On Sunday morning, I was brushing my teeth when my phone vibrated, then illuminated, and cast a light from the bathroom counter upwards towards my face in the mirror. Glancing down I noticed that Chris Cluff had invited me to a conversation on Twitter in a new application called “Spaces”. Confused but curious, I tried to continue my weekend routine of slow focused everyday activities; I was brushing my teeth and trying just to brush my teeth.
But, curiosity already had me in its grips, so before finishing, I clicked to open this virtual speaking space, my mouth full of foaming paste. I heard the voice of Chris gently speaking, noting names of people joining, then Pamala Agawa laughed asking “what the heck is this?” and I instantly relaxed again. Pam has a way of doing that to an audience; she puts you at ease and simultaneously makes you listen even when it’s a difficult message. Will Gourley then spoke and I remembered hearing him on VoicEd Radio. Past associations were coalescing comfortably in this auditory space where Beth Lyons listened. Chris spoke again noting the names of others entering, some unfamiliar, and then calling out “Mel”, not quite me as I’m frequently known, but me nonetheless. I spat into the sink and unmuted the mic.
“I couldn’t speak because I was just brushing my teeth.”
I heard some laughter and friendly banter about teeth brushing as an important goal to accomplish in a day and then silently blushing I excused myself to go walk the dog all the while feeling this friendly space had quizzically broken some writing impasse for me. Chris predicted blog posts about “Poking the Bear”, “Got my teeth brushed” and “What’s in Cluff’s coffee this morning?” Yet, this surprising moment of distraction, of a curiosity seized, gave me a comforting sense of abandonment. I realized that I could just write about brushing my teeth, without worrying about the incredibly tense conversations generated by my Social Justice and Equity class, the negotiations with parents who object to the content of the course, or the students deep in the practice of social justice online. I realized that even the everyday banal events have meaning and significance.
About ten years ago when my children were younger and we were moving through daily tasks at breakneck speed, I was brushing my teeth, furiously moving the bristles back and forth, unconsciously aware of my fierce grip and staccato movements in and out of my mouth, moving and doing but only thinking of the long list of “not done” and “to do”, forcing this everyday task to a hurried conclusion when abruptly the brush slipped below my teeth and I stabbed the hard plastic tip firmly into my lower gums with such force that they split horizontally below the line of teeth. Blood began flowing and I began slowing. What followed were a series of trips to the dentist, the oral surgeon, spaced out over a month which were periodic reminders on the cost of my inattention, the cost of my senseless fury which I saw in the shocked faces of professionals who heard my story.
I was just brushing my teeth.
But, actually, I wasn’t. I was already imaginatively several hours ahead in the day, in a classroom with students, and in the office photocopying, and planning difficult conversations, and trying to remember what events were scheduled for the evening with my family. I was at the end of the day preparing before it had even begun. And, this self-inflicted oral wound became a necessity for pausing and moving with attention in each task; this delicate tissue holding bone in place was severed and in need of repair. I had been absent from the everyday.
Absences have been accumulating about me as I listen to students struggle, family members struggle. Recently, friends mentioned my silence where usually I’m outspoken, or at least blogging, texting or Tweeting; absence where usually I’m present. It’s been several weeks, several Tuesdays, where writing feels impossible, but for some reason this spontaneous momentary gathering of voices released this story and I remembered why everyday I slow down to brush my teeth.