Moving Parts, Moving Whole

A photo of boxes and an empty shelf with just a painting laying flat on it

It has been a destabilizing time.

This last year has been a navigation between multiple places and spaces, made more complex by a parallel journey towards greater humanity in a world that seems to be moving (in so many ways) towards dehumanization.

It has been a tiring time.

I find myself this week packing up my home, getting ready to sign papers for a new home, preparing my son for graduation, talking with my daughter about leaving her besties behind, balancing multiple work-related projects, and holding a lot of feelings and realities with very little capacity.

It has been a deeply humanizing and deeply humbling time.

I am realizing that there isn’t a way to actually honor humanity without honoring one’s own humanity. I’ve been recognizing my internal and external fragility, expressed through exhaustion and missed deadlines and commitments, through the flare up of chronic underlying health conditions, through a wanting to run away or bury myself in work (productivity solves everything and makes the emotions go away…or so I’m unlearning) or isolate. I have been trying to call myself in with kindness and compassion, to let myself be loved when I feel unlovable, and to recenter joy and strength in community.

It has been a hard time.

I hate struggling when I am the emotional center of my family. Truth be told, there is a lot to hold for everyone in this moment. I do not know how to hold it all when I am barely holding my own things.

We are in a process of moving.

Moving can be so fragmenting, uprooting, and traumatic. This time it is also drawn out. I am trying to remember to hold community close, in and through this transition, on both sides of the move. While there are many, many moving parts, I am pulling for our wholeness in the move, for a coming together that is so desperately needed. It may begin with me but it ends with us. We are moving towards wholeness, towards healing, even as we move through these times.

All the Feels

It’s been an exhausting two weeks away from my family, traveling for work.

There have been many moments when I have questioned personal and professional choices, when I’ve been disappointed by people, and when I’ve wondered if I should just curl up for a long winter’s nap (I know it’s spring), do (and worry) less, and find a new calling.

But this morning, like last Saturday morning, I got to be with teachers, and not just any teachers, but teachers deeply committed to their practice, to growing in their professional lives and to remaining in a field that often tries to push them out. I got to be in community with these beautiful people who have been in community with one another throughout the year, who are working towards practices grounded in justice within unjust systems, working to make schools places that serve, affirm, and challenge all students, working towards better futures and becoming better teachers.

I love teaching and I love teachers.

I love learning, and I love opportunities to learn alongside teachers.

Teaching and supporting learning within the current contexts of schooling, particularly in public education spaces, is so complex. For teachers committed to more just futures for all students, it is even more complex. And yet, there are teachers who persist. There are teachers who, even after the exhaustion of their school days and through long school years, reach out to community, seek to grow, continue to reconnect to their roots.

Like all humans, teachers are imperfect.

Perhaps teachers are even more aware of their imperfections than the general public. We are, after all, reminded of our imperfections (quite often, in middle school!).

Yet, somehow so many teachers persist in our humanity and strive to be better, for ourselves, our students, our communities and our futures.

Teachers, in all of their complicated humanity, inspire me.

Being around these wonderful educators this morning reminds me of the joys of this work, that education, true lifelong learning, brings forth so much beauty.

This morning also reminded me of the gift of being a teacher educator and the privilege of doing the work in my new context. What a privilege to walk alongside and learn from teachers, to advocate for space for teachers to grow and learn together, to be able to do research that can be used to amplify teacher voices. What an honor to be welcomed into teacher community, to learn and unlearn myself, to remember the importance of joy and rest as part of resistance.

It has been an undeniably exhausting two weeks. There is so much more I could say about these two weeks, about love and mentoring, about frustrations and growth, about speaking from my heart when I cannot be silent, about the complexities that make the world so difficult to navigate, about humanity.

But those things to say are for another day.

I couldn’t be more grateful to be going home.

AND I am grateful to have another home I am building alongside a new-to-me, but beautifully inspiring and growing community.

I am learning to listen to my heart, to stay in my body, to find integrity in the spaces in between. Sometimes it is a space only I know, but I am learning the value of those spaces.

I am growing. I am finding spaces to blossom.

It can be exhausting. I am still working on sustainability. I am finding beauty in community and grounding in the struggle. I am sure I will still have moments when I question all the things.

And also, I think that I can find many answers when I look to community.

Lifeboats

Photo of a boat on water in the evening with dark clouds around it

I am hanging in there, Friends.

As I move through this period of transition for myself and my family, I am so present to the immense privilege of my life.

I do what I love.

I am deeply loved and held by family and community.

I am safe. I no longer have to worry about physical or emotional survival.

These are things that are absolute gifts that I don’t take for granted.

But it is hard to exist with an extremely open heart in a world where there are so many that don’t have these things, for whom basic survival seems tenuous, opportunities to be seen and feel loved seems far away, and opportunities to live in ways that are their best expressions of themselves (even within unjust systems and institutions) feel completely unrealistic.

So I am working on being with these contradictions in the midst of transition, to never take for granted that I am extremely blessed, sharing those blessings generously with others, and also recognizing that there are so many that don’t have these things, that the arc of justice is long and requires committed, intentional action.

I am often very tired these days, Friends, often sprinting the internal marathon between my head and my heart multiple times a day.

Thank you for those who offer water and rest, for those taking things off my plate when I’m not even sure what to give you, for those who continue to honor my spirit and my heart.

I want to let you all know that I am fine, as fine as one can be in this world in which we live, a world that is not meant for the fully human and tender hearted. I am continually moving towards greater wellness, but this is not a marathon I can sprint, it is one that requires slowing down and intentional steps forward, with occasional steps back.

Thank you for being my lifeboats, for coming alongside to pick me up from the water when I feel like I’m drowning. I know I will never be alone because you are with me.

I love you and am grateful for your care always.

It’s Not You…But Actually It Kinda Is (Breaking Up with X)

Photo of my Twitter profile bio

I remember when I first joined Twitter.

It was late 2012 and I was attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Las Vegas. Meenoo Rami had a pop-up booth where they were demonstrating uses of Twitter in the English classroom. I had just transitioned from the secondary teaching world into academia and although I was hesitant to try Twitter (mostly because I didn’t like the idea of character limits!), I thought I’d hop on.

In my early years with Twitter, I began exploring it as a public pedagogical tool. I loved engaging in Twitter chats which felt like a powerful way to build professional community. It was a way to extend our classroom space into a more public forum and to share my practice beyond the walls of my university. I began to build a professional network and was able to introduce teacher candidates to a tool that could be potentially helpful for them to connect with others and avoid the isolation of early teaching, as well as find professional resources.

Somewhere along the way, I found deep connections on Twitter. Parasocial relationships on social media are an entire field of study, one that I’m not an expert in (although it is one that, as part of a far too ambitious adjacent research agenda, I’d love to delve more into), but I am an expert in my own need for community and to connect in ways that feel meaningful. The idea of meaningfulness and the sense of proximity in relationships varies by context, but for many years, on Twitter, I was able to connect across distance and close to home with many people (particularly educators) who deeply resonated with my humanity. In a very strange way and world, Twitter felt like a third space home where I could share things like this blog — a personal-professional mix where I didn’t have to think so much, but could just be.

During the pandemic, when in-person social interaction was not really possible, Twitter became a lifeline. It also felt like an important time to be on Twitter, to stay informed about movements for racial justice and events that might forward such movements powerfully. When, during the extended social distancing and continued isolation period of COVID-19, my sister and her mother were in Yangon for the 2021 coup, and facing imminent danger, Twitter showed up in force, to support us and to bring attention to the Burmese people, allowing for my sister to eventually come to the United States.

Twitter also allowed me to conduct and share research that extended beyond my own networks and beyond traditional academic journal articles. As someone who has always thought research and teaching should be more connected and informed by one another, it has been a gift not only to be able to be in contact with a variety of educators who have been generous in participating in my research studies, but also to share preliminary and developed results of my research in a way that supports access.

Twitter was an incredibly special place for me. It was a place where I didn’t have to create a forced separation between the personal and professional. I felt, for a long time, safe enough to just be myself in front of whoever cared to listen, to work through ideas, and to say what I thought. Because, as a person, an educator, and a scholar, the lines between personal and professional often blur, it seemed like the “just right fit” for a professional social networking space.

Twitter doesn’t feel like a safe space anymore. It doesn’t feel like a just right home anymore. It doesn’t feel like community. Although many people I love and feel deep affinity towards are continuing to post on Twitter, we often feel like passing ships in the night. Twitter makes me feel more tired than joyful and I am thinking too much about what I post and who will see it.

So, it’s time to break up, or at least to get some distance, as I figure out if and how to construct a new virtual home space.

I’m moving most of my professional posts to Linked In, although I will be less likely to share blogs there. Linked In has always felt a bit too professional (or perhaps formal) for the personal and doesn’t have the same space for engagement and vulnerability. Facebook will still be my predominant personal social media tool although I tend to shy away from “friends” I haven’t met in real life. I’ll still occasionally come back to Twitter to say hi and post some professional updates and even an occasional random thought, just much, much less.

This is a hard transition for me, but it is a period of transitions, and I am grateful to be choosing to walk away instead of feeling pushed out of this space. I am grateful for many things this space has afforded me, only a fraction of which I’ve talked about here. But mostly, in this moment, I am grateful for one less thing to balance in the midst of a time of much transition.

Thanks to all of my tweeps for the beautiful memories and interactions. I will long cherish you, and them, and what this space has been for me.

Mothering Moments

My son standing at a green chalkboard with a black face mask, holding a piece of chalk

February is an emotional month.

This February, particularly, it has been a metaphorical roller coaster, because of an actual roller coaster (model that my son and his physics group had to design for his physics class) and because, well my son turns 18 today.

I birthed an adult.

This morning, I shed some tears when I thought about this morning 18 years ago, waking up with light contractions. I would go to a local Indian restaurant with my sister in law for lunch, and she would urge me to eat as much as I could since this was likely to be my last meal before the baby came. We were stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital where they were not sure they should admit me because I wasn’t “that far along,” but did because I lived 30 minutes away, “just in case.” Less than 2-hours later, when they came to check on me, my son was imminently on his way. They rushed to call my OB/GYN who had been finishing up a leisurely dinner, sure that I wouldn’t deliver any time soon. He arrived just as I was pushing, in time to cut the umbilical cord and hand me a little boy that was half of me genetically, but held my whole heart.

I can’t fully describe how much I cherish my son. His early years were some of the very hardest of my life, when I was struggling with severe health issues that nearly killed me while also completing a doctorate and going on the job market. He was with me during the most exhausting parts of the tenure process, and sacrificed a lot throughout his K-12 schooling, switching elementary schools 4 times (because of moves and fit) and still never feeling like he quite belonged, even when he found stability in his 7-12 grade secondary school. While he considers himself pretty lucky to have had the life and family he has, things haven’t always been easy. There have been moments where he’s felt lost, including many where he’s felt alone and questioned his decisions, wondering if he’ll ever find his people outside his family.

This hurts my heart because he still holds so much of it.

Today, he turns 18.

We are waiting on college admissions decisions and anticipating the many transitions adulthood will bring.

He is irritated about the many, intense projects in his physics class, one which culminates today, only to shift focus to another due in 4 weeks.

I am irritated because sometimes I can feel his irritation, but I can’t force him to talk about it, and so I can’t help him through it.

We are exhausted from late nights and uncertainty, which neither of us likes, from things we can’t control and things we perhaps should have done better.

We are human.

In the journey of the last 18 years, perhaps no one has helped me to grow in my own humanity, humility and imperfections as much as my son. Few people have shown me as much unconditional love, grace and understanding as he has. He reminds me to care for myself and that I’m doing a good job as much as I remind him of the same.

I love my son with my whole heart.

What a gift to be his mother.

What a gift to journey together.

What a gift to receive his love and grace.

I hope the next 18 years bring all the joy and belonging that he so richly deserves, beyond that which he has in our family, as he moves out into a wider world, and that we continue to journey through those years together.

Legacies of love

Photograph from the bottom of a canyon looking up with a tall tree in the center

29 years ago, my mother died unexpectedly in a car accident.

A year ago, I was interviewing for a job that would be a significant turning point in my academic career and bring enormous change to my personal life.

Although the moments where I can recollect my mother’s physical touch and even her voice become scarcer and scarcer over time, my proximity to her and her guidance to me is as strong now as it has ever been.

There have been so many benchmarks that I wish my mother could have been physically present for:

  • My high school, undergraduate, and doctoral graduation ceremonies
  • My marriage
  • The birth of each of my children
  • The start of each of my professional careers (middle school & university teaching) and positions along with the moves that accompanied several of them

Yet, as I reflect, I know that my mother has always been with me in these moments, that I have been even more aware of her presence through her absence, that she has been guiding me through the choices I’ve made (including the many mistakes along the way). Through her loss, I feel the depth of her love; I’ve come to understand the strength in her sacrifices; and I’ve arrived at a place where I feel that my healing is a healing that spans generations and brings the best of her into the lives of my children, even though they will never meet in person.

Somehow, although to my knowledge, my mother never set foot in Seattle, I feel closer to her when I am on Coast Salish lands. Perhaps it is because of the deep relationships that local indigenous tribal communities have with both the lands and their ancestors. Or perhaps it is because I somehow feel she guided me to this part of my journey, reconciling with a place that caused a rift between us before she passed. Perhaps it is because I am healing and choosing what to bring through the present transition to this new place.

This week, through work with my therapist, I realized that I’ve been holding on to guilt, particularly in relation to my mom — survivor guilt, mainly, but, in many ways also, guilt for many privileges that feel undeserved and guilt for never being able to give back to her when she gave so much for me to be where I am today.

It is a process in letting that guilt go, in embracing that what she would have wanted was for me to live my best life, and in fact, that this was, in her heart, much of what drove her. I understand this, as I feel these same emotions towards my own children.

For perhaps all of these reasons, unlike many years in the past, today, I feel a certain peace, or, at the least, a movement towards peace. It is a peace punctuated with sadness and loss, but overwhelmingly filled with love and gratitude.

That is my mother’s legacy, not one of loss, but one of deep love that I’ve tried in all ways to pay forward to those in my life.

I will never not acutely miss my mother or wish she were here with me physically. But today, I feel her near me, more than ever, reminding me that I am stronger than I think, than the world might think I am, that I carry wisdom of generations, and that I will weather the seasons and transitions ahead.

She is in my heart, and the legacies of love she (and her mother) have passed down to me are as alive today as they have ever been.

Transition

Photograph through trees of a body of water and a mountain

I am in a long period of transition.

It is extremely taxing and exhausting.

I think this is because this transition is transformational, pushing myself beyond who I know myself to be, which in turn forces me to reckon with all that I have been.

In that “all I have been” space are many moments that are hard. It is these moments which seem at the forefront of my mind as I leave old spaces, move into new spaces, and find myself wandering across spaces that are both strangely familiar and unfamiliar.

It is all around disorienting.

I know I am not alone, both in that I’m not the only one going through extended transitions, and that I am grounded in communities through all the spaces.

Yet, sometimes, it feels so very lonely.

A year ago, I was preparing for a job interview that would change the course of my academic trajectory, that would set in motion this transition in which I currently find myself. I was preparing for an interview which was to take place partially on the hardest day of the year for me, the anniversary of my mother’s death.

While I know the ancestral wisdom, the deep values, and the sheer will of my mother, and her mother before her, always guide me and are always with me, as the anniversary of her transition comes again this year, I am acutely aware that I am moving away from her again, at least the physical space where her ashes lie. It feels unsettling even as I know it is what she would have wanted for me.

Transitioning from one space to another has always been closely connected to loss.

What do I take with me from all I have been here? What do I leave behind?

Who will come with me and continue to walk alongside me? To whom will I say goodbye?

This transition is my choice, but many of the questions and feelings remain the same.

Dear ones in my life remind me to give myself the space and grace of this time, but it is hard to remember in a world that rarely slows down, when there are so many things to do.

I worry that even if I give myself grace, others will see it as an excuse, an unearned respite from carrying burdens which have been with me (often hidden carefully) for so long. I worry that something urgent will arise and I will forget. I worry that time will continue to slip by, an elusive record of all that is left undone. I worry that the things I do will still not be enough, that I will not be enough. It is the “all I have been” and all I am becoming merged in the present.

I am tired.

When I am tired, I need to stop. I need to reflect. That is why I created this space.

Yet, in these moments I am mostly likely to run away, even from myself, to the silent judgment within me that makes me feel acutely alone.

I am breathing. I am grateful to come back to myself. And yet, I am also only here in moments, struggling to find my footing while keeping on a path that keeps moving without me.

It is all what is.

It is transition.

A long period of transition.

Moving with Intention

2023 has been a year.

I suppose that every year is a year, and this year may actually have felt closer to many years, but I mean that it has been a very full year with much rapid movement despite a beginning steeped in stillness.

Coming into 2023, I had a feeling that it would be a year of growth and change. I felt a shift in energy as I entered the year that was preparing me for a “what’s next” which ended up being a large personal and professional move, a move that will officially begin tomorrow, on the first day of 2024.

I entered 2023 on a social media pause. It’s interesting to me that my natural winter state is one of retreat, of time to collect myself away from public access, of drawing close to those who are nearest and dearest to me. I also spent a big part of the first quarter of 2023 grieving, reflecting on mental health, wellness, and trying to find a balance between overwhelm and balance.

In April, as I entered the second quarter of year, I made the big announcement about my professional move to the University of Washington (Seattle), a position which will begin tomorrow. It was an incredibly busy month where I was doing way too much and not making a lot of space for my heart. In May, as the academic year wound down, I realized the need for space and made commitments to embracing my own humanity. They were beautiful commitments, many of which I have held to in the several months since even while I haven’t been present to them consciously. I am grateful to my May self for guiding the rest of this year.

The summer was a beautiful season of embracing presence in the midst of transition, receiving affirmation and acknowledgment in the world, and realizing a vision months and years in the making. It was a time of completion as I left my interim department chair role for my final semester as CSULB faculty, and a time of new possibilities, as we toured several campuses with my son in preparation for college application season.

As summer moved into fall semester, the reality of transitions began to set in slowly. It was a particularly challenging semester, for many reasons. Personally, there was a lot to hold in the courses I was teaching, and my son struggled for the first time in a course where my interventions couldn’t do much.  It was also a time of too much, where all that I was holding began to spill out from my arms. I had a health scare and an accident this fall, with the latter taking away a lot of my sense of independence. Things I had worked extremely hard on began to unravel. The world also felt like it was unraveling, painfully, before our eyes. It still feels like this, particularly in Palestine. At many moments, I also began to unravel, feeling unmoored, untethered, in a time where I desperately just needed to hold on to something.

It is the winter again. I find myself at the dawn of a new day, when still so much of the pain of the world continues without pause. I know I cannot hold it all, but I feel stronger in my resolve to hold onto myself when there is nothing else to hold on to. I know that if I am here, I can stand up, show up, and use my voice to advocate for a better world for those facing so much injustice, violence, and loss.

This year, I hope to move with more intentionality, more slowly and deliberately, with more kindness to myself that allows me to listen to, understand, and have the energy to move authentically in solidarity with others. I hope to forgive my imperfections and truly live them as places of growth; I hope to honor the calling of my heart and body and trust myself as I walk always towards greater good in the world around me. I hope to do less, but to do what is done whole-heartedly, and always, in love.

A Different Pace Towards a Different World

“Our liberation is connected. And so is our oppression.”

“Identity is all we have left.”

“War is not going to solve anyone’s problems. Violence begets more violence.”

“So many of us are not allowed to mourn.”

“It’s not easy when the world is silencing you.”

“We all have a locus of control.”

“Fight for freedom, for ourselves and others.”

It is the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention 2023.

These are thoughts from a beautiful session this morning entitled, “Palestine, We Teach Life, Sir.” It is a session that reminded me deeply of shared humanity, of courage, and of suffering.

I have been moving through this conference at a different pace. A more measured and intentional pace.

I have been sitting with and in the world in a different way.

So many of us feel so alone in a sea of 10,000 people.

I have been listening and learning from my Palestinian and Jewish friends and colleagues, many of whom are sharing in deep suffering, many of whom feel alone in a time of deep grief, many of whom are calling together for a cease fire and an end to dehumanizing violence against families and children in Gaza and beyond.

I have been remembering in my heart and in my bones, what it is to feel alone in your deepest moments of fear and of grief. I have been carrying unresolved intergenerational trauma and grief and seeing how it shapes my walk in the world. The noticing allows me to acknowledge and choose differently.

I have been holding (for far too long) in my body the heaviness of pushing on, smiling, educating, loving, in spite of, in the face of, and while also holding sorrow (which was perhaps correctly corrected to sorry) that is too much.

I have been trying to heal myself and love on others, to be open, to continue talking across difference, to continue working towards community-based conversations and actions that remind us of our power, even when our governments, our institutions, our organizations do not act in ways that represent us, acknowledge us, love us. When things feel both overwhelmingly complicated and completely evident. When it is so much and too much, and when survival itself is resistance. When community and collectivity are the only ways forward, but we are kept in siloes away from one another, fighting and feeling alone.

My friend said that she hugged me so hard when she saw me the other day because there was a moment when she wondered if I had died (from my recent accidents) if she would have to my children that I had died from carrying my own grief and the grief of others. That the weight had become too much and it had crushed me.

I have a tattoo. The translation of the first half of it is, “You bring into existence the world in which you believe.” The second half is, “I believe in better.”

I believe in the possibility of my own liberation and my own healing. I am fighting for it, as I am fighting for freedom and community for others, that we might create spaces in which people might feel loved, seen, safe, known, even and especially in their deepest grief.

I hope you are able to be in and bring into existence (s)paces that move us collectively forward, that advocate for humanity, that act courageously. I am working on this. I believe that we can move this way if we give space to one another to grieve, to heal, to grow, to live peacefully with enough. It is not so much to ask and yet it is everything.

Reflections on a New Revolution Around the Sun

It is my birthday.

Birthdays are supposed to be happy days, I suppose.

But today, I am more reflective than joyful.

In this year of transitions, I am thinking of being present, in today, in the past and the future, but more in this moment.

I am thinking about hectic chaos and grounded peace.

I am thinking about all and nothing.

I am thinking about extremes v. pacing.

I am thinking about community and solitude, about belonging and support.

I am thinking about constant noise and elusive stillness.

I am thinking about gratitude in the face of loss.

I am thinking about birth and death.

I am thinking about desire and reality.

I am thinking about how we make space to hold all the things simultaneously at once and how we give grace for when all the things fall because we cannot hold them any longer.

A five minute reflection, my gift to myself, on my birthday.