Quarter-life crisis or continued exploration? I couldn’t say.
There’s that saying about the freshman fifteen, and perhaps due to the fact that I didn’t live on campus my freshman year, I never experienced it. Even when I did move on campus the start of my junior year, I began working out more at the gym and made healthy food choices at the dining halls, so if anything, I lost weight.
The first-year-teacher fifteen, though? Now that’s a real thing.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a Kickstarter campaign for a collection of books called Being ManKind–an intentional lapse of grammatical convention. The series tries to break free of gendered norms and stereotypes, the toxic masculinity we’ve all come to hate.
I’ve been wanting to write about why I support the project and why I think you should, too, but it’s been busy. So much of the last few weeks has gone straight into dealing with that kind of gender bias (in the classroom) that I haven’t had a second to write.
Now there’s little more than sixteen hours to go, and to be successfully funded, it needs to bring in about a thousand dollars every hour until it ends.
So, sure, there’ll be an ask at the end, but there’s (kinda) a story until we get there, too.
Yesterday I died. Literally.
And by literally I don’t mean actually or figuratively, but truly literally, as in literal, literature, as in a sense of story–a living story that’s now, abruptly, quite dead.
I have a student who speaks badly about women, swears when he shouldn’t, and reacts poorly to perceived criticism and the consequences of his actions.
I ask him casually in the hall how his day is going and he keeps walking without even looking in my direction. I sit down next to him in class to check in and I have to say his name half a dozen times before he begrudgingly acknowledges me. I try to have productive, relationship-building conversations, and he actively shuts me out.
Then he grabs some chalk and writes insulting messages on the chalk boards.
And then he gets pissed off and storms out when he gets in trouble.
But he’s still my student.
A few weeks ago I came across Investing in Futures, “a project which helps you imagine future worlds (wild, impractical, idyllic, and utopian) and what it would be like to live in them.” As a writer, I immediately latched onto the idea and became a backer.
Then they sent out a digital copy for playtesting. And, of course, I eagerly played.
So here’s my thoughts and findings. Will you, too, invest in futures?
Today was a day. Literally my first step out the door I slipped on black ice and gave myself a possible slight concussion. So knowing I’m gonna be woken up throughout the night (because comas) while I plan for precalculus and wonder just how long I can put off grading those related rates calculus quizzes, I figured I might as well write a bit.
Because I had an amazing idea in the elevator this morning!
You know, three steps before I concussed myself.
The Death of Magic. This was the subtitle to my story “Erowenowe,” which I had written sometime during November 2014. It was part of my NaNoWriMo anthology: an attempt to write one story a day for one month. It was a burdensome challenge, but this post is not about the writing. It’s about the story. The Death of Magic.
Erowenowe (Erowen for short) was a young maiden chosen for sacrifice to the sun god: The kingdom’s fertility had begun to wane, and the gods, they feared, had stopped listening.
In actuality, they were not wrong: Following the end of the War of Fallen Stars (on which I wrote the beginning in my 2012 NaNoWriMo story, Starfall), the pantheon vowed to never meddle in the affairs of men again (a bit akin to Tolkien, I suppose, but he has always been a key inspirer for me)–and their absence, indeed, preluded the death of magic.
I feel the same sense of waning power as I write this as when I wrote Erowenowe.
Seven years ago today, I began the Writingwolf. It has grown so much in these seven years, and I have grown and evolved alongside (and at times because of) it. And since I joined Teach for America and started my training as a teacher, and then started teaching, the Writingwolf has been written silent: no words, no muffled howl, has escaped its muzzle.
Writing has been, is, and always will be my greatest passion and my biggest dream, but the responsibility of maintaining a blog–one enlivened by my readers for whom consistency and attention is one of the few ways I have to show them my respect and regard–requires more of my time than I am able to commit at present. I’m still learning to lesson plan efficiently. I’m still learning to manage a classroom skillfully. I’m still learning, quite literally, what it means to be a teacher (and I’m in grad school to prove it).
Writing, I’m afraid, has been pushed out of my circle of priorities.
This will not always be the case, but for the next six months, maybe even the next twelve or possibly eighteen until I finish my graduate program, keeping an regularly active blog seems as though it’s one responsibility too many. There is power is holding high expectations; but there is equal danger in clinging to unrealistic expectations.
One of the many unfortunate realities of teaching is that a handful of my kids will not graduate the ninth grade, and when our advisory moves on to the tenth grade next fall, they will not be joining us. For this small handful of students, my task now is not only to help them be as successful in the next six months as possible, but also prepare them to move on to another school or another advisory without me. Of course, I cannot change any person, let alone an adamant and strong-willed ninth grader, and I am certainly not the sole bearer of their future potential, but I feel it is imperative that I bestow upon these boys (by which I mean, help them to develop the qualities they already possess, somewhere inside them) the mindsets and skills that I never had when I was their age.
It took me many setbacks and failures and risky choices that may have had life-changing consequences for me to learn these things, and while it’s very likely that such lasting impressions can only be learned while wading through the fire (that same fate destined for Erowenowe, to be burned in sacrifice for brighter days), I believe I can at least provide them a strong foundation so even if they do not master these skills before they need them, when the time comes, they may remember these lessons and crash a little more softly, burn a little less brightly when they fail and fall and begin to fly again.
I say this because one of the activities I want to facilitate fits perfectly with the theme of this post. I want to come to class one day with a bucket of rocks. I want to ask each student to pick up one rock and hold it as tightly as he can. At first it’ll be easy–it’s just a rock, after all, hardly a few ounces heavy, barely the size of their palms. But as they hold it longer, the muscles in their hands will begin to ache and they’ll begin to feel the fatigue of holding on too tightly. I won’t stop here, nor will they: I’ll ask them instead to pick a second rock and hold it as tightly in their other hand as they can. While their second hand begins to tire, their first hand will begin to scream. And misery is best comforted with company, so I’ll ask them to do one final thing–something I know with certainty each of them can be successful with (under normal circumstances): I’ll ask them to write their names as neatly as possible without releasing the rocks in their hands.
Inevitably, they will, as I would, as you would, fail to perform this simple task.
So then I’ll ask them to set their pencils down (for those who managed to pick them up) and open their hands. Having clenched down upon those rocks for so long, their fingers will creak as they’re slowly peeled away, muscles locked in place protesting to remain, because by now holding on has become the norm, and letting go isn’t easy to do.
But once they’ve let go, once they’ve taken that first step, the blood of life rushes back to their fingertips, bringing with it fresh oxygen to sate the stomachs of every cell, sweeping aside the buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide that come naturally, but erode our capabilities. Within a few moments the stress and strain of clinging too tightly will pass, and when they reach for that pencil or pen, their names will flow forth upon the page like rivers of milk and honey raining down from the holiest of holy lands.
It isn’t easy to let go. It isn’t easy to watch the magic wither and die.
But sometimes it’s necessary to open our hands, flex our fingers, and feel again.
Sometimes it’s necessary to succumb to science over the mysteries of magic.
For now, my path has led me away from the Writingwolf, but no matter where my words and wonders take me, I will always be the Writingwolf, and in time my path will bring me back, reborn through my wanders, borne of new words and new stories to share.
The vigil. A self-selected showcase of sorrows and serenades. A call to action, an inactive advertisement for hearts and minds, but what about tomorrow?
I counted the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and told myself I would go up to talk if no one else said anything, but my feet wouldn’t move from the concrete. I looked around, somebody must say something, it can’t end without any speakers, somebody please. And I’d count again, insisting, this time would be it, but it wasn’t.
And four speakers stood before me before I finally said, this is it, I can’t wait any longer, but I didn’t know what I’d say, what could I say? I got to the mic, opened my mouth, and all the words left me. I said, I’m sorry, I took notes, and took out my phone for reference.
I decided not to come out at Institute when my CMA (corps member advisor) told us this school wasn’t particularly open and other corps members have struggled for saying too much about themselves, and I was afraid if I came out it would get in the way of building the meaningful relationships I need to be the best teacher I can be for these kids.
But when I heard about Orlando, I realized I was just trying to keep myself safe, and if I stayed safe, my students wouldn’t have the safe space they deserve. So I added a brave space slide to my introduction, affirming that everyone in this classroom is loved and embraced, and I put a brave space sign on the wall, but I never told them I’m gay. I wasn’t brave enough for that. I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t know how I’ll ever be ready–it was easier a few weeks ago, when I was engaged, there was a ring to start the conversation. Now there’s nothing. I feel invisible again.
I said I went to the TFA 25th Anniversary Summit in DC back in February and Tim’m West said in the LGBTQ affinity space that “safety is a pretty low standard to set.” And I said, safety isn’t enough anymore. Marriage equality isn’t enough if being married can get you fired, if being married can set you up for hate crimes. Marriage isn’t enough when our trans family are murdered every day. Marriage isn’t enough when HIV continues to plague our community and access to healthcare only gets harder. Marriage isn’t enough when children are unable to come out of the closet without getting kicked out of home. Marriage isn’t enough when the queer community remains one of the most racist and marginalizing communities: we cannot celebrate marriage while we still ostracize our queer peers of color, when a Latino I’m talking with tells me he’s always been attracted to white guys and can’t even identify why. Marriage isn’t enough, because there is still too much equity to be earned–equity to be fought for and won and claimed by blood, flesh, and bone.
The same blood, flesh, and bone being lowered into the ground. Their graves must not be an ending, but a beginning. We–as a community–have become complacent and complicit, perpetuating the same oppression delivered upon us. The oppressed are now the oppressors. We can blame the media for erasing the fact it was a gay nightclub, the fact that it was Latin night, the fact that trans artists were their featured performers–but until we as a community embrace them, we are no less to blame.
We can spew fire at the politicians who champion anti-LGBT legislation, who offered their hypocritical hearts and prayers in condolence and then took this tragedy as another opportunity to spin their Islamophobia and stir up the electorate. But until we open our arms to our Arab and Muslim allies and family, we are no better than any of them.
I said, as I stood before the crowd, the mic now dead, exercising my teacher voice so everyone could hear me, I said we’ve settled for safe spaces for far too long and it’s not enough–safe spaces are not enough when safe spaces are daily infiltrated and desecrated, when our brethren in blood and spirit are shot down for who they are. It could have been you. It could have been me. Safety is no longer enough.
I said thank you for attending, for coming out to reflect, but reflection alone isn’t enough. We need action. And because my CMA told me I need to practice giving clear directions, let me practice my MVP (movement, voice level, participation) statements.
We’re going to get up and with our loudest voices, we are going to make sure that everybody knows they are embraced in our community, and whenever we hear hatred or bigotry, we’re going to call it out and invite them into the conversation, because if we push them away, that conversation will never be had, and that change will never happen.
I said I didn’t feel sad when I first saw the news, because I’ve seen so many headlines about so many shootings. I said I feel desensitized, dehumanized.
Don’t make us feel this way again.
Last night I was on the rooftop of our residence hall here at Rice University, sharing drinks and dancing and laughing with friends from the Milwaukee Teach for America corps. A few of us had gone to Rainbow on the Green, a family-centered LGBTQ celebration here in Houston, and since I hadn’t been able to attend, I eagerly listened as my friends shared their thoughts on the music, the atmosphere, the same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand with their children (“Life goals, right there,” Sean said, his hand on his heart, his eyes closing ever so slightly, and all I could do was smile and agree). And Houston Pride is two weeks away, so we’re already making plans to attend as a group.
Then this morning I was sitting at breakfast, and another friend said, “I’m kinda scared after Orlando,” and I didn’t know what she meant (my first thought was, “I haven’t been on Facebook lately” since that’s where I tend to get my news), and when she told me last night had been the largest mass shooting in US history–with more dead and injured than at Virginia Tech–and that it happened at a gay nightclub, I was stunned speechless.
It’s easy to rationalize different places and different spaces as a series of overlying Venn diagrams, here there is inclusion, here there is not, and here is that region in the middle full of tension and bated silence and awkward encounters at the bar, leaving everyone uncomfortable. But such drastic dehumanization forgets the fact that while we were celebrating our queer identity in the middle of a college university in Texas, the lives of hundreds were impacted by the bigotry born and raised in Florida.
We may be in separate places, but this space is shared: the sudden fear that all our years of visibility and changing hearts and minds has brought us nowhere, that the hatred against gay and lesbian and bi and transgender (and all other sexuality/gender-non-conforming) people is as paramount today as it was in the nineties when DOMA was passed, when Matthew Shepard was slaughtered, when Harvey Milk was assassinated.
Earlier this week someone told me that I “don’t really look gay,” and later this week I had a conversation with peers about a presenter who we all had thought was gay, and isn’t, and it only pushes to the forefront of our minds that sexual orientation and gender expression are not purely inherent, individual identities, but faces that can be inscribed upon others through the lenses of ignorance and assumption: I can move through the world being assumed straight, and that demands my authenticity even more. That privilege obliges me to be open about my sexuality and speak about all of these issues.
Because even when we speak openly, even when we keep to our own and stay in our own spaces, outsiders can and will and have come inside to shoot us down, to end our lives.
I will not be held silent. I will speak, and I will sing, and I will stand against hatred in each of its forms, before each of its faces, because if I cannot live bravely, who can?