Rest & Care

Photo of a screenshot from my Twitter (X) account that reads, "I love teaching. Also 14 hour days are a lot and now I am going to eat pasta, then maybe collapse in a puddle of exhaustion and tears. ūüė≠"

Whew, friends. The last couple of weeks, especially the last three Wednesdays, have been A LOT.

I love teaching.

There aren’t even really words to fully express the joy that I feel from teaching. Teaching gives me the opportunity to profoundly connect with others and (often) support them in learning, while also challenging me to continue to grow. It’s a huge part of my professional heart. It brings me energy, life, and sheer joy.

And also, it’s exhausting.

This semester, I’ve returned to the classroom to teach a double section of a Masters (teacher) (action) research course (online) which I’m picking up from two other instructors mid-way through a two-course series that is split over the spring and fall semesters.

I could have spent my last semester teaching out a course (in-person) that I helped to create and transform, that I’ve taught before, to credential students, and that I love. But, for a variety of reasons, I chose to take on a new prep, also teaching something I love (and I always love students so that is what it is), but with very different constraints.

I love these students. I love teaching (teacher) (action) research (in parenthesis because this is not exactly how the course started in the spring for almost half of them). But it’s been a rough semester of transition for students and for myself, that has involved a lot of support, unlearning, and co-construction. I know we’re all going to be fine, but it’s…well…a lot.

Beyond this, I have a foot in (at least) two professional worlds as I transition universities (between fall and winter), am at a peak moment of motherhood, as I support my eldest biological child into college (my older daughters did not choose to go a traditional college path so this is a first for me), and have been working to wrap up initiatives and support others in my professional and personal circles. I also have multiple writing projects I’m working on, lots of them with people who are deeply important to me, going on consecutively. Fall conference season is quickly approaching. Oh, and I decided to start a new (part of a) study. It is all the things.

Not to mention that I am a whole human being, with feelings (lots of them), limits (working on them), and only so much energy.

So this week, after my third consecutive 14-hour Wednesday, I kinda hit a wall.

Or an ocean.

I mean, something in my path that stopped me (insert your favorite nature metaphor here).

If I’m being completely honest, I began to rapidly approach the wall/ocean/ inserted metaphor last week, feeling a deep sadness & loneliness, in spite of being surrounded by people and all the things there are to do. I was not taking a moment to pause and be with myself, to nourish myself in the light of those I care deeply for and love the most. I was just pushing forward without care or acknowledgment of what I was experiencing, without pause.

Urgency doesn’t bring, bridge, or build community.

I knew it was bad (good? making its own space for itself?) when I cried in a meeting with our new department chair, the third time that week that tears welled up in front of my computer.

Still, I felt compelled to work over the long weekend. That compulsion often comes up when I’m feeling out of control, a remnant of years where professional/ academic accomplishments were the only consistent validation in my life.

But this week, after Wednesday’s exhaustion, I couldn’t keep pushing on.

So yesterday and today, I am pacing myself. I am reminding myself that the work I need to do, especially the work that involves writing and femtoring, requires my full self, and my full self requires time, breath, and the modeling of wholeness (and regathering) that is not on a defined timeline. There will still be things that get done, but I am breathing into them, rather than rushing through them, and I am working on being willing to let some of them go, if they are not for this moment.

I am working on this. I am still highly imperfect at it, but I’m sharing this as a work in progress because that is a part of the life and times of an evolving academic, I suppose, and more importantly, it is part of the life and times of an evolving human.

Leading, Living, (Un)Learning: A Reflection on My Year as Department Chair

Yesterday was the last official day of my interim term as department chair.

Although I’ll be staying on to actively support the transition of the department and our new chair, I am grateful to return to faculty life for the fall semester before making my next big transition to a new position in a new institution.

This was not my first rodeo in administration. Having served as program chair for a year at a small liberal arts college gave me lots of preparation for my year as interim department chair. I felt confident last year that, surrounded by a supportive department and leadership team, I was in the best circumstances to support my department (and college) through some key searches and transitions. I knew I was only in it for a year and thought that this year would be focused on professional leadership, as I had multiple leadership roles in professional organizations at the state and national level.

I learned a lot and healed a lot in the past year. I realized that while I’m good at administration, it’s not something I love. I do love being a contribution, supporting the work of others, and engaging with ideas alongside other leaders. I appreciate being trusted to make decisions and to move work forward effectively. I liked having more clearly defined boundaries on my time (if I had the strength to keep those boundaries in place). However, I missed teaching and interacting more directly with students on a regular basis. I missed having greater autonomy over my time and space, where and how I do work, with whom I do the work, and what work has to be prioritized.

Beyond this, I learned about the limitations of what is workable and sustainable for myself and my family. I was bone tired multiple times during the year and pushed through those times in ways that led to major health scares. I withdrew from my community during certain periods because I had such limited energy, space, and time. I felt like all the things were getting done, but not in the ways I was truly capable of doing them. But, of course, they were getting done in the ways I was capable of doing them in those moments, moments of survival and endurance.

I am learning to make space for and listen to my heart and my body as much as my mind, in doing truly humanizing work. I am learning that I am wholly imperfect as a leader and as a person, but that people most often show grace and accept me even when I can’t do it all, when I make mistakes, and when it’s not good enough for me. I am learning to lean on team a bit more and my own strength a bit less. I am learning to breathe.

I am leaving this position in a good place, for myself and for our department. I will still lead, but from alongside instead of from up front, in a different way, that also allows space for other parts of my personal and professional lives that bring me joy.

I am grateful.

I am always and ever (un)learning.

I am moving towards sustainable, whole, embodied ways of living.

I am working towards leading in community.

Now, at a healthier pace from a more present space.

A New Routine

During this time that has been transformative over the last two weeks, it has been clear that my current routine is not working. It is a routine of survival that does not allow me to center myself and touch my humanity and gratitude each day.

This morning, I woke up early.

I love getting up early because the morning hours feel precious.

I checked e-mail because I’m 9-hours ahead so the work day has already ended. I responded to all the e-mails I could before 1pm PT (when I went to bed) and then I responded to the rest when I woke up (around 8pm PT).

I would like to remember that this is just fine. It is fine that I only respond to e-mails during part of the day then catch up after the day is done. It is also fine that I wake up and respond to e-mails first thing. For me, my responsibilities (at least those in the immediate) need to be cared for before I can be at peace.

I did Duolingo and Wordle. Duolingo is, for me, an addiction, and a structured one at that, which has to be done between 6am-noon and 6pm and midnight because otherwise I miss out on bonuses. I am who I am and I’ve come to accept that after a 1347 day streak, I can probably count this as something that is a regular part of my day.

I was restless for a moment after that. In my daily life, there is not time for restlessness after Duolingo and Wordle because there is preparation of kids for school, there is preparation of me for the day, there are things to do.

And there will continue to be things to do. At home, after the things to do in the morning, the e-mails begin and continue all day and I find myself exhausted with only a few minutes between urgent communications in which to actually pause.

A few moments is enough for some things: to breathe, to stretch, to remember I need a cup of tea or to look out the window, to take a short walk around the building.

But it is not enough, when stolen from between e-mails, to fully reconnect with my humanity. It is not enough to thoughtfully engage with ideas, to prepare my heart for the writing and work I’m committed to, to bring my most authentic self to the conversations I’m a part of. It is not enough to sustain me.

This morning, restlessness, when I leaned into it, led me to prepare myself for the day ahead, led me to read during breakfast, led me to write this blog. It let me be human, stopping in the course of writing to answer texts and messages, but without urgency, grounded in love and peace. It led me to stay hydrated and to attend to my body’s signals.

I am always aware of the ways that the systems in which we are embedded, in which I strive to do humanizing work, are inherently dehumanizing.

Yet, I have found myself this year, mechanized by the systems and structures of dehumanization that I fight so hard against.

It is hard to be in the machine and find your way out.

But it is also joyful to find yourself and your humanity again. It is joyful to be in community with those who know you and can bear witness to your evolution. It is joyful to lean into ourselves instead of constantly resisting and fighting to exist. It is joyful to have no one to prove oneself to, but to walk the walk and do the work in front of you.

I am attending to this joy.

And I am confident that in attending to this joy, there is actually no worry about productivity. There is an abundance of contribution that springs from joy, and my joy always leads naturally to a desire to contribute.

But it must start with enough time to touch my humanity.

Soon I will return to my daily life.

I do not know how to stay in this joy in that space.

I do know that while I need time to be alone, I can’t stay in joy alone.

I also know that I am stubborn and often don’t listen to the people in my life who have been telling me for months that I need to take a break, focus on myself, and calm down.

I come from a place where there is always more to do. I have internalized and enacted dehumanizing practices that have suppressed my light and joy for years. It is not easy to unlearn these things in a society where they are valorized and validated and where I am rewarded for hyper productivity whether or not it is sustainable for me.

When I am calm and in the clarity of my heart, I am not afraid. I know I am a writer, that words will come. I know I am a thinker, and can engage with the thoughts of others. I know I am a teacher, and can respond to and build with those I fem/mentor in educational spaces. I know that I can leave and come back and the words and ideas will still be there.

But where I am from, I am rarely in the calm and clarity of my heart.

For me, the solution will not be to reproduce what I have here over there. There are too many differences in society and positioning and context. It may be to spend more regular time here to reground and remember who I am, but I must learn to be within the contexts I find myself, to adapt to that which is and model transformation.

This is long and without a place to end except with these final thoughts: 1) the end must be space that includes gentleness and grace as I find my way, as we find our ways; 2) the way(s) must be found in love-imbued community; 3) to make deeper connection, there have to be boundaries that honor our commitments.

I hope you will support me as I find my way.

Embracing My Humanity: Close Up & At a Distance

Selfie of me, in front of a rising sun on the Garonne River in Bordeaux, France

I have a confession to make.

As much as I have always been an advocate for humanizing pedagogies, humanizing education, humanizing practices in the world, I have deeply failed to embrace my own humanity.

I have done too much for too many people without acknowledging or doing anything about the ways the choices I’ve made for others have (in their totality) harmed me.

It is nobody’s responsibility but my own. I honor the parts of me that have not wanted to disappoint anyone, those that have found doing t0 be a form of survival, those that have craved connection that hasn’t always been available to me. I do not regret the choices I’ve made.

But now, I am choosing me.

I am in the latter third of a two week research trip that has been transformative in so many ways, personal and professional.

It has changed the way I see myself and what is possible for me in my personal and professional life in ways that are so profound I have not yet grasped them.

I have cried so many tears, deep heaving sobs of release for the pressure that I have put upon myself.

I have felt the weight of the trauma I’ve carried for myself and generations before me, the strength that came from putting the needs of everyone ahead of my own.

I have faced myself honestly and realized that I have spent so long running from my truth.

I have read and written and engaged deeply with ideas and people who have renewed me in ways big and small and reminded me of my deep commitments in this world and in this work.

I have realized that I cannot embrace my humanity if I continue to move in ways that dishonor my time, energy, and presence.

So, I am making some changes. And I am writing them here for accountability:

  1. I am going to be less on social media in general and more intentional about what I post when I am publicly sharing
  2. I am going to be less available to everyone and more available to the people I am building with and the people I love most in this world and this work.
  3. I am going to structure my time in ways that allow me to focus on my heart work
  4. I am going to prioritize presence
  5. I am going to choose myself from time to time, and in honoring myself, I will honor and uplift community
  6. I am going to rest. When frantic energy seizes me, I am going to pause, stop, and breathe. I am going to remember who I am and whose I am. I will gather myself.
  7. I am going to choose my battles. I cannot fight all the time. Sometimes, I need to lean into (internal) peace as my greatest power, to restore before moving forward.
  8. I am going to do all of this with kindness and grace towards myself and others, holding space for myself and those I love most with gentleness and openness. (Thanks to @wildwalkerwoman on Twitter for this suggestion)

I will likely blog more and tweet/ post less. I will read less about working less and actually work less (thanks, Jung, for that sage advice). I am going to trust more, take in the beauty around me, be present to the love that surrounds me. I am going to touch gratitude daily.

I am so grateful for this time, which is all that I have needed and more than I expected.

I will see you when I see you.

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.

Reconnecting with Humanity

Sunrise over the St. John's River in Jacksonville, Florida

I had initially sent out to write a blog about all that I’ve been learning on this trip to Jacksonville, Florida for the Association of Teacher Educators annual meeting, and particularly what I’ve learned being a part of this year’s W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. It’s been a moving experience that has challenged me to find ways to walk alongside our friends and colleagues in spaces that are facing greater situational challenges than I face. It has renewed my commitment to centering those who are most marginalized. It has given me so much.

But when I started to write that blog, this blog, that wasn’t there. In fact, that whole last paragraph and this one, are only coming after I wrote what comes next in the post. I may write that other blog, or maybe I won’t, in that form, but it’s okay. There can be no room for committed action, if there is not room for the reflection that allows for us to step into ourselves. If we are not present and authentic, we are just going through the motions. I do not want to lead at a frenetic pace from an absent space. So here’s the blog I needed to write today:

I have been extremely overwhelmed lately.

This is not a particularly new feeling.

In the cycles that make up the year and make up my life, I have become accustomed to periods of overwhelm, from both exciting and hard things. In the past, I would power through these periods, snapping irritably at those I loved who might try to slow down my frantic whirlwind in an attempt to connect with me and in hopes that I might honor any form of self-preservation. These attempts often failed and I would inevitably collapse in exhaustion or illness. During these periods, there was no time for pausing, breathing, or stopping. There was no time for my own humanity.

There is a distinct feeling in these times of acute anxiety, the sense that although I am doing so many things, it is never enough. Every small request or critique feels like a huge obligation, and things that I normally want to do become burdensome things that I have to do. Everything within me wants to withdraw from everyone, particularly the people I love the most.

I don’t do this, but in some ways, I do. I offer a small shell of myself because it is what I have accessible. Then I feel badly because I am not fully present, my attention pulled in a million directions.

I have been working on this a long time. I am learning to pause and recenter. I am realizing that the old habits of withdrawing are a desperate cry by my own brain to have some space, some pause, to free itself from the obligations it puts upon itself, but also from the many demands it feels by commitments made to others. Perhaps it is my brain’s way of drawing boundaries.

I am not perfect at this unlearning, but yesterday, I found moments to pause:

  • Walking at sunrise across the St. John’s River, breathing and taking in the birds chirping and the water flowing
  • Writing a Narrative Ethnosketch/ Emulation poem (see below) under the guidance of Drs. Rudy F. Jamison, Jr. and Chris Janson.
  • On the bus between destinations in Jacksonville.
  • In my room, reading¬†The Art of Stopping¬†and trying to actually practice stillpoints as a form of pausing.

Although I still feel chaotic in this busy time, I am reminding myself that part of entering this next period of my life is about coming back to myself, honoring who I am, and remembering what I bring to people, places, and communities. I have seen time and time again that when I can reconnect with myself, I am also best for others.

I wrote this Narrative Ethnosketch in a workshop yesterday as part of the W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. We were given the prompts: I come from a place where … –> I went to a place where … –> I am still going to a place where … :

I come from a place where…

my mother left all of the life she knew for a chance to bring better to her children, yet unknown

a place where she was told that the best way for us to succeed was to speak “perfect English”

a place where my success meant turning away from her (our) histories, her (our) heritage, her (our) language

I come from a place where who I was never felt good enough,

where I always felt between two worlds, never belonging to either

where I was not seen as a leader

where my voice and its power surprised others

I come from a place where I knew I was not what everyone hoped I would be

where I was surrounded by others but always felt invisible and alone

I went to a place where…

I had to lose almost everything I cherished to find myself.

where I had to prove myself at all times

where I began to build (in/with) community to survive, and eventually to thrive

I went to a place where chosen and created family filled the void of lost love

where I began to educate myself rather than believing all that I had been told

where I began to reclaim my own power and become comfortable with my own voice

I went to a place where I began a journey to reclaim my (our) histories, my (our) heritage, my (our) languages

I went to a place where I could see and honor my mother’s choices for me, rooted in her humanity and love, even as I make different choices for my own children that are similarly rooted in my own and our shared humanity and love.

I am still¬†going to a place where…

my heart is an asset instead of a liability

where I can fully embrace and hold space for my own humanity

where I continue to grow in community even when it is challenging,

especially when it is challenging

I am still going to a place where love flourishes in collective movement that does not always mean agreement but that calls me in with love, courage, and grace, knowing I can receive and grow.

I am still going to a place where I recognize and honor who and whose I am in the ways I walk & work in the world.

I am still going to a place where there is space for sustainability, rest, and thriving in all of this.

Roses & Thorns

Photograph of pink and white flowers

I didn’t sleep well last night.

Of late, I’ve had so much on my mind.

The research I’ve been doing most recently is focused on teacher retention/attrition and teacher well-being/lack there of. I’ve also been reading stories and holding space for friends experiencing racial/ gendered microaggressions. I’ve heard stories of faculty acting in dehumanizing ways towards students and other faculty feeling completely dehumanized by systems in which they can never do enough.

To balance this, I’ve been able to partner with students and colleagues more than I have in the past. I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve been surrounding myself with people who bring me joy. I’ve been showing myself grace, reminding myself that I am enough, and saying yes to the things that I want most in life, including a life with more stability that comes from following my own internal compass rather than directing my steps from the outside.

There are a lot of extremes like this in (my/our/the) increasingly polarized world.

Today, I sat in a meeting and felt (once again) like Asian American students were completely erased (at an AANAPISI no less). Not being one to criticize without offering solutions, I spoke up to advocate for community care and proactive compensation as an alternative to reactive individual healing following preventable harm. This suggestion seemed to be graciously deflected or talked around rather than through. It was a lot.

But also, I brought beautiful flowers to my office, had lunch with friends, laughed a lot, saw my daughter dance in her baile folkl√≥rico performance, dropped off a refrigerator to my sister in her new apartment, practiced the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration with my choir, and find myself writing to end my day.

I am tired.

But hope is resistance. Rest is resistance. Joy is resistance. Love is resistance.

These are the things I hold on to, in/on days like these.

These Days

There are days that feel like entire weeks.

Today was one of those days.

As it ends, there are many things I cannot say, but what I can convey is profound gratitude for joy and community, integrity, hope, and a willingness to continue to stretch in ways that we may not have thought possible for ourselves.

I am grateful for the multitude of ways that community shows up for me and believes in me.

I am grateful for the ways I am beginning to show up for myself.

But now, I will rest.

Do What I Say…

Photograph of a sign that reads Progress Not Perfection

I try not to be hypocritical. I really do.

The problem is that I love other people so much more than I love myself.

So, I remind them to do all the things that I know are important in order to maintain our humanity in the midst of a dehumanizing world: sleep, eat well, spend time with those you love, breathe, prioritize, remember that YOU are more than you produce, pace yourself, hydrate, give yourself lots of grace, honor your truth.

I know these things.

I pray for them, hold space for them, offer grace and advocate for them, support them through the their struggles.

I do these things.

I feel the difference when I live in ways that hold these truths and these spaces for myself as well.

And yet, so often, I am not the model for others that I want to be.

I am working towards honoring my truth by living it.

I am starting by taking time each day to reflect.

I am feeling the impact of not living my truth.

I am making space for the progress and set backs.

I am giving myself grace when I need it.

It is a work in progress.

I am a work in progress.

But progress offers more promise than perfection and I am working towards loving myself.

Opposite Action

When I was actively in major treatment for my mental health, I was encouraged to explore opposite action.

I realize that for me, opposite action is probably what typical action is for a lot of people.

When I am tired, my emotional response is to work more, because it is my autopilot response, and there is always more to do.

But tonight, in my exhaustion, I am pausing, and reminding myself that what got done today was enough.

I am going to take a bath, drink a cup of hot tea, and go to bed.

I am proud of me.