to push it farther than we’re used to.

I’ll be honest that I am nervous. Not about love, but about being active and being a force for change.  These are tricky times for educators, because it’s like all the rules are being broken or changed. I had a 5th grade kid ask me the other day whether news articles are reliable sources, and I choked out some inadequate, confusing response. The question, once so simple (and still simple for the kid asking it–she had found a news article about her non-controversial research topic and wanted to know if it was reliable, nothing more or less), now feels like a complex, fragile creature.

I’m not feeling especially proud of myself today. I can’t and will never be perfect, but I can do better than this.

2/3/2017: Community

Friday night, 8:45. I had strong intentions to go to bed super early, but I’m just not wired to go to bed super early.

Look, there’s no way around the fact that the last few weeks have just been a steady onslaught of “can it get worse?” “why yes, it can!” over and over and over. I’m getting serious news fatigue, so I’m taking today off from new input about whatever has happened today in this nightmare of a presidency. It will be waiting for me tomorrow, along with whatever else happens in the meantime.

Yes, I’m possibly being dramatic about how bad things are. I don’t think I am, but I can see that perspective and am too weary to defend against it. If that’s what you think, I hope you are right. I would love nothing more right now than to be proven terribly wrong in my judgements about what is already happening and what I fear is coming next if nobody with both the guts and the power starts steering this train back on track.

BUT. Right now, maybe in part because of my day off from new information, I’m feeling kind of hopeful and heartened, for a few reasons.

One reason is you guys. Those of you sharing things on facebook that make me think and/or make me feel less alone. Those of you having conversations, both about what is happening and also about what we can do. I know you are also weary. I know some of you have very real reasons to be afraid, for your homes or your jobs or your health or your children and families. Or just for your sense of safety in this country and this world. For every comment that I see that dismisses these concerns, I see (in my feed, at least, and in my day to day life) many, many more that validate them. This gives me real hope for the future. I am more awake than I have ever been, and I’m not alone in that. And I’m aware that some of what I am waking up to has been surrounding me long before this election, but I was too lazy or ignorant or self-absorbed to care. It hurts to be awake and to look down and see the blood on your hands. But while it hurts, there’s also the flip side of feeling like you can do something about it, wanting to fix what’s broken. And looking around and realizing that you are immersed in a community of people who care. There’s true hope in that.

The other reason is the kids. Always comes back to the kids for me. Maybe just because that’s where I spend so much of my time and energy, but I think mostly because kids are so refreshingly real. It’s not that they are pure and perfect (ha!). By middle school, the masks are starting to form and the battle between authenticity and conforming to some idea of what is acceptable is really being fought in some of these kiddos. But what a gorgeous thing when you see that authenticity come through. And how deeply I admire my colleagues who are creating classrooms where kids can safely try to figure out who they are and share that self with the world.  As a librarian, I am often on the periphery of things when it comes to class dynamics, but I do get to see how much power our teachers have in creating these safe spaces. You can feel it when a class comes through the door. And I’m not talking about a class being the smartest or the best behaved, but just a place where kids can be themselves and throw out their thoughts and opinions with a mix of respect and abandon. I can only imagine how tricky it is to build that culture with a bunch of 12-year-olds, but I see it happening around me and am so grateful for it.

I’ve had a lot of library classes the past few days. With some of them, I got to see pure delight when kids solved a puzzle I’d given them. And frustration when it seemed too hard! “This is just not fun any more!” and “I’VE GOT IT!!” coming from different kids at the exact same moment! Some classes are doing research on topics of their choice, and I love to hear the excitement when they find an article that answers an authentic question they have. With one class today, I misstepped a bit in selecting a reading passage and ended up with several kids bailing out of the lesson because it was too gross (Phineas Gage; google him if you are feeling strong). But what an amazing thing! They felt uncomfortable, so they left the room, and then came back after the gross part was over. And some of the ones who stayed loved it, so it wasn’t a total bomb. It just was what it was–imperfect and kind of messy, like life.

So my challenge to myself is to be mindful. Mindful of these little moments in my day that give me hope, and mindful of where I fit in the larger world. Mindful of my responsibility to those around me, and those I can’t see, and this crazy planet we share. When I start to feel powerless and overwhelmed, it’s worth being mindful of the power of a single interaction to change the course of a life, including my own, but also of the temporary nature of every moment, every feeling.

I might not be making any sense. I feel good right now. I feel alive, and glad for it. I feel like I’m part of something bigger than I am.

Keep fighting the good fight. Love and peace to every one of you.

1/28/17: Tension

I’m at a loss for words.

But it feels important to write something, to acknowledge in some way this day. Because every day now feels like a paragraph in a future history book. I hope against hope that I’m wrong–that this is a blip that will be corrected shortly by sane folks who have the power to correct it. But my gut tells me that I am right. Because I don’t see the sane minds speaking out. I see a lot of silence.

If you are reading this and you voted for him and you are still glad you did so, please PLEASE explain to me (send me an email if you want; ask me for confidentiality and I will respect it; post an anonymous comment) what you are thinking. If you think this all makes sense, I need to understand why and how. I am not being sarcastic or disingenuous here–I truly want to understand, because I know there are people I love and respect who are not experiencing what I am experiencing. It seems to me (and I know I live in a primarily liberal bubble when it comes to social media) that most responses to this question (why is this okay?) are about how Clinton and Obama are just as bad. That feels like a non-response. If Clinton had won and was doing this stuff, believe me, I would be speaking out about it. But she didn’t win, so that’s over and is no longer a useful response. That might be why you voted how you did, and I get that, but I want/need to understand what is going on NOW in the minds of people who voted for him. Because maybe, just maybe, we can all agree that some of this stuff is flat out WRONG, and maybe, just maybe, that can temper what is happening. Some of this stuff just goes way beyond partisan politics. Today goes way beyond partisan politics.  Doesn’t it?  If not, help me understand. Please.

I titled this post “tension” because of an internal tension around how much energy to devote to resistance, how afraid to be, how to find a foothold in making a difference. I’ve written about this before–how it is easy in my daily life to shove all of this aside, because I feel safe. My fears are not for myself or my family. But that’s how these things get out of hand. Those of us who are safe can way too easily cover our eyes and ears. I don’t want to do that. At the same time, when it starts to be overwhelming, how easy it is to shift my attention to my kid’s exam grades or the novel I’m reading or the stupid tv show I’m binge-watching (and too embarrassed to name! it’s terrible!). What a luxury to be able to do that. How lucky am I to be able to write this post instead of having to wonder where I will sleep tonight, or whether I’ll see my family again, or whether what I consider my home will remain my home. How lucky I am.

 

 

1/21/17: Gaslighting

So, this happened:

“Trump Attacks Media for Coverage of Inauguration Crowds”

No, it’s not surprising. Not really.

And yet it is.

This is what I posted on facebook: “I just really don’t know what to do with the fact (FACT) that the President and his press secretary are lying, overtly, to the public about something so easily verifiable. I honestly can’t wrap my mind around it. Yes, I get that you don’t want it to be true that more people showed up for the march than for the inauguration, but you don’t get to just say that it’s not true because that’s what you want, and make up numbers to prove it. Good lord, Congress, please please please stop this train.”

I’m sitting here wondering how the hell to deal with this as an educator.

I’ve been gathering resources and trying to wrap my mind around a lesson on fake news. I’ve got a ton of material, and I need to figure out what to say to my 5th and 6th graders to help them learn to sort through all of the mess that’s out there. Many of their classroom teachers are already doing this work, I know. I am not even remotely alone. And our kids are great thinkers and are wired for social justice. Nothing lifts my spirits like the young people I interact with in my job.

But what on earth do we do? I mean, seriously.

I have many kids in my classes who support Trump and whose parents and families are very happy with the outcome of the election. I have colleagues who feel the same way. I don’t guess they are super happy with stuff like the lies he tells, but more about whatever they think he and the Republican party leadership will do for the country. The same would be true for me if Hillary had won: I would be happy about the progressive agenda and not entirely thrilled with some aspects of her. I think I’d feel that way about just about any politician. I’m trying to see it that way and trying SO HARD to be empathetic to their viewpoint. But people, it’s hard, and partly it’s hard because it seems like any time I see someone reach out to Trump supporters and ask, “Please tell me what you are seeing, and please explain this to me so I can understand it,” the response is about how Hillary is just as bad, or about how Obama was just as bad.  I get that they think Hillary and Obama are bad. What I want to understand, truly, is why they think Trump is good. I want to understand how they are looking at what I am looking at and not feeling afraid. Because I would LOVE to not feel afraid. I would love to come to some level of understanding of all of this that would make me less concerned about the future of my country. I feel really, really worried when the President and his press secretary lie about something as simple and stupid as the number of people who rode the Metro, and claim that it’s the media who are lying. I feel like this, on day 2 of his presidency, is a terrible sign of what is to come. I deeply worry that the children I teach are going to learn to doubt the accuracy of things that are actually true, with the leader of the country as an example to follow. I worry about a lot of stuff when it comes to him being an example, but this is a big one.

I mean, and this is a serious question, do people think that the photographs are fake? Do they think that people can’t really discern the difference between photos of grass and photos of large groups of people? Do they think that the Metro system made up numbers in order to mislead people? Or that the press made up numbers? Is this something we are supposed to believe?

I’m heartened, truly, by the numbers of people who came out for marches all over the country and world. I’m glad the internet exists and I am hopeful that the truth will always find a way to be known and heard.

I’m trying to find a foothold in this new world we find ourselves in. Kindness is the one I keep coming back to.

Peace to everyone reading. Love wins.

My good thing from today: watching video and facebook feed coverage of all those marches. It matters.

Update: I’m seeing a lot of folks saying that the attendance was lower than Obama’s inauguration because Trump supporters were actually working. Why didn’t Trump use that argument instead of resorting to lies and misrepresentation?

1/17/17: Not gonna let it get me down

I’ve had several headache-free days in a row (totally headache free, people! YES!). So I’m experiencing a bit of joy at the moment mixed in with what I guess I would call pervasive despair and anxiety about what’s coming in the days ahead for our country. I’m not going to write about politics tonight. Other folks are writing about it much more thoughtfully and articulately than I can. What I keep coming back to, or trying to come back to, is the idea that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (MLKJr, of course)

I can be small-minded. I’ve been frustrated these last few months and not in possession of a lot of compassion and love for the folks who got us into this mess and the ones who don’t see it as a mess at all. I’ve been pretty angry at times, which is not a comfortable place to be but which can become a place to get stuck. There’s a righteousness to this kind of anger, and the energy of it becomes a self-fulfilling loop. I am quite content sometimes to stew in my own juices and rage at the injustices going on around me, versus getting off my butt and doing something to make a difference.

I have a hard time picturing myself marching somewhere without being a miserable wretch pulling down the people around me. I am not a fiery speaker. As I get older, I get better at speaking up when I think something isn’t right, but I’m still figuring out how to do it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m off my rocker. I’m working on that one.

What I can do, I figure, is try to drive out hate with love. It comes back to my job, and how the ways I interact with young people matter. I was a bit impatient with a kid today who was wanting help after I’d closed the library, and I wanted to beat the traffic, and she was kind of frozen with worry, and while I don’t think she left the interaction feeling completely unsupported, I do know I could have (should have) chilled out and taken some extra time to help her more. Because I didn’t need to be anywhere special, and if I do that small thing for her, then she feels better, and maybe she is more likely to do something similar for someone else. Yes, she had procrastinated. No, she wasn’t especially polite in asking for help (due to being panicked; she’s generally a polite kid). But she’s a human being doing her best in this world, and in that moment, she really could have used a gentle hand on her shoulder and me sitting down and saying, calmly, “Let’s look at this together.”

But, sadly, not what I did. I found a quick solution to tide her over so that I could hit the road, and now I feel lousy about it instead of feeling good about having done something good.

But I’m not going to let that mistake get me down. I’m human, just like that kid is human. I’m doing the best I can in this world. I’m scared and frustrated and a bit overwhelmed, but being kind isn’t hard.  So tomorrow, a new day, I will aim to be kinder than I was today.

I forgot lately about posting good things from the day at the end of my posts.  Today’s good thing is NO HEADACHE!!!