The House that SOL Built

It’s time to say thank you, but in the most selfish of ways.  I am thanking some amazing writers in this incredible community, but I am doing it so that I now have a list to return to when I need some inspiration.  You see, I have just spent the vast majority of my allotted writing time, and then some, going back through 30 days of blog posts from educators participating in the Slice of Life March writing challenge.  I have scrolled and rescrolled, clicked and skimmed and moved through dozens and dozens of blogs and blog posts….revisiting some from this past month and discovering a few new ones that I didn’t know were hiding.  

First, and foremost, a heartfelt thank you to the five incredible writers and educators who pulled this challenge together and provided what must have been an incredible amount of support for the bloggers who write well, but are technologically challenged.  There were many, many comments about how to post permalinks and find support!  And through it all, they wrote and commented and built the foundation for this house we all visited this month.  

Stacey at raisealithuman

Melanie at justwritemelanie

Beth at twowritingteachers

Betsy at imlivingmywords

Amy at amyellerman

Now for the writers who touched me deeply, somehow, and became a part of my daily routine.  I have subscribed to their blogs, searched out their posts and felt like I couldn’t really go to sleep until I had at least seen their title for the day.  There is so much talent and beauty in the words that you all put onto your pages, along with some great snarky humor and contemplative questioning, I am honored to share this space with you for the month of March.

Carla Michelle Brown

Eddie at Idealiotic

Natasha at Tendingbulbs

Mo at Makingitallup

Amy at Bluejeanamy

Elisabeth at dirigibleplum

Juliette at justgiftslife

Britt at multifacetedmusings

Vivian at mscheninthemiddle

MBHMaine (who is “Nix” in my head) at nixthecomfortzone

Alice at nerdsbegetnerds

Sherri at edifiedlistener

And then there are the writers whose names I am always drawn to each day when I finally post my own permalink.  A few are “first time” slicers and many are far more seasoned at this than I, but they make up so much of this community.  I have to admit, scrolling through to see who “jumps out” at me is one of my favorite pastimes of the month!

Darin at anaccidentalfarmer

Fran at franmcveigh

Glenda at evolvingenglishteacher

Lakshmi at mukhamani

Fran at litbitsandpieces

Kevin at dogtrax

Lisa at alotalot

Tim at timteach

humbleswede at humbleswede

Terje at justforamonth

Heidi at wordsmithing

Lainie at edsoapbox

Greg&Linda at wherewerv

MrBrackBill at carpefabula

To all of you who have shared this house with me, either in a lovely chair by the window, smushed up on the couch with some comfy pillows, or strolling about outside, contemplating the natural world with all its wonderful metaphors…thank you.  You make me a better writer and a better person.

Repairing the World

(Tikkun Olam: In Judaism, the idea of “repairing the world” )

I watch you gathering up the broken pieces
one by one you put them into your small backpack
filling it up almost to the point that it cannot be zipped closed.

(Somehow, though, you will make the zipper’s teeth come together
temporarily sealing them inside.)

I know that you will take the contents home
dumping them out onto the floor
sifting through to see what is there.

You might even try to fit them together, like an awkward puzzle, 
to form a new whole
but you will fail.

You will take them, though, and keep them
safely tucked away. 

And then you will go out once again, empty backpack on your shoulders
in search of the broken pieces.

I have an old bag similar to yours.  
Not a backpack and with no zipper to securely close.
It hangs in my closet, behind the outgrown winter coats 
and the toolbox with the broken hinge. 
I have not used it in quite some time and for that I am grateful.

I want to ask you about your quest, this searching that you do.

Are you looking for something in particular? 
Do you ever hope to find something valuable?
Are there pieces that you leave behind, things that will stay lost in perpetuity?

I want to ask… 
But I don’t.  I just watch and wait for you to notice me watching.
But you don’t. 

All The Things

I looked. I searched. I wondered and I delved deep.  I tried, really, I tried.  There is so much that I have to say and so much that I have to feel, but the words are flitting around like fireflies –no, more like gnats– and I am left with no alternative but to write about the writing.  And the writing is coming, but so are the other thoughts.  The things that I avoid, and I don’t avoid much, but now I am avoiding.  Because the things are big.  And the things are a little scary.  And the things are present.  It’s not like writing about my dad, whose death can still bring me to my knees, weeping and searching for the remnants of air that I know exists, but somehow can’t find my lungs.  It’s not like writing about my job and the teaching and the learning and all the bits in between.  And it’s not even like writing about the world at large, with the wars and the destruction and the falling ice shelves and the empty grocery shelves and the skyrocketing gas prices and milk prices and house prices and the growing poverty and the shrinking patience and the continuously protected racism and the persistent patriarchy and the stubbornly resistant awareness.  Or maybe it is. Maybe it is all of that surrounding something smaller, something that is all mine. 

Insider. Outsider.

Insider.  Outsider.  

There are words I cannot say.  And, there are words that only I can say.  I was born to be an expert in some topics and there are some topics that I will never fully understand.  That is our reality.  Our identities – the multitude of identities that define each of us, some stacked on top of one another and some intersecting in ways that are often defined by those outside of us– these identities determine who we are and how we move through this world.   Some identities are malleable and can change with our own, personal evolution.  Some are fixed, whether we want to recognize them or not.  We have identities that can be concealed and we have identities that walk into the room before our full selves have a chance to enter.  

Today, I am holding two things in my heart and head; I know that they are connected, but I cannot fully see the threads spinning and tangling through them and around them. .  

On the one hand, I have just learned that my school has an epidemic of middle school students selling N-word passes.  Yes, you read that right.  No, it is not a joke.  Yes, they are actually articulating the full word in school.  No, they are not (all) Black.  Yes, the administrators know. No, they have not figured out how to handle it. Yes, the students almost unanimously know that this is happening.  No, they do not think it is problematic.  

On the other hand, I am trying to digest the incident that occurred during last night’s awards show.  Loaded and dangerous ideas fly through my (white) head: toxic masculinity; Black women’s hair and white America’s ongoing commentaries on it; violence on display; role models falling from pedestals (or climbing higher); Black men and the LAPD.  

And I just keep thinking:  our children are watching.  How we react, what we discuss, where we stay silent, when we rise up.  Our children are always watching.  

To be honest, and clear, I could go back and hold a multitude of seemingly disparate things side by side and know that they are connected and not see how.  Whenever we have the space to pull back and look at (whatever) the big picture is, removing ourselves from inside the specificities, we have an opportunity to understand the interconnectedness.  

There is more to be said, but for tonight I just have to be silent and listen.

Where Stories Hide

I wake up this morning while the world still sleeps, marveling for a few moments at the return to my body and, more importantly, the return to my head.  It feels like I’ve come home from a raucous vacation, although vacation is the wrong word.  More like a whirlwind trip to visit distant relatives that required a lot of small talk, and entertaining elderly relatives who remember a version of me that I doubt actually ever existed.  The reality, though, was that I was sick and slept for the better part of three days.  And then I was better and now it is morning.

The sadness that seems to always linger around the periphery these days is filling me completely, spilling out through my eyes and my vocal chords, scream-singing alone in the car on my return trip from dropping one of the kids.  

Sitting on the couch with my computer in a rare hour or two of quiet.  I have so many choices for where to focus my energies:  

  • The grant that needs to be softened so as to appeal to the masses, protecting the inevitable white fragility that defines the intended audience
  • Planning for a strange week ahead with 8th graders that includes our annual guest speaker, Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a Holocaust survivor whose age always reminds us that this may be her final appearance, as well as two days of state testing that no one is actually prepared to take or administer.  
  • Three days of student reflections that are intended to be followed up on daily so that I can help direct their independent workshop.  What do I do with them now??  They need my response, even a few days late, but what if their reflections contain a bomb that I didn’t know needed to be diffused? What if that bomb exploded while I slept?  
  • My overloaded union in-box that includes complaints (valid and not-so-valid), questions, a disciplinary issue, and an incredibly late meeting that should have happened months ago.  
  • Planning for an upcoming training on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education and trying to figure out how to make that work a bigger part of my professional life, although that is scary and feels vulnerable and would move me out of the classroom

Nothing gets done.  I write a letter to my eldest son instead, saying the things I need to say and hoping that he reads most of the words and feels the love.  When I hand it to him, he does read it and then tucks it away with a gruff “thanks” to the air between us.   

My husband and I pass in the kitchen, wondering where the time has gone. I am wondering. He is making waffles. Breakfast for dinner. Four of the five chairs are occupied and the dog waits for whatever leftovers will fill his bowl.

It’s the end of the day and the sun is somewhere behind the dark, foreboding clouds that hold the returning snow.  It feels ominous and metaphorical and big and important.  It’s probably just lake effect. 

Amy in Wonderland

I was at a loss for writing ideas tonight, so I decided to see what was going on this time in 2020.  In my search of The Google, my Google, I quickly found myself heading down that rabbit hole, just like Alice.  A slow and steady fall with dips and turns and odd artifacts along the way.  I found the bizarre collection of instructional materials that I kept throwing out in an attempt to find a connection.  There was a spattering of student writing – none of it developed beyond a first draft – and encouraging, hopeful emails from me to parents and the occasional response, cheering me to keep on keepin’ on.  I found lists upon lists upon lists that I had made: educational sites and links, materials to use or to find, long and short read alouds, tech support (lots and lots of tech support), writing prompts, video prompts, music prompts, cartoon prompts…lists that were just the tip of the iceberg, that giant iceberg that was the impossibly deep chasm that covid placed between me and my students.  And then I found this:

Admin
Summer packets
High School shutting down
new instruction by june 5
Last day at MS june 19
How do you feel?  Makes sense to follow…
No confirmation from state ed or district office
What is the purpose of last two weeks?
Summer?
Wind it down? 
HS teachers not teaching past 5th
No finals
Could be a district decision…No decision?
Sept restart…whenever we restart:
Social distancing requirements
Look at it from 3: logistically, transportation, schedule; academic expectations upon return; social & emotional well being after being out for so long
Admins deal with big; teachers teach
Thought exchange:  what are the questions?
Computers unclear            
8th grade step up ….something over the summer? In person??

I don’t remember writing this and I don’t remember the context.  I could have been taking notes during a meeting or I could have been rage writing –I mean, brainstorming– for my own purposes.  But I can read between the lines: We didn’t know what to do.  The big We.  The grand We.  The collective everybody in the education world and the world beyond that We.  The high school versus the middle school end-of-the-year equity battle was in full swing and apparently someone thought packets could be a good idea.   We had no direction from state ed or from our district administration on, well, anything.  We had decisions to make about summer and decisions to make about September.  There were more questions than answers and a whole lot of ellipses to fill in the spaces where words just could not be found.   

There is a lot of trauma that I still have not uncovered from this time, along with the rest of humanity.  I wonder if the shared trauma of Spring 2020 will just become ingrained in our DNA, shaping each generation uniquely, depending upon how they experienced it.  The kids will feel this differently than the teens or the young adults, all of whom had the one constant –school– pulled out from underneath them with no warning and indefinitely.  Fully fledged adults experienced a space that only they can share, often holding the care of young children in one hand and the care of older parents in the other.  And seniors? The most vulnerable and the ones who had seen so much before this came along and united the world.   

I don’t know the origins of this particular list, but I do know that, like with all words I try to put on a page, there is so much more that never gets out.

Rest & Recovery

Two days ago I wrote about my sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. Then I slept. For over 24 hours I slept. I tossed and turned and knew that time was passing. I woke up to tend to my Critical Responsibilities (sub request; plans for potential sub or, more likely, one of my over-extended colleagues; texts & emails to people to make sure those two things were actually in place; at-home tests and an appointment for big test; peeing) and then rolled over, pulled up covers and kept on sleeping. Sleeping through the day. Through the night. Sleeping even when I was standing up and wondering about how all the things would continue without me. Sleeping to feed the exhaustion and hope that it would finally become sated.

No longer sleeping, but planning already to get back to it. Head feeling crushed by invisible vice…allergies? migraine? covid?? Waiting for test results and trusting that the world will indeed keep spinning without me there to witness it. Writing these words and questioning all the words that are still not making it onto the page.

Night

That time has come and I am done. I have given everything that I have away. I am depleted and everything aches, especially my heart. I question how I will ever return to the world, with coherent thoughts in my head and thoughtful words on my tongue. How will my legs hold me, propel me forward. How will my hands create, my fingers find letters and fresh perspectives. How will I be brave enough to rise with the sun and do it all again?

Rambling Autobiography…

I was born in the spring of a new decade, to a slightly tipsy mother, wearing all pink and hoping beyond hope that I would not, in fact, have a penis.  She got her wish.  The world was upside down. 

I entered seven minutes into the fifth hour of the fifth day of the fifth month. 

I arrived between the 61 shots fired at Kent State and the release of the Beatles final album; I took my first breath in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, under the watchful eyes of my pediatrician father and my third-times-a-charm mother, and against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the trial of the New Haven Nine.  Within two weeks, nearly one million deaths at Treblinka and Sobibor would be insufficiently vindicated by the imprisonment of Franz Stangl, and sleeping students would awaken to gunfire when forty Mississippi State Police released 150 rounds of ammunition into the rooms at Alexander Hall women’s residence at the predominantly-black Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi.  By the end of the month, a catastrophic earthquake would take out almost 100,000 people in Peru, although a circus outside of a village would save lives by inadvertently drawing families to higher ground just prior to the event. 

I stayed in Cincinnati until just after my third birthday, when my father was recruited to be the sole pediatric nephrologist in central New York.  Bringing me, my two brothers, our dog and my mother along, he reestablished our life in snowy Syracuse, New York, far away from family and my mother’s best friend. 

The next fifteen years would see copious amounts of denial and delusion spread over our large, five-bedroom colonial like a heavy, weighted blanket.  And while I eventually crawled out from beneath that problematic and complicated warmth, the draw to return has always been  strong. 

My brothers and I fled to expected lives along college tracts, all the while uncovering our own unique pitfalls and pathways; likely we were pushed along too quickly to something we didn’t even know was a choice. 

After college and before I knew what knowledge really meant, I sank into what could have been my destiny: drinking, smoking, “questionable partnerships” and beneath-my-boots, bottom-of-the-barrel, shitass self-esteem.  I credit my survival to serendipitous genetic configurations and soulmate worthy friendships.  That, and plain old dumb luck. 

I woke up from this hazy phase to my father’s life-changing stroke and the excellent excuse to leave behind a life in New York City for the familiarity of home.  Almost instantly, I faced truths and found my own. 

Years slowed down after that, found some form, and I emerged from a very long chrysalis into this almost-fully assembled adult that has the audacity to impersonate a fifty-two year old middle aged wife, mother and teacher.