Being spaces #SOL2021

I was there. Again.

Showering quickly, I knew the day ahead was closed. It would not be open to the possibilities characteristic of summers for teachers. Instead, today I would be bound to a headset, confined to a computer, in a virtual space with colleagues where I would be visible. Unscheduled days gave me space to disappear into grasses and the river, into the peeping of small birds and chirping of crickets.

Stepping into my shorts I noticed the sunlight reflecting from the hardwood floor and thought, only the shirt matters – that’s all they will see.

The workshop had not even begun. But I went there, to that same space, as I have many times before sliding easily into what I call the “shrinking space”. I think other women might understand this; sometimes we go alone and sometimes in pairs or groups.

Afterwards, she texted, “Do you have a minute to talk because I want to listen.” My house is old with a foundation built in 1900. Much of it has been rebuilt, renovated with an addition. Yet, this ancient place is still standing with a grand total of 1500 square feet. Our bedroom bathroom is really small and when I’m moving quickly, it’s infuriating, but when I’m moving slowly, it’s comforting, so that is where I went. Pausing, I remembered a line from Rumi: “Do you make regular visits to yourself?” I texted her back thanking her, but not just now. I needed a small space.

I woke very early the next day with a memory of a threaded metaphor from a book. Mary Lawson used the motif of surface tension on water in her novel, Crow Lake. I remembered the experience of reading that book, the connection I had to the lake, the landscape, the love of science, curiosity, and water spiders. I believed the protagonist and her version of the story wholeheartedly as I read eagerly nodding with the knowing. Until I got to the later end of the novel. The voice of her brother broke the trance and revealed another perspective on that tension, that surface tension which exists in families, relationships. I’ll always remember that moment of transformation, the narrative on the page rippling in me. Inner space transmuted by a book.

I walked through their dawn filaments again this morning. They always weave their webs in the same places where we will walk, breaking them, completely ignorant of the incredible energy and optimism spun with each thread. Once these gossamer filaments were broken, I stopped to notice and thought about the spiders who persist ever hopeful that a space will sustain them.

Mother’s Day Reflections

I had a profoundly emotional moment in class last week which brought me to tears and then suddenly a flush of embarrassment.

We had been live on VoicEd Radio with Stephen Hurley and my students in grade 10 Academic English were being interviewed. My mother in Goderich, and my husband at home had promised to listen in.

I had been moving about the room trying to encourage students to work through the hashtags for the Twitter chat, to respond to the five questions that I had timed to be released every 10 minutes, and ensuring as many students as possible could share their voices on the radio.

Of course, I was anxious and somewhat fearful, because I’d never done this before. It was a new experience and I wasn’t quite sure about the outcome. It was very public, and I felt very exposed.

But the hour passed fairly smoothly, and many students were engaged and participating. Some were excited and willing to share their thoughts on live radio. I could feel my heart swell whenever they got up to the microphone and I wanted to reach out and support them, but didn’t as they made their way through the questions from the host with thoughtfulness and honesty.

And as we signed off, a text from my mother came in. I raised my voice to share the text, and then was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion. I paused and broke. Tears flowed and my peer tutor stepped forward to read the text message:

“I can understand why you love your job. Those young people are SO worth caring about.”

After a few gentle hugs from the students, I composed myself and the ebb of embarrassment appeared. It hung around for several hours and into the next day, until this day, Mother’s Day, I realized what it was.

It was the moment of parental recognition that said, “I understand you.” This Mother’s Day I’m reminding myself of this power to hold and validate the worth of our children.

Negotiating New Year’s Day Reflections with poetic "Possibilities"

New Year’s Eve is the night where we celebrate on the precipice between past and future. It is a time to reflect and prepare for a meaningful year, so I decide this morning that I will reflect and think about possibilities.

I woke up to the CBC radio show, The Current, with Sherry Turkle. I’ve used her Ted Talk, Connected but Alone, with students and we usually have some really interesting discussions about the use of cell phones in our social lives. Students readily admit to an addiction. But some of Turkle’s statements in this radio interview made me wonder.

Now, I know that she is a well educated scholar who has done extensive research on this topic, but my own personal experiences with my teen aged children and my own students make me wonder about some of her claims. To begin with, both my boys, much like me, dislike talking on the phone for anything other than purely pragmatic purposes, yet we are lovers of radio and podcasts. When communicating with family, we prefer face to face interactions, or the next best thing, the written word. We enjoy long conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or on walks with the dog. Both sons write long text messages in complete sentences and tell me that they care about word choice and punctuation, knowing how imprecise diction and punctuation can skew a message. These are young people who have grown up with computers and cell phones. On the other hand, my over 60 husband frequently sends out messages, sans punctuation, which leave me frothing at the mouth in frustration as I try to figure out his possible meaning.

Another idea raised by Turkle bothered me. She talked about students exhibiting a decline in empathy, yet I see students involved, concerned for the planet, for refugees, for social justice. In Canada, we elected a young Prime Minister whose philosophies of inclusion and social justice are humanitarian and grounded in empathy. She said that the markers of empathy in children have declined in the past ten years.

Yet, I was reminded of a British documentary series which followed the lives of school children as a sociological experiment. The series recorded observations and interviews with the children every seven years starting in 1964.

In the first series of the documentary, 7 Up, young British children are seen throwing rocks at a Polar Bear in the zoo, and at the 7 minute mark of the video, the audience witnesses two young school boys having a full on fist fight in the school yard while others carry on playing, and a teacher is slow to respond. In interviews, the children say that they are “concerned for the poor”. I wondered if there is a gap between the action and the word.

And as I scrolled through my Twitter feed over coffee, this Upworthy video called Cyber Seniors appeared. I open the video file and watched this with my husband:

There is a Senior’s residence right beside my son’s high school, so I’ve resolved to bring this idea to the school Administration. What a wonderful way for students to contribute to the community, to learn about patience, and teaching someone else is always the best way to learn.

This idea that New Year’s Eve gives me time to reflect upon the past and prepare for 2016 requires that I step outside of my own experience and reflect. With or without technological connection, I must do this. Language, whether spoken, or written, always mediates between the lived and the shared experience. I do think Sherry Turkle’s message is important; we are connected but alone. But, technology can document our experience and allow us to emotionally, if not physically, connect and hopefully, empathize. Technology is full of possibilities, if we choose.

As with anything new, time must pass, observations must be made, and reflections on the purpose and meaning must be drawn. And where there are gaps, whether they be economic, academic, or otherwise, the reflective empathetic person is called to action, called to possibilities.

May your year be full of possibilities and poetry. 
https://soundcloud.com/brainpicker/amanda-palmer-reads-possibilities-by-wislawa-szymborska