How is Your Heart?

Photograph of a mural with bright orange and blue flowers that reads Everyone is Different, Everyone Belongs

Over the last month, our college’s Black Lives Matter at School book club has been reading the wonderful Gholdy Muhammad’s book Unearthing Joy. There are many, many things I love about this book and the way that it centers Black joy, culturally and historically responsive teaching and learning, and attending to children’s spirits as much as their minds. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

One of the questions Dr. Muhammad asks us to reflect on in the book is, “How is your heart?” From the moment I read this question, I had to pause and sit with this. I felt this question deep within me. Generally, people will ask, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” or even “What have you been up to lately?” These questions (for me) are easy to answer on reflex, rather than with reflection and connection to our hearts and our breath. I typically answer these questions with, “Fine” or “Okay” or “It’s been pretty busy lately, but I’m sure it will get better eventually.” But am I fine or even okay? Will it get better eventually?

I don’t actually think, for myself, that “it will get better eventually,” without a lot of intentional attention, care, and unlearning. How am I doing? If I think about it, I actually don’t know, because I don’t know how I am doing half of the things I take on, things that require more energy and effort and time than I really have, if I am doing the work of attending to my heart.

So I return to Dr. Muhammad’s question, “How is your heart?”

I pause.

I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.

My heart is tired. My heart has been tired for a long time, tired from carrying around years of grief, and from running (metaphorically and actually) from one thing to the next. My heart has been tired from sustaining a body and mind that always keep going. My heart has been tired because it is attached to a mind that is unforgiving of itself when I have human moments, when I let someone down, when I am less than my best self, when unlearning is slow.

But today, my heart is also full. It is sustained by community, joy, laughter, good food, fellowship, music, my family, my children, my passion. It is uplifted by educators committed to children’s well-being and belonging, committed to justice and the work of learning and unlearning. It is uplifted by beauty in nature. Today, my heart is bolstered by fugitive spaces of resistance that have existed and exist still, around me, with those I love.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the second annual Teaching for Justice conference at the University of California, Irvine. The conference this year was focused on AAPI belonging and well-being. The first workshop I attended was led by Dr. Stacey Lee Gobir who is the Assistant Director of Pepperdine RISE (Resilience-Informed Skills Education). In her workshop on resilience, she reminded me of these things that I wrote in my notes:

  • You deserve to take your time.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Resilience can also be honoring our capacity to say no.

It is a journey that I am on. There is always more to do. But I have to return to my heart. I have to return to who I want to be. I deserve to take my time on this journey, to be gentle with myself.

If I continue to get caught up in all there is to do, I will not be who I want to be. I know this. And when I let myself, I feel this. Resilience can be honoring my capacity to say no.

How is my heart? It is strong. It is beating. It is expanding its capacity for love, rest, and joy.

How is your heart?

Holding Space for Ourselves, Holding Space for One Another

Picture of buildings on the Chicago river at night

It’s been quite an AERA 2023. AERA ends my spring semester travel season and is the last of 5 conferences in 7 weeks. It has been a lot in this season, almost certainly too much.

So now, before I head back home, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect.

What is here for me, above all, is gratitude and a deep presence to my own humanity.

This particular conference comes at the end of a non-stop 10 days of trying to manage my life, administrative duties (at work), two conferences, hosting international colleagues, travel, and for half of it, time with my family. I have told multiple people that I have felt deeply as if this has been a season of running into a brick wall, bouncing off of it, blinking in disbelief, and then running full force back into it.

This is not sustainable.

There was a period in my life during which I would have looked at the lack of sustainability, acknowledged it briefly, and then excused it as just what had to be done.

But it is not that time.

I am learning about listening, taking in, and taking action. At least 5 people I love and/or work closely with have told me in the last few days that I look exhausted, that my energy is off, that I need to rest.

I am breathing and acknowledging that they can see me before I can see myself.

This has been a time of recognition. I have been seen and uplifted in many ways that I have not expected. I have been taking in how deeply and genuinely I am loved.

And in all of that, there are those who do not know me, do not love me, who, though we may share many identities & commitments, do not walk alongside me or celebrate my victories.

There was a period in my life where I would have tried harder to make myself into something different, to shape shift into something I perceived as better so that I could be seen by those who do not care to know me.

But it is not that time.

I am seen by so many and loved so well. It is my time to breathe deeply into my being and to hold space for others. It is my time to acknowledge that in my humanity, I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I will make mistakes. There may be moments where I cannot show up, where I need rest, where I let someone down or do something that requires accountability. There will be opportunities that I can pass on to others. There will be times where I do not measure up to some external standard that I may not have agreed to.

All of this.

This conference, I have asked myself, “For whom will it make the most difference for me to show up? Where and with whom can I be the most present? How can my time honor myself and my commitments? How can I be honest about where I’m at with all of the things?”

I did my best. I attended & served as discussant at sessions of people that I love deeply and wanted to show up to contribute to, panels of early career scholars & graduate students (including a former student that I taught in middle school who is now in a doctoral program), sessions of friends who continually challenge me to dig deeper and be better. I had tea and brunch and dinner with others that I love and value, some of whom I have never met in real life. I met people on bridges and in bathrooms and hallways. I gave hugs as I waited for sessions & attended receptions. I met new people who knew me even if I didn’t really know them.

I didn’t do it all. I didn’t see all the people I love. I surely didn’t get enough time with some people I love deeply. But, I am proud to be going home having honored who I am in the choices I made and having been present in the spaces I was in. I am grateful for a bit of time at home with a family who loves me and lets me fly (literally & figuratively) in ways that are sometimes hard on their hearts.

I am breathing, writing in an airport lobby that hasn’t yet filled up because my dear sister-friend wanted to make sure I planned enough time to get here  so I could get home. In doing so, I am grateful because things work out the way they are supposed to.

I will continue to breathe and be and not be everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly it will be okay, as long as I get to walk alongside my people and build in community and love.

Every New Beginning…

Photograph of Seattle skyline with Mount Ranier in the background. Sky is a shade of purple

Photo by Zhifei Zhou on Unsplash

[Note: There’s an announcement in this post. I’ll bold it if this is tl/dr for you.]

I quoted from Semisonic’s “Closing Time” as the title of a blog post at the end of my first semester as an Assistant Professor at CSULB. In that post, I talked about the challenges of mothering a 6-year old through transitions from a bilingual program we loved to a new unfamiliar school system, designing new syllabi, transitioning professional identities, and finding strength in my voice as a teacher educator. I also talked with joy about the opportunity to live out my dream of teaching teachers, a dream which might not be a very ordinary dream, but which was mine. I quoted from kind student comments in our end of semester reflections that grounded me in the heart of this work.

Today, I am, in many ways, a similar person — a MotherScholar, a teacher of teachers. I am a very human person who continues to struggle with bouts of imposter syndrome and tries hard not to compare myself to others.

I am still a MotherScholar who consistently wrestles with the tension between what is best for me and what is best for my family, who feels pulled in multiple directions, but grounded in the enduring love of the people who are my home.

I am still a teacher of teachers who loves teaching and teachers and is constantly learning from teachers and about teaching in ever evolving contexts.

I am still someone who struggles with comparing myself with others, with wondering whether I am good enough, with thinking about whether my work is the right kind of work, with doubting that I will live up to the expectations of others.

And also, in those 10.5 years, I have grown and changed. Just days after that post, my nephew would survive a mass shooting that would change our lives and my heart forever, making my grief and thoughts about collective grief a core of my public self. It would make this blog not just about an academic journey, but about a personal-professional journey because I would realize that the personal and professional (for me) are inextricably connected, that we are bound together in our humanity (if we let ourselves be), and that community is at the core of moving forward. (Note: I am aware that collective and public grieving is not the way for everyone, but this blog, at many moments, has been a source of deep connection to other grievers and to finding healing in my own humanity.)

I now see myself as a researcher, something I might not have said 10 years ago. I have been able to explore research on teachers and teacher educators in ways that have moved me and have helped me learn so much about myself, about teacher candidates and teachers, about teaching (my own and that of others), and about the ways structures and systems can often act to perpetuate the push up and push out of so many incredibly talented people from classrooms.

I am working on trusting myself and trusting my community, trusting the faith they have in me and that their love and respect are well-placed. I am working on the grace and humility necessary to respond (rather than react) when I am called-in and pushed to grow. I am working on trusting that the right opportunities open up at the right times, and it’s not for me to decide that I’m not good enough.

And so in all of that, I am invoking the lyrics of Semisonic once again to announce a new beginning:

Beginning January 1, 2024, I will be the Boeing Endowed Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington (Seattle) 

I will be staying at CSULB through the end of the fall semester 2023 to support the doctoral and masters students whose work I am chairing, as well as to support transition to a new department chair and finish up some grant work and curriculum development. I also get to teach one last class.

Our family will transition in time, the details of which are beyond the scope of this blog, but in a way which we’ve collectively decided is best for us.

This is a big next step for us, and for me, one that I have been processing for a couple of weeks, and am just now starting to fully embody and take in. If you know me, you know that the importance of this move is not in the title or institution themselves, but in the opportunities this position opens up for collective movement towards the greater good. I am grateful to be entrusted with these opportunities. And beyond all of this, I am so grateful for community, for the colleagues, friends, and family who literally made this move possible. I truly am because we are.