Finding Refuge in Writing

Photo of a roller coaster at dusk

It has been a roller coaster of a week.

While I transitioned roles and institutions almost 3 months ago, this was a week of first as a program chair — first program meeting, first time finding out that an adjunct faculty member was not able to teach the week before classes started with full sections & students needing to enroll, first major policy blow-up, all while doing the faculty work of preparing for my first week of classes with the equivalent of three new course preps and taking on a fourth (temporary) prep on Friday, as we hustled to find adjunct faculty to fill gaps for a Monday start, and co-presenting a professional learning session.

It’s all handled. I’m ready for my classes. I have tomorrow to prep for the additional course. I even entered in the PTSA memberships waiting in my inbox from Thursday.

But, when I breathe, it’s a lot.

It’s a lot, in the midst of a world that is holding a lot. So much loss and violence this week alone. So many things that are so hard. So hard not to compare this load to the load of so many others. So many questions about how I could dare to center my own struggle in a moment of collective struggle much greater than me.

When I breathe, it’s a lot.

It’s a lot, so much so that I am sitting awake on a Saturday night with a million things to do, but only one thing that is really necessary, which is to write. Well, and listen to music. And drink tea. And breathe. The one thing to do is perhaps only to be.

When I breathe, it’s a lot.

It’s a lot, and writing forces me to acknowledge that it’s a lot.

In this moment of so much collective grief and struggle and so much personal and professional grief and struggle, every single thing is a lot.

But I am here, and I am writing, and I am working right now at putting one foot in front of the other, of taking one breath at a time, at moving moment by moment.

It is so much. It is all so much.

But if I can breathe in a bit of grace for myself and for this world around me, I find it a bit easier to continue breathing and to continue being.

If I can hold on to the love and community around me, I find it a bit easier to continue breathing and to continue being.

If I can share these words, I find it a bit easier to continue breathing and to continue being.

I hope you find your refuge, dear ones. I hope you find your grace. I am holding space for you as you hold space for me.

It is so much. It is all so much.

Beauty in the Brokenness

shattered glass

Thank you.

Dozens of you, my close friends and family, my colleagues and acquaintances, Twitter folx who have never met me, held me up today.

I felt your uplift.

I needed every bit of it.

The day is over and I have a huge headache. I have a huge heartache. I feel the tears that I’ve held back all day coming forth.

Joys Amidst the Sorrow

My daughter had as good a first day as one could expect from a 5-year old doing distance learning who only finds things interesting when she is in complete control of the outcome (I wonder who she gets that from…).

I love her teacher. Today, in the opening session of her kindergarten class, her teacher not only read All Are Welcome Here but explicitly made reference to the difference in skin tone of the children and the difference in lunches the students might bring from their own cultures (using her son and her as an example with different cultural foods) and made it a point to say that we don’t yuck people’s yum (essentially).

My son is actively advocating for himself, emailing his teachers when there are issues with the online communication and asking for help when he needs it.

I think the Professional Development session that I co-facilitated went well. The feedback was largely positive.

I’ve been uplifted throughout the day by calls, texts, messages, etc.

Sorrow Amidst the Sorrow

My m.o. with grief is to power through, but I have learned that the idea of “powering through” is how grief gets delayed. There is no “powering through” or going around. There is only going through.

I am still now.

I am done with what I have to do today, that cannot be done another day, well until my 6:30 pm PTSA meeting, but done for the next couple hours.

I am so sad.

I am so tired.

It is so much to bear.

That’s the update.

Thank you for your kindness.

It has been deeply felt.

It is still deeply needed.


Dear Mr. Ali

Orange wildflowers

Dear Mr. Ali,

Mark, last night when I saw Maria’s tribute post to you, with pictures of her senior English class, saying that she was dedicating this teaching year to you, I didn’t want to believe it. Then I saw Nicole’s tribute post. Then Colleen private messaged me. I posted on social media, but thought still, maybe it wasn’t true, because it just couldn’t be true, because we had just been exchanging e-mails about your bringing your students down for a campus tour of my university.

But it’s true.

You’re gone from this earth.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I cried last night before bed. I cried this morning when I woke up. I am crying now as I write this.

My friend, I just don’t understand.

You were the best of people. Your kindness and humility belied your deep passion and commitment to our students. When I left South Hayward to take my academic position in Southern California, I did so knowing our students were in good hands because I knew they had you. I treasured our time together in writing group. Writing was a way for me to hear your powerful voice, and to learn from you because you were so deeply private in your spoken words. You had so much wisdom and you were so thoughtful about every word you gave us, so that every word made an impact.

I see the kids’ (I know they’re grown, but they will always be kids to me) posts about how you told them to make “quiet good trouble.” You knew how to make tidal waves that no one saw coming, to navigate systems to do right by students, to move through systems not made for you, for us, for them, and to pass that knowledge along. You were always seeking to grow and to give. I never heard you say a negative thing about another person. Systems, institutions, things that needed to change, yes. But people, no.

You had a way of seeing people and of making people feel seen and heard. You were not just in the community, you were of the community. Your own children alongside other students found comfort and challenge in your classroom. You pushed us all to be our best without ever being pushy, just by being you.

I reread your last e-mail to me, in mid-March, about the probably canceled Southern California college tour. I keep searching for pictures that I know I must have of the last campus tour that we had together. I can’t find them. I know we took a picture and I can’t find it. I know I don’t need the pictures because I will never forget you, but I wish I had them because they would make me feel like you weren’t gone.

I grieve for your family, for our community and for our profession. When I spoke at a webinar earlier this summer about the power of Black male teachers, I thought of you, and how much it meant that our students had you as an English teacher. Your presence, in so many ways, guided them. Who you were mattered — as a person, a father, a teacher, a writer.

You are someone that I have admired for the last 13 years since we first met. You are the best of people. You are someone I will always consider a partner and friend in this work. I will carry you with me for as long as I live and I love you deeply.

Thank you for your light, my friend. Thank you for being such a gift to all of us.

I hope that you are at peace knowing that your powerful legacy is left to us.

We will do our best to carry that legacy forward in love.

But today, we grieve.

In deep love and gratitude,

Betina (aka Dr. Hsieh)

Grace and Peace Be With You

A small white feather floats above an open hand

My son starts high school on Wednesday.

My daughter starts kindergarten on Thursday.

When my daughter was a newborn 5 years ago, and I was still on maternity leave, home with her in all of her infant glory, I thought about this time. I anticipated it would be hard, emotional, full of excitement and conflicted inner feelings.

But, of course, I didn’t predict that it would be happening in the middle of a global pandemic which would find us starting the school year online.

I also couldn’t know that I would still be in the midst of a transition into my first semester in a new position, with more responsibility and new course preps.

It is all so much.

I wonder how we will manage with supporting a 5 year old with 5 hours of synchronous & asynchronous instruction in a language no one in our home speaks fluently.

I wonder how I will manage leading, teaching, offering professional learning opportunities, writing, and mothering.

But, when I breathe, I remember that it can only be done through grace.

I am blessed to be in community with people who remind me who I am — my family, friends, colleagues (current and former), church family, heck, even my tweeps (many of whom have never met me IRL). They are people who are full of grace. They check in on me and remind me to claim my peace. They hold space for me when I have no space to hold for myself.

It is all so much.

It is all so much.

I know this will not be easy, and I may not get it all done. It is okay. I will be okay. I am so deeply loved by family and community who give me strength. I have faith. I have support.

I know that my children may see struggles this year — social, emotional, academic. It is okay. They will be okay. They are so deeply loved by family and community who give me strength. I have faith. I have faith in them. I have support, and so do they.

May grace and peace be with you all. A peace that surpasses all understanding. As we fight battles that no one else may know, and that we may never have predicted, I hope we do so in community, extend one another grace, and experience peace.

It is all so much.

But we are not alone.

Embracing Agency

A heron sitting on a body of water above its reflection

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

I am doing a lot of learning and unlearning lately.

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of my son being seen and recognized as a leader, something that I worked so hard for all of my life, but which felt so elusive in my youth.

Following that post, he received word that he had been offered a position on the youth leadership team for which he applied.

He had been chosen.

Then he told me, “But Mom, I think I’m going to respectfully decline.”

In my head, I thought, “Wait, what?! But you went through all the trouble of applying and these people see your potential and this is such a growth opportunity for you, and I just blogged about this!”

Fortunately, only some of those words actually left my mouth, and not in those ways. I asked him why he decided to decline.

He responded, “I just don’t think it’s the right thing for me. I went to the orientation before they chose people and heard more about it, and I still don’t feel like I have a lot to contribute to the team. It just isn’t something that I truly feel passionate about.”

This was a good answer.

But, it was so hard for me to let go of this opportunity…for him.

I pushed a bit more, “Well, are you sure? I mean, it’s an honor to be chosen and they feel like you could contribute something, and I’m sure you could contribute something even if you’re not sure what yet.”

He stood firm, “Yeah, I just think that it’s important to really be passionate about something that’s going to take so much time. I don’t want to just do it to do it. And, I think it would conflict with Tae Kwon Do.”

So, that was it.

He declined the spot, and went on with his life.

My son teaches me a lot, but this was an especially important lesson.

Sometimes, life gives you opportunities that are just not in your lane. Or, they’re in a potential lane, but they’re not your passion.

You can be like him and say no, and move it along, so the opening is there for when your opportunity does come.

Or, you can be like I have always been in my life, rushing to say yes because I’m honored by the opportunity or because I’d be good at it or because I feel like I should do it, in gratitude for someone’s belief in me, even when I know that I don’t likely have the time or energy to take one more thing on.

When I say yes in the times I should say no, it always comes back to confront me.

And while that discomfort also teaches me, and makes it less likely for me to say yes (to something I should say no to) in the future, it teaches me from a different place than my son’s lesson.

My son is reminding me to stand in my truth, the knowledge of myself, and faith that other opportunities are around me and will come to me.

He is not worried that he will never have another chance to be part of a team because he knows who he is as an individual.

And he is loved, even when he makes choices that make the tiny inner tiger mom inside me cringe.

That tiger mom self is much harsher on myself than on him.

So, what have I learned in this last week:

  1. We can apply to things we’re not sure we want. We can make choices when the choices are ours to make. We can say no.
  2. Sometimes we’ll say the wrong yes or no. It will still be okay.
  3. The best choices are made when we are fully aligned with our passions, and choose from those places.

I am grateful that I am growing, and learning with and from my family and myself during this time. It is a gift that I am not taking for granted even though sometimes it is uncomfortable.

I am reclaiming my agency and learning to embrace my imperfections, reminding myself that if I keep bringing myself authentically to my life, the doors to opportunities aligned with my true passions will open up.