A Reading of “Love into your fears” by Kiese Laymon #SOL2022

“We are not good enough not to practice“, the title of Kiese Laymon’s essay, uses repetition with intention mixed with formal and informal language. I read this as both advice and anti-advice; a message contradicting itself at insections within paragraphs compelling me to read and reread and to write and rewrite. I am trying to love into my fears finding the intersections of contradiction. I am trying to love into many fears.

Fears at home, fears in friendships, and fears in education are palpable. They pulsate at three in the morning when the chaos of the mind lifts the lid of sleep. I’m trying to listen and feel, but right now, it might be too much. There are “reading wars” and verbalized doubt about the ability of the education system to successfully deliver professional development for destreamed English classes. There are forces “returning to normal” making me feel anything but. And, “normal” was never helpful. (But, that’s another essay for another day.)

While Kiese Laymon’s essay is clearly about writing, it might have well been about teaching. At least, that’s how I read it. The essay could be advice and anti-advice about the practice we enact in the classroom. “We are not good enough not to practice.”

I had the privilege of sharing in a circle conversation with an Indigenous scholar and my department this morning – my principal knows that this release time shifted our teaching practice last year. This time, with new members, we moved through conversation in different ways though similarly without a formal agenda, but with a vision to form a set of beliefs meant to guide our actions.

Picture of Octavia Butler and the quotation: Belief initiates and guides action – or it does nothing.

Part way through the sharing of a challenging situation, the Indigenous coach suggested that we do exactly what she was asking; we paused to write about our “why”, our honest reasons for wanting to teach. I know this matters. But, as I thought about Kiese Laymon, and I thought about that circle of new faces, I wish that I had the courage in the moment to ask some questions about fear. What are we afraid of? Now, I wonder, if we share our fears, might we collectively love into them.

I know that I am not good enough not to practice.

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September 19 #SOL2022

On September 19, the whole school, the whole school Board, and all school boards across Ontario were directed by the government to take a moment of silence recognizing the death of Queen Elizabeth. And, the strange and jarring juxtaposition that this is Powley Day (a nationally recognized day which affirms the rights of the Metis Nation) is stark.

I read many posts on Twitter from anti-oppressive educators who said they would be resisting this directive and as colleagues, we talked extensively in texts, and emails, and in-person wrestling with another one of those moments, those complex teachable moments that ask you to enact your personal pedagogy. How can I pause for the person who led the institution which represents such longstanding and devastating oppression for so many? I can’t.

Michelle and I text back and forth. She’s teaching grade 11 English; a course focused on Indigneous Voices. I think about the land acknowledgements, the attempts to “decolonize’ the classroom, the Indigenous and Equity Road map and they all feel empty in the face of this directive. The memory of Jason Reynold’s Lesley College Commencement address comes to mind. In the address he tells the graduates to use their positions wisely, for justice, otherwise their degrees will be “nothing more than paper-thin pedestals. Talismans of ego, connected to more of the same blanket rhetoric about change that we will conveniently use to readjust the comfort level of our ill-fitting skin during moments of apathy.”

A slide with text and links saying Have you heard about Powley Day before? Let’s learn more about it.
Different people have very different feelings about the Monarchy and the Queen. Let’s listen to a discussion about some of these perspectives (first 14 min).
Colonialism: the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
The Province has directed all schools to observe a moment of silence in recognition of the life of the Queen at or around 1:00 p.m. today. Let’s take a look at OCDSB communications regarding this. 
How do you feel about taking a moment of silence for this purpose?

In my own ill-fitting white skin, I tell myself that I cannot stand but I need share more than my voice. Trevor Noah helps.

His thesis is clear; we cannot all mourn the same losses. He says, “How can we be expected to respect something that didn’t respect us back.” Amanda Jonz shared her carefully researched writing prompt and collectively, we gather and plan to turn this into a moment to reflect and decide for themselves.

Three students sit in blue reclining chairs around a wooden table, two writing on paper, one writing on a device.

Handling #SOL2022

I’m in class right now, writing with the students, trying to find something inspiring to say about hands, (our prompt from Sarah Kay’s beautiful spoken word poem) but I’ve been feeling too anxious, too stressed with the chaos of the start-up, or the chaos of what’s inside me, to consider saying anything interesting.

So, instead, I’ll breathe and wait. But, I will write anyway. And, this often works for me when I think of the white space as a place to sort out my own messiness or bring my emotions into some form of comprehension. And understanding reading comprehension has been a private pedagogical quest. Which, frankly, feels fraught, and futile and other “f” words that I won’t use here. I’ve been reading about the science, the art, the strategies, and trying to get a handle on it, to make sense of all this information when the paradox of it all strikes me. I’m not leaving space to linger, space to breathe with the difficulties.

I’d been listening to an episode of The Ezra Klein Show called, “The Subtle Art of Appreciating Difficult Beauty”. Chloe Cooper Jones explains that “all humans are engaged with a struggle between their internal and external self…there is always a disconnect.” She talks about a way of coping with pain, or the anticipation of pain, called “the neutral room”. It is a space in the mind intentionally created to carve out neutrality and it sounds a lot like a place to breathe.

My ten minute timer ends and I move to my desk to look back at my reading while students are working in groups. adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy sits open at a page. I’m reading the chapter “Fractals” and thinking of my elderly neighbour, an intensely positive Black man who makes fractal art, and wears tie-dyed fractal shirts. (Even his tricyle helmet is vibrant with colour and possibility.) He lost his lifelong partner to brain cancer last year and, still, he smiles and rides and connects with members of the community.

How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. (brown 52)

I think to myself, “There is so much that I’m not handling right now.” Maybe there is no handling. Maybe there is only finding the difficult beauty in these struggles and being comfortable with small movements of transformation.