Step Down #SOL2020

I watch my feet descent the steps of the school hallway on my way out after class; black dimpled mats cover nearly century old steps and appear to be new relative to the structure beneath. They cover what I know is an ancient old school, with Hogwarts-like hallways, twists and turns that no wheelchair could successfully navigate, many flights of stairs built only for the able-bodied. Step down. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of old buildings, preserving structures which has preserved this privilege, and that may be central to what has now become quite public. Step down. The stair coverings are new, the purple paint, the gym equipment, the field, and even much of the furniture is new. But, my mind in this moment of departure, is on my foot falls, is on the steps, and not on the testimonies, the students screaming accusations outside the building. Step down. I am deep inside myself returning to the ways that I begin to know my students, the irreplaceable communication that happens with presence, a breath of a moment. Step down. I wonder to myself if blindness raises this knowing, if presence of the other comes to the sightless mind in a way which vision impedes. Maybe we are looking on the surface too much. Step down.

I reach the landing with yellow taped arrows and blocked off sections of tiled flooring remind me of the “social distancing”. Another wondering invades the movement where I notice nostalgia binding us to a past that we remember, that is comfortable, and a heaviness presses on my chest pushing out breath, not quite physical, but there nonetheless. There is the weight of making high school memorable, of making it about something more than survival. This has been walking with me, unacknowledged tension always hovering at the forefront of my mind like a gnat, barely visible and a reminder of absent presence.

I am carrying my bag, the weight heavy, even with little more than my laptop and mouse. In class today, I noticed the lifeless air in the room, but it wasn’t really the air, it was the mood, reading bodies, in the building, on the screen. Those grade nine students were there, but not there today; many were mentally wandering in some other place, maybe full of nostalgia, maybe full of longing. I tried to lift them, pretended that I didn’t notice and did my best to smile behind the mask, spending time beside them, showing them online material, cautiously selecting every movement, every word, every subtle message that my body might betray my state while navigating a difficult digital world where they really would rather not be.

I reach the 25 foot high oak wooden door at the front of the school, lean in to make it move, and wonder how many have crossed this ancient threshold. Old ways are like old doors; they are hard to move and require some leaning in. Old ways are safe and support the privileged. Another set of stairs greets me before I will make it to the ever changing magnificent maple whose orange and yellow leaves are drifting, are caressing the hood of my car. Step down.

Cataloging and Comprehending

Librarians knit skin with stories, people with pages, and they are keepers and filers and spreaders of words. They have the awesome and demanding task of acquiring, sorting, filing, posting, suggesting, promoting, supporting, along with many other participles; I have felt a kinship with these scientists. They are the hosts to cultural reflection, potential revolutionaries working behind the shelves of coded Dewey decimals sending out secret gossamers of inspiration in typeset and clandesdine reams of revolution in chapters. It seems that some politicians fear the spider-like stealth of the librarian spinning thoughts.

They should. Librarians are socialists; they check out words for free.

This past week, I was taken aback, and thrilled when Beth Lyons, librarian extraordinaire, read my previous blog post on ways of knowing and then posted her centred response (sorry, Doug, but I think it’s interesting). I thought, “I must send words back to her, though mine are never quite centred.”

Now, I wish I’d taken that moment, captured it before evapouration. You know that green feeling which takes you out of the moment of physical existence, that first read of something engaging and something that has your brain spinning and spilling out words in webs of threaded meaning? Well, a gust of something temporal broke that fragile string of response and I’m trying here to reclaim it.

Nevertheless, I’ll do this for now, and hope it will make sense in the way that it did yesterday. I’m always hoping to hold those moments of awe that come from reading. I don’t know whether it’s the words that inspire the awe, or the awe that inspires the words. Maybe its reciprocal, like a chiasmus. (And there’s another amazing word with “chi” or life energy flowing back and forth.) I’ll break the silence of the classroom to share the beautiful words.

I must admit that words stick to me. Some stay. and sometimes I want them to wash away with my morning shower, to let them flow down the soapy drain, but often they persist, staining my skin, pigmenting my perspectives…nevertheless. Take even that word there, “nevertheless“. Where did this strange linguistic formation grow and what perplexed mind constructed this Frankenstein formation of adjective-article-adjective – “never-the-less“?

Yet, I do love “nevertheless”, and, likewise, “unless”. They are words with backpacks of hope, not visible, but present nonetheless. They are a breath of promise with “less” suggesting “more” and I twist myself inside out in noticing that the opposite of “unless” could be “unmore”, which, of course, is less.

Nevertheless, this librarian wrote about “dichotomy” (such an awesome word) and I had just been discussing the dangers of binary thinking with my grade 12 students; we discussed that the typical “either or” response to the complexities of life limits options for conflict resolution, for decision making, and we had been talking about the ability to intellectually hold two contradictory ideas which can both be simultaneously true; they are seeing that paradox is everywhere.

“Hold on to doubt”, I told them. “Doubt is hopeful. That same doubt about your knowing keeps you learning and growing, it checks your understanding in triangles and gives readers and thinkers balanced patterns of support’. But, what do I know?

Now that the moment of some linguistic epiphany passed without expression, I needed more time to send back words to the librarian. But that’s a problem, here. Because, in this, we have “no time”, and we grind forward, pushing the “content”, giving the feedback, ignoring doubt, that possible sense of the alternative, that hopeful possibility in the strength of triangulation. Are we crushing the possibility for divergent pauses, for the play with words that only third-eyed librarian can creatively catalogue and give freely to us now?