A Slow Unraveling

Photo of two speech bubbles in the red speech bubble on the lower left hand corner is thread in a tangled ball, in the green speech bubble in the top right corner is neatly wound thread in a circle with rays extending from the circle

I have been in an inquiry around rest, aided profoundly by friends and in community, as well as through the study of rest as written about by Black women, particularly Tricia Hersey, Bishop of the Nap Ministry and her book Rest is Resistance and Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s Sacred Rest.

What I’ve come to realize is how deeply internalized grind culture has organized my life, how I have bought into it, and how it has come to control me, such that I have been trying to “squeeze in” or “make time” for rest, in the midst of all the things I “have to do” in order to make it.

I have “made it,” by all accounts, but in “making it,” I have lost so much of myself, my ability to be present, and the will to rest.

I have been trying to come back to myself. It is simple but in a life that is organized to do anything but rest, it feels almost impossible. There is always more to do; there has always been more to pursue, so much so that I used to dream of the time when I was most sick in my life, because it was the only time I felt permission to make a hard stop.

But as Hersey would have me remind myself (and would have each of us remind ourselves) each day, I am enough now.

I have been slowly unraveling as I reconnect with myself, with the embodied wisdom that I have tried so hard to suppress so I could move forward in spite of myself. Unraveling means feeling and being rather than doing. It means facing my humanity and the fact that I cannot possibly do all the things, even the beautiful good things that I have filled my life with. It means I have to learn to delegate, perhaps to disappoint, to set better (more, any) boundaries, to live life differently and to prioritize my well-being.

Unraveling means I no longer want to try to cram in all the visits with all the people when I am in a space, that I am beginning to trust that the people who love me will understand why I need space that is open, not committed. It means that I don’t feel the need to post right away, or perhaps at all, about all the things I am up to in life. It means that I am claiming time to breathe, to write reflectively for myself when there are so many things I need to write for others, to do nothing. It means that in doing nothing, I am trusting that everything can be found.

I am deeply moved when I sit with these things. It is a daily practice. It is simple but hard. It is slow, but moving at the pace that is necessary. It requires patience. It is the most human and heartening journey I have been on.

I am grateful for the unraveling.

Cultivating New Things

Photograph of a ginseng plan in a colorful pot with a rainbow colored kite made out of popsicle sticks and with googly eyes and a felt mouth behind it on a wall

My dear friend Ale gave me a ginseng plant for my birthday.

When she gave it to me, she laughed because she knew I would be surprised.

I don’t do well with plants.

I support the life of my family and dog, but they also advocate for themselves.

Less so with myself, and even less so with plants.

But she said to me, “It’s low maintenance and it’s symbolic. You water it like once a week, and it can make it for a little bit if you don’t water it enough, but if you over care for it, it will drown.”

Hmmm, symbolic indeed.

I do not know how long my plant will live under my care, but I know that I must move past my fear of cultivating new things.

I have never wanted to do things I’m not naturally good at.

I have more than enough to do, with things I’m fairly competent at, so why try something new that I could fail at?

Except…that this means I hold myself back from things I want (to do, to be, to try) because, “What if?”

What if?

I told my husband the other day that I am struggling with rest. I get the idea, but I am inconsistent, at best, with execution.

He said, “Well you can’t get good at it if you don’t practice.”

This, of course, is logical, but also counterintuitive for me.

I want to magically master rest, after years of hyper-productivity.

It seems silly as I look at the words on the screen. I’m laughing at myself a bit. It’s cute that I’m operating in magical thinking and it’s great that I am being honest about what I want.

But I know that old habits die hard. I know that baby steps are still steps. I know that commitment + accountability + daily progress + not giving up when I take a big step back (but treating it as a reminder & learning experience) will be the key to mastering rest, like I have mastered other things.

I know I will have to slowly let go of things I’ve held on to for so many years, that have been critical to my survival.

I am trying to cultivate something new.

It is scary.

It will take practice.

I will forget and be reminded by those who love me.

But, in the end, I am hoping for something new, something beautiful, a life that may be flawed, but is also full of peace and rest and joy.

Rest as Resistance

Photograph of a brightly colored bouquet of flowers

My survival (like that of many of women of color in, and outside, of academia) has always been about the hustle. I write about this a lot. I wrote about it last week, in fact.

But I am committed to moving beyond survival, towards thriving. And to do so, I have to slow down.

I am consistently reminded, by those who know me best and love me deeply (and even by those who don’t know me so much but can see the hustle in me), that I have to rest.

But rest does not come easy to someone who has lived in perpetual motion.

I went to dinner with my friend Christina a couple weeks ago and she recommended the book Sacred Rest by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith to me. I had 4 conversations this week where people said, word for word, “I hope you are creating/taking time to rest.” I was reminded by my Brother Ian’s rendition of Donnie McClurklin, in church this evening, that “after you’ve done all you can, you just stand.”

My body reminds me that I continue to carry things that I need to lay down, that if I choose to return later to pick them back up, these things will still be there, but for now, it is time to put them down.

I am reminded that I can’t give grace to others if I cannot understand the need for grace myself.

I am reminded that rest is resistance in a culture that is built upon exploitive over-productivity.

I am reminded that I want to live a joyful life, and that a life that has no room has no joy.

I am continuing to breathe.

I am resisting the pull to react, to respond immediately.

I am taking moments to be.

Pause, Listen, Breathe, Be

Photograph of 3 koi -- a white, an orange and a orange and white koi swimming in green algae filled water near rocks

This morning, I was having a hard time settling.

October is going to be a busy month and the past couple of weekends I’ve had to push my boundaries on working because some things just didn’t get done during the week. So I felt myself pulled back to doing, and began to feel a lot of stress around not knowing what to do. I had to do something. I had to be productive. I had to get some work done.

I have done a lot of self-work (and community care and mental health work) and I am in this inquiry around what it means to choose myself and my humanity, so instead of finding something to do (there is always something to do), I paused, ate, showered (because returning to some form of water always centers me) and breathed.

It is October 1.

A year ago today as I was leaving Paris for Bordeaux to meet new colleagues, a trip I lovingly refer to as “my midlife crisis trip,” I got the news that my father died. I wrote about that morning, and the initial complexities of that loss here.

A year later, my sister is with her mother in Bangkok so that they can be together on the one-year anniversary of his passing. I am at home and will continue celebrating my birthday tonight and this weekend. My kids have soccer and dance practice today. Life continues.

My body remembers and tries to protect me in the best way it knows how to survive. We push through. We work. We produce something when we feel like nothing because it is what has kept us alive all these years. We numb the emotions because there is no time, no space, no room for our humanity, if we want to survive.

But what has kept me alive has also kept me from choosing myself, kept me from my choosing my full humanity, kept me from thriving.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

I make myself a hot cup of “Paris” tea. I remember that I am in the middle of reading the remarkable Year of the Tiger .

There is time.

There are ways we know to choose ourselves.

My body begins to relax, to remember that we are going to be okay, that we are learning to trust ourselves.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

I can choose to thrive, moment by moment. I can choose to make space for all the parts of me, all the emotions, moment by moment.

Pause, listen, breathe, be.

Voice and Visibility: The Wisdom in Our Words

Screenshot of the publication page of "The wisdom in our stories: Asian American mother scholar voices"

What does it mean to believe that the stories we tell to our children have value to our academic communities?

What does it mean to stand in that truth despite in the face of multiple submissions, multiple revisions, multiple rejections, and finally an acceptance, a publication, and a piece in the world that reflects pieces of our hearts?

We (Cat, Ruchi, Judy & I) started this journey many years ago. My daughter was in her 3rd year of life when I first wrote my letter to her. She is now approaching 8. 5 years is a long time, but the words of my letter are still true. They are excerpted in the article, and they have changed slightly over the course of our writings, but I share here the full text of a version of my letter to my children, the wisdom of which I hold true, that words are powerful, that our humanity is powerful, that our love and the co-creation of a better world is powerful and possible.

So grateful to my sister-scholar, co-author, collaborator, friends. So grateful to journey together. So grateful for your belief in us, our words, our letters, our children, our hearts.

Betina’s Letter: 

My dear children,

This morning on the car ride to school, N and I were talking about how much I work and how sometimes he wishes I would work less so that he could have his mommy.  I know you have all felt this way, even J, in her short three years of life.  So, I am writing this letter to explain why: why I do the work I do, what I hope from that work, how that work is an extension of my love for each one of you and how I hope that, one day, we’ll work to create a better world together.

Words are powerful things. I became an English teacher because I saw the power of words and stories. With words, we can tell our stories and see shared humanity through others’ stories.  I see the way that labels have been used against you; used to separate you from others; used to assume placement or assign privilege.  I have seen how the ways you read, write, speak and listen lead others to believe things about your worth.  I know literacies represent power.  I want the future teachers I work with to understand that power. I want them to think about whose voice is missing. I hear your voices but, so often, voices like yours are silent and silenced in classrooms.

Growing up, I hesitated to use my voice. I was “too loud” for my position as a Taiwanese American girl and simultaneously “too American” (for my family) but “never American enough” for my friends.  I knew little Mandarin and even less Taiwanese, and what I did know became lost in discourses of “English Only” and assimilation at school.  As I struggled to fit in with my (mostly white) peers, I lost my sense of self. I lost my words and any desire I had to be who I was.  Only through mothering and writing am I beginning to reclaim my voice and all that it represents, because I want you to see the power of your words, in English, in Mandarin, in Spanish (the native language of your father), as a citizen of this world.

As I’ve taught you the power of words; I also teach them the power of words. My teaching means I spend many late nights away.  I know this has hurt you and I’m so deeply sorry.  It has been hard for me as well.  But I must teach these new teachers because I remember entering urban school teaching at  22 years old, how much I still had to learn.  I know now (but didn’t know then) that almost all parents and educators are trying their best, even when their bests conflict, because educators’ perspectives are not always parents’ perspectives.  I teach them that traditional classrooms aren’t necessarily best; in fact, they work best only to reproduce societies that are inherently inequitable.  I teach them to see that each student brings assets to the classroom, and to honor student knowledge and experiences through relevant teaching curriculum.  I teach them that rigor and relevance aren’t mutually exclusive, and that both are critical to address inequities.  I challenge their thinking when they ask why some students don’t want to learn. I hate it when I hear that.  I don’t want you to be in a world where teachers think that some students don’t want to learn instead of looking at what they can do to support students right where they are.  I teach them to start with who students are, but to not ignore the standards that are often gatekeepers to their success. I help them understand that denying access to innovative curriculum because of their perceptions (or even realities) that students may not have internet in their homes isn’t a way to address challenges of 21st century learning. I push them to go beyond themselves because I know they hope to one day teach children, you, those like you, those different from you.

These children, like you, are my children too, and I feel a responsibility to them as I am responsible to you, as your mother. We are collectively responsible for one another although each of us develops as an individual.  I want you to understand our collective responsibility and I want future teachers to understand that.  I want to help build schools that work in a society that works better for everyone.  My role is supporting teachers in their work. It is an important role. It is an investment in the future, your future, and our future. I spend time away from you to make an impact on the identities of teachers who I know can be so powerful for students. I know because teachers have shaped your lives.

I am doing the best I can, as your mommy, as a teacher of teachers, as a human being. You are always with me, and I with you.  I am always thinking of you and the world I hope you will contribute to.  I love you and each of you has given my work real meaning. You are my hope and my light; you help me find my voice and use it to speak powerfully for justice and against misrepresentations of youth.   Each of you, and each child in the world, needs great teachers who can support you to grow into your best selves. So, when I am away, I am working for you, pushing towards hope. One day, I hope you, in your own ways, will also push towards greater understandings, using your words to push towards a hopeful future.  I hope this letter helps you in these days and those days.