Monthly Archives: December 2016

Holiday reflections on “self” and self-care

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As I prepare to embark on a much looked-forward to break, I wanted to share some reflections from another blog of mine:

…I attended a presentation on campus for a candidate interview. At the conclusion of the presentation, the candidate asked the attendees to share one thing they were going to do between now and inauguration day to practice self-care. Almost everyone in the room shared something about looking forward to being with family. Given the rather uncertain present and the constant immersion into justice and works of equity, the people, I think, were stretched thin. They were tired.

As I listened to each person speak, I thought of how little we actually know of each other. How we wear the mask and hide our eyes for safety’s sake, in order to survive. The vulnerabilities that we allow to be seen are only the tip of the iceberg. But with those who know us best, the masks fall off. The tiresome duties of being human can be left on the floor with dirty laundry as, in some respects, we’re allowed to be young again. Holidays are sometimes more than days off work, but days off call, to refresh our human performance. For we all perform in some way.

Everyone intrinsically desires to not have to fake it. But we are afraid, even in our desire, to be real with those who may despise our realness or wound us in their quest to know. And so we reserve our truest selves for those few. Home represents the ability to go to a place where we can be nurtured, safe, and know that we belong. We only want to be held. When not with physical arms, with space and energy.

For some, family is biological blood; for others, family represents the people to whom you belong, blood or not. Family is people who can’t get rid of you if they wanted to; family is who we always come back to; family is those who know our crazy and our calm and love us still. However, whatever, family means to us, family allows us space to be the whole people that we are, in all of our messiness.

And this is what we want, most of us. To be wholly present, in all of our messiness. But we only do this with a few. Parents, siblings, lovers, friends. These are the ones we call family. The witnesses to our need to be known and to know. To be counted. To be seen.

You are terrifying and strange and beautiful. Something not everyone knows how to love.

— Warsan Shire

So love the families you have, whoever they be, and be loved. In that, know that your definition of family is enough. You love what’s yours; others love what is theirs. And therein, let us be grateful.

I’m thankful for the people I call family, whether blood or not. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to recharge and gain a fresh perspective to bring back to work in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful winter break and if indulging in holidays is your thing, enjoy it to the max!

To 2017, whatever it may bring.

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In which I return to my lists

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The sun is perfect and you woke this morning. You have enough language in your mouth to be understood. You have a name, and someone wants to call it. Five fingers on your hand and someone wants to hold it. If we just start there, every beautiful thing that has and will ever exist is possible. If we start there, everything, for a moment, is right in the world.

~ Warsan Shire

It’s been a whirlwind semester. Remember how in Cinderella, the clock struck twelve before she had a chance to fully comprehend everything that was going on? I can identify a little bit with Cinderella.

I had a lot of good intentions for this semester. I was going to reflect each Friday on my instruction for the week; I was going to keep up with my blog; I was going to be on top of all the things….in case you haven’t guessed, none of that happened. I scheduled, planned, and taught classes and then scheduled, planned, and taught some more. The lightning spark reflections happened only in my head. But even if I never got to write any of it down, I did learn some things from my first semester of permanent-track employment.

Each year, I make a long list of things I want to accomplish or focus on throughout the year. I check in with myself periodically over the months; sometimes I add things to the list. I let other things go. At the end of the year, in December, I check in for the final time and celebrate my accomplishments and create a new list for the next year. I’m in the process of writing my 2017 list, but I wanted to share some of my  work-related list items that were either formal or informal “wants” for 2016:

Apply for jobs in the fall – I think I can safely cross this one off the list. I was offered and accepted a permanent track position at Towson University in July, so I get to continue to work with wonderful people in a supportive, creative environment. Excited to see what happens in the next few years.

Learn a new skill or brush up on an old skill – This semester, I’ve taught sessions for incoming freshman, seasoned upperclass-ers & grad students. I’ve worked with a lot of different faculty members and had to adjust my instruction to stress different skill sets in different classrooms. I also guest lectured in a few sections of a School Library Media course. What a cool way to be involved in the future of education and library practitioners! I was also a mentor for our student leadership program at the library and served on a hiring committee or two.

Cultivate new experiences (#NoRegrets) – In Spring 2016, I taught an undergrad course as an adjunct at one of our sister institutions. This semester (Fall 2016), I’m co-facilitating a course-integrated intergroup dialogue group. It’s been challenging and rewarding at the same time and I’ve learned a lot about myself as an educator, learner, and individual. Pretty neat experience. For next semester, I’m planning a student symposium with a theme of activism and resistance in the 1960s, which has also allowed me to get out and connect with others on campus with whom I might not ordinarily cross paths.

Get published (article, book, whatever) – I’m really excited about having a book chapter proposal accepted. It won’t actually be published for a few years, but I’m crossing it off my list nonetheless.

Be smart, keep learning – I’ve discovered so many new authors, talked to new people, and been exposed to many new things this year. I presented at some conferences and listened to people present at others. It all makes my learner’s soul very, very happy. Regardless of formal education, I believe everyone should be learning always (and we often are, even when we don’t realize it). Formally speaking, I also went ahead and applied for a Ph.D. program, to start in Fall 2017. We’ll see what happens. *fingers crossed*

I.

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“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I’m bad at publishing blog posts in a timely manner, so I started writing this at the beginning of November:

Last weekend, I participated as a staff facilitator in the university’s social justice retreat. It was a beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to work with college students (grads and undergrads) who were passionate and invested in making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone; regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, national origin, language, socioeconomic status, or belief system. I got to hear their life stories and share some of mine. It was intense and mentally exhausting, but also so meaningful.

During that weekend, I re-learned the power of stories and of seeing, really seeing people for the individuals they are. I was humbled by the openness with which these young people came. And they challenged me to try to do better, again. To be recommitted to living out my beliefs. And to strive to stand boldly for what I believe in: human dignity and the right to be seen.

One of the students in my small-group made a comment on Saturday about the reality that America could elect a leader with fascist views. Up to that point, we’d been laughing and being fairly lighthearted in our chatter. When she said that, we all sobered up and the reflections in our minds would be read in our eyes: What would this mean to America? What would this mean for me?

To get to the retreat, we drove through ardent Trump supporter territory. There were signs every other foot. Some big, some small, some hidden by overgrown fields ill-suited to staying in their places. I even saw Trump/Pence signs on the lawn of a church. The irony is that their mission statement (because I looked in up) included a focus on ministry to at-risk populations. I wondered to myself how they defined “at-risk.” 

And then there was the huge Trump sign in a field, with the “T” missing and a notice that it had been vandalized by the intolerant. What defines tolerance and intolerance?

It’s now post-election and Trump has been named president-elect. There have been many newspaper articles, blogs posts, social media rants, and frantic tweets about the ramifications about the election. I’m not going to add to that right now.

What I do want to say is that while attending the social justice retreat I was challenged in ways that I did not expect to be challenged.From that experience, these are the things I learned:

  • “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
    • Never assume that you know someone’s life story, the things they wrestle over, or their perspective, just because of how they look or what you perceive to be true from prior experience.
  • “We’re all stories in the end.” – Steven Moffat
    • As the retreat coordinator said, it’s not facts that change lives, it’s stories. The more we take time to engage with others on a genuine level, the better off we all are. It doesn’t mean we’ll all agree on everything (spoiler: we won’t). But it is hard to ignore someone’s humanity while listening. Build relationships and take time to be present. It’s about dialogue, not debate. Debate has it’s time and place.
  • “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push just the same.” ― Jay Asher
    • During the retreat, we had little paper bags in which we could leave (positive) comments for other people to recognize the brave, supportive, or noteworthy things they’d done during the weekend. At the end of the retreat, everyone had a chance to retrieve their bags and see what notes others had left for them. Sometimes I forget that other people besides me can see me living.
  • “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.” ― Jackie Robinson
    • Also, on the last day, we did this activity. Maybe it sounds cheesy; maybe it was. But it was also humbling and warm-fuzzy feeling to realize that the things I did, just going throughout my day, meant something to someone else. And vice versa.

I have a quote wall in my apartment with sticky notes of phrases and ideas I want to remember (also perhaps cheesy). Each of these quotes went on my wall and hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder to me to, in the words of Luuvie Ajayi, “Do better!”