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Lay Down Your Sword

In a series of letters to myself.


Baby,

How long do you plan to keep fighting?

I see you, shoulders hunched and brow knitted. You of the ever-muddy shoes and never-polished sword. You are a study in unnecessary persistence.

You scrutinize a face in the mirror that doesn’t always feel like your own because you’ve been running away from it for too long. You claim to have a distaste for confrontation, but you spend every day looking at your reflection to pick out which battle you will fight today. Will it be the head or the heart? Which part of your persona will you proclaim as in need of a fix? For all your cries of non-violence, you have been the most aggressive pursuer of your own perceived inner-demons.

You see yourself piecemeal, picking apart all the stories you’ve written onto your body– the shiny patches left from the times you let yourself be burnt, the scars from when you were convinced that bloodletting was the only way to heal. Like some kind of forensic gravedigger, you see the past written into your skin and try and resurrect these stories so you can carefully dissect them and look for all the clues you think led to your failure.

In each story, you are sure you are reading some kind of a map, where “x” marks some ethereal, better version of yourself. You take up your sword and try and carve out the parts of yourself you are convinced no longer serve you: the naivete, the romantic, the poet. You write and publish praise about being big-hearted only to find yourself consistently trying to scrape that heart off your sleeve, to hide it under an iron suit. You are so sure that it is so overbearing and ridiculous, no one wants to see it but you.

So instead you try and cut away the parts you are so sure no one else wants to deal with, to make space for something you hope someone else will give you. The problem is that if you keep splitting yourself into only the pieces you deem “lovable” or “acceptable” you will soon find that there is nothing left at all. 

Stop fighting, love.

We all have demons. We all want to be better. But to try and rip away the parts of yourself that someone else taught you were weak only weakens you as a whole.

Put down the sword. Take off the armor. Feel the new lightness in your body once you stopped carrying a cross only you have built and only you obliged yourself to. See the scars and let them heal back to the complete version of yourself.

Now is the time to set down the old stories; they were never maps to begin with. They are just memories. History is an important lesson, but it is no match for the beauty of the unseen horizon.

So stop fighting now. Unknit your brow. Raise your chin and look now towards that skyline. See yourself there, just as you do in the mirror: completely whole and perfect in the imperfections.

As I was editing this, this album came on. Perfect music and discussion to accompany this piece. 

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Running Back To Myself

This last week, On Being (one of my favorite programs) featured a piece I recorded with “Creating Our Own Lives.” I’m incredibly honored. The episode is below.

This past week, as I prepare for my 10th marathon, Kauai, this being shared feels especially sweet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about strength and vulnerability this week. It’s a frequent theme in my writing.

And re-listening to this made me realize something important: the road can be a brutal place.

If my race reports have shown me anything, it’s that racing doesn’t always feel like sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes it’s hard. It’s bloody. It can make you cry. Hell, it will make you cry.

What running also taught me was the value of getting back up when we fall.

It’s something I’ve noticed before, but it was a reminder I needed this week.

Here’s the thing: the road is going to be there, regard of how we feel. Riddled with ankle-breaking potholes and unforeseen dangers, the road is always going to be there in its imperfect splendor. The only way to escape the journey is to wallow on the sidelines and give up, but I’ve never been the sitting-still kind.

So, even on the days that are hot and horrid, where I drip sweat everywhere; or the days I am running from monsters who eventually catch me, and find me sobbing on street corners; or days where the run feels like fire, and I am made of sunlight streaming the sky, the fact remains: the road needs to be run.

The only thing I control is whether I keep going or not.

I decide: do I stay down on the sidelines, or do I get up and begin the process of running back to my self? The self that is powerful, has a soul forged by the beating of sole-to-pavement, the one who has broken every barrier she placed down on herself. Do I become her again?

Then, I look down at the road, riddled with potholes but heading towards the horizon. I get up, smile, and begin the journey once more.

rocks

Intersecting Stories

There are two stories I want to tell you.

The first isn’t really a single story, but a collection of them. It’s from the first three days of my classroom, and of being in the fifth-year of my teaching.

There’s the story I want to tell you about what it felt like to hit my stride. There is a moment where body, spirit, and mind connect and there’s a momentary, explosive bloom, like watching stars explode in space— it’s not violent, but graceful.

I turned towards my students on a too-warm August morning this Monday, started talking with them and thought, Oh, this is it. This is what I’m meant to do. My chest opened and the tension of uncertainty that summer brought melted away. This is it.

There are the students, who are already making me laugh harder than I have in weeks, whose stories are already burning so brilliantly inside them that I see sparks of them a few days in. It is the pop-crack of first flame at the campfire; it is the first rumbles of thunder in the storm waiting to break for hours. It is wild and unfettered.

It is perfect.


There’s another story I could tell you.

It’s about the fact that Panic is a sneaky bitch.

I think I’ve outrun him— taken every self-care precaution, immersed myself in joyful work— or kept him at bay. I’m so sure that I can sense his arrival, I let my guard down. Oh, I know he’ll show up, but I figure I’ll hear his footsteps down the hall, see the flashes of his fingers at the corners of my mind.

So, when Panic hits on King St. late on a weekday night, on a day where, for all intents and purposes, things are fine, it’s a little jarring. Panic does all the normal things he does— squeezes my chest; makes me cry; reaches down my throat and plays my vocal chords like a harp so I make squeaky, whimpering animal noises while I try to keep him at bay. I grip the steering wheel hard and grit my teeth, trying to ride the wave of his terror out, playing the scared bystander-under-desk to his Godzilla-rage.

I finally make it home and sob in my car harder than I have in months. There is no reason to it. The detailed inventory of my life is, at least, joyful. You’re fine. You’re fine, I think to myself, desperate to use that as an anchor to some kind of rational-self.

There is no logic to it, though.  There is just loud, unabashed wailing, each cry letting some of Panic’s power out of my system. I let myself weep in hopes that the more I let this wild rumpus continue, the longer I will be free from it.

The two stories seem juxtaposing, but they are not parallel universes. They intersect within me. They are consistently warring, forcing me to walk a tight-rope, a knife’s-edge worth of stable ground amidst two worlds that, if I am not careful, could swallow me whole.

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A Letter to My Kids on my First Day

A version of this appeared in EdWeek.


8/6/16

My dears,

I’m so excited to welcome you into our classroom this year! I’m excited to get to know you or, for some of you, get re-acquainted with the wonderful humans you are becoming.

Here are three important truths I want you to know:

  1. Things are going to get real this year. I’ll be honest, we’re going to enter into some uncomfortable conversations. In some ways, that’s part of growing up. Some of you have heard me talk about this before, but I heard all kind of things about me that hurt when I was growing up— about my race, or my parents, or the way I looked.

Dealing with that stuff is part of growing up, and so we’re going to talk about why those things happen and how to deal with them. I want to make sure you leave this room as mentally prepped to know and love yourself as possible.

We also have a unique opportunity, however. Think of this: out of all the people in the world, the universe conspired to bring the group of us together in this room right now. There are a million other ways the day could have gone— you could’ve been in another class, I could’ve taken the job in San Francisco instead of here, the person next to you could have gone to another school. A million little things had to happen for us to end up in this room together. There is something awesome (in the true sense of the world), powerful, and beautiful about that if you want to see it.

And you all bring something special to this classroom. You bring stories from your life and your family’s history. You bring a set of perspectives and beliefs that, literally, no one else in the world has. You all have something special and wonderful to add to our discussion, and to not challenge, push, and learn from those unique beliefs would be criminal.

So, I’ll be honest, some of my motives are a little selfish. I want to learn from all of you as much as possible, which means we’re going to try and talk about the things that make us tick. It might get uncomfortable and we might get frustrated, but I think if we all see each other as a font of some kind of knowledge and remember that everyone has a story, we’ll be able to get through it.

  1. It is your job to ask tough questions— especially of me. I know, normally as the teacher I’m supposed to talk to you about my rules (or “norms” or “procedures” or any other of the words we use to mean “a set of behaviors I want you to follow”). Yes, to make things run smoothly and for us to get to the real work, there are some generally accepted societal norms that would be good for you to follow.

But we’re going to have some tough conversations. Here’s an important thing to know: I may not always be right. I’m only human, just like you. I’m quite a bit older than you*makes dinosaur noises*, but that doesn’t mean I always have the answer or even know more about a topic. I want you to know that you should be asking me tough questions, especially, “why?”

A few years ago, I was reading The Giver with a group of 7th graders. One of them raised their hand, and asked me a question about the book and presented me with a possible theory. Everyone looked at me, expectant that I would confirm or deny their belief. Here’s the thing: the idea had never once crossed my mind. I had never even considered the theory before! Though this student was 15 years younger than me, they had completely blown my mind about a book that I had read at least 50 times.

This is what I’m talking about: you should always share your opinions or thoughts with me, or feel free to ask me questions. We may not always see eye-to-eye, but I truly believe we’ll all be better for it.

  1. I adore the peas and carrots out of all you. Truly. I may not always show it (I am human after all), but I hope you know that I wake up every. single. morning. and feel lucky that I get to spend the day with you.

Even when we drive each other nuts. Even when I’m frustrated and tired. Even when you all don’t do your homework and I’m just like, “BUT WHY FAM?!”

Even on those days, I look up at the blue of the sky and green of Diamond Head and thank my lucky stars that you and this class are in my life.

 

So, let’s get to work.

 

With love,

 

Ms. Torres

 

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Poetical

I keep meaning to sit down and write. I have ideas. I swear! It’s just been kind of a crazy time. We get kids in a few weeks, and I’m excited to hunker down and get to work.

In the meantime, I’ve been admittedly writing poetry and fiction. Here’s a short excerpt from two poems, just to remind myself when I look back that, in these months, I was still writing.

The politics of sharing a bed is not simply about defining the boundaries of blankets.
It is the place where the intimate meets the intellectual.
Continually choosing to share space with someone,
instead of the temporary VIP invite is a difficult task.
It means seeing the other person’s body and heading not just for the destination,
but wondering at reasons why the mapmaker took this route.
It is reading the text of a mind and taking interest,
not just in the words but in the hands that wrote them.
It is knowing that beliefs come with baggage;
it is knowing the story behind the idea and caring about both.

The Politics of Sharing a Bed, 2016

Here’s the truth: I’m a storyteller.

I tell stories so I can try and make sense of myself and the world.
I teach them so that my kids can tell them, so I can better tell them myself.

And I’m terrified you’re going to ask to read some of my stories,
because I’ve written myself into some pretty dicey situations in the past.
I’ve been a storm-tossed maiden at the bow of a ship or a starry-eyed moon-catcher.
I’ve called myself warrior and flower; I’ve been betrayer and betrayed.
I’ve been beloved and beguiled and broken hearted.
In fact I had been all of things just in the five months before we met.

Storytelling, 2016

Hitting the Wall and Moving Forward

Many thanks to Doug Robertson and CUE for letting write a little about how running a marathon is a little like teaching.

We all know the moment: you are moving your way along a trail— real or proverbial— and all of a sudden, the thought pops into your head:

“I don’t want to do this anymore. I would like to stop now, please.”

And with that, your body hits what runners know as “The Wall”: your legs get heavy, your shoulders hunch down, your chest feels like it’s weighed down with a bag of lead. Your entire being is telling you to give up, to stop whatever you’re doing, and surrender to failure.

Teaching has Walls too. I hit one in my first year of teaching- in October of 2012. The Wall was called DEVOLSON, otherwise known as “The Disillusionment Stage.” To be fair, I didn’t set myself up for success: instead of starting the year off with a plan, I assumed I’d be able to coast by on charisma and good execution.

Boy, was I wrong.

Read more here.

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‘Float On’: Meditations on “Home,” Day 2

I ran my mouth off a bit too much, oh what did I say?
Well you just laughed it off it was all OK.
And we’ll all float on OK.
And we’ll all float on any way.
– Float On, Ben Lee

I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to figure out when I felt like O‘ahu became home. I was tempted to write about my students, who certainly feel like home, but I’ve done that before, multiple times

And it’s true– my school is the place that has felt most like home the past few years. 

Still, I had a life before teaching, and I have a life outside of it. I’m different than the girl I was when I moved here (which, consequently, I’ve written about as well). I have well-worn places on island that I love, and when I am away I crave seeing the green that I think only exists in Hawai‘i. There are restaurants, beaches, and parks that I’ve experienced on my own and with people. When those people have left my life, I’ve had to learn to reclaim them for myself.

And I thought about writing about that: what it means to re-learn a place after you’ve separated from the person who brought you there.

Then, I realized that those experiences were not “home” at all. Those people were not home either. I’ve known what home was all along, and that made me realize what I had done to find that on O‘ahu.


I wonder what happens if I turn left… here. I thought to myself as my feet pounded the trail. It was a sunny January morning, and I was enjoying a Monday off from school. On a whim, I decided to run to Mānoa falls, a common tourist hike due to its easy trail and pay off of a lovely waterfall at the end.

I’ve done the hike multiple times, and now occasionally run it when I’m looking to change up my training. After passing tourists (upon tourists upon tourists), I reached the falls and taken a long deep breath. I was about to turn around and head back when I saw a trailhead to the left of the falls that I’d never noticed before.

I was about to shrug it off and keep moving, but my heart tugged in the direction of the trail. I had no plans that day– nowhere to be and no obligations– and I figured I might as well spend the time moving.

I turned up onto the trail, and was immediately surprised at how much more calm and serene it was compared to the bustling falls below. A few feet more revealed a bamboo forest.

After snapping a quick shot, I began moving. The trail was nearly empty and it was silent as I walked.

If you read this blog often enough, you know that I’m a distance runner in normal practice. I often spend large swaths of time on my own, running, often silently. I have written that I find this meditative, that it is often a practice that helps return me to myself.

This exploration, though, is a different kind of meditation. Yes, when I run alone I can work through problems. I can walk and go within myself, trying to move towards a greater understanding of something.

On a hike, especially a hike I’ve never done before, it is difficult to zone out in that way. For one thing, it’s not safe. It’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and footsteps, lest you fall down a mountain or something equally dangerous.

You would also, however, miss out on some truly beautiful things.

How is it I live here?! #luckywelivehawaii #hiking #hawaii #hawaiinei #trail #nofilter #seriously

A photo posted by Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) on

There is a different sort of meditative nature that takes over when I hike. I think of it as a form of “hyperawareness.” It’s something hunters and foragers talk about when they are “in the zone.” When I enter a new space, particularly in nature, I notice the colors more deeply or am more attentive to the sounds around me– partially out of safety, and partially because I am eager to appreciate the new surroundings.

#MondayMotivation courtesy of "Wild." #running #luckywelivehi #motivationmonday

A photo posted by Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) on

When I first moved to the island, I was terrified to go hiking on my own. After literally falling off a cliff about one month into living here, I was certain that death awaited me on O‘ahu’s trails.

It took a few months, but eventually my desire to run and explore won out. I found myself waking up early mornings to race up the steps of Koko Head or enjoy Kuliouou on my own. I’d go on Yelp and search “running trail” and choose a new place to go and explore.

#luckywelivehawaii #luckywelivehi #trails #hiking #running #hawaii #nofilter

A photo posted by Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) on

Chasing the Sun Up Koko Head #becauseIcan #blessed #hilife

A photo posted by Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) on

I see now that, beyond being new ways to check out the island, it was these solo ventures that made me come to see the island as a place where I felt safe enough to explore it on my own. Frankly, a number of my experiences of O‘ahu — restaurants and concert venues– been colored by the people who brought me there. They were, at the time, a gift shared, an experience to enjoy with someone else.

Of course, I can reclaim a place if that person has left my life, or enjoy it again with the friends that haven’t. I normally do, but while these experiences have provided me with knowledge, they don’t always allow me agency.

When I am hiking or trail running on my own, I don’t need someone to guide me or hold my hand. I didn’t need to be shown somewhere. The only permission I need is the openness of my own heart. The only guide to follow is my instinct and the trail marker. If I feel like I’ve made a wrong turn, I just stop, take a breath, look for the next sign or simply turn around.

There is something ultimately encouraging about that: Yes, the trail is often muddy. Sometimes the path is unclear, but attempting to navigate them on my own has taught me an invaluable lesson: maybe you just need to push forward. You simply have to keep floating on and hoping that the most lovely vistas lay ahead of you, if you only keep moving.

Spontaneous hike today led to amazing valley view. So #luckywelivehawaii. #hawaii #hiking

A photo posted by Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) on

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Escape: Meditations on “Home,” Day 1

“Last time it snowed, you were one person. Now, you’re another.”

– The Paris Letter, Jon Robin Baitz

The last time I was in this house, it was nearly two months ago to the day.

I’d try and recount the weekend in detail to you, but I’d be lying if I said I could. Here is what I remember about booking the trip, and the first twenty-four hours.

1.

I booked the flight to leave O‘ahu for the weekend with one word on mind: escape. I had stopped and taken a good, long look at the life I created for myself. I spread it out on the table, nodding slowly while surveying the contents. It was lies and taboo laughter. It was reckless leaps and bad choices. It was too much red wine, gulped down alone in my apartment while waiting.

I looked at that life and said, “NOPE.”

So, I shamelessly decided to run.

I needed to be “away” in every sense possible. Not turn-off-my-phone away. Not go-on-a-solo-run away. But hop-on-a-plane-and-have-an-ocean-in-between-me-and-my-life kind of away. So, on April 30th I booked a flight to spend a few days in Kona two weeks later. Alone, in what I saw as “my parent’s house,” as I had never grown up there, I wanted silence. I wanted a blank canvas. I wanted to live a life that wasn’t mine.

2.

I got on the plane to Kona feeling jumpy and distracted. I had created a web of emotional turmoil that I had no clue how to see myself out of.  Somehow in the thirteen days since booking the damn flight, my life was more complicated.

Still, a part of me had been tempted to call off my trip. Was I running from my problems? Was I just shirking off responsibility? Should I stay? I had a million questions running through my head and coming from all sides.

“How did you get here?”
“What comes next?”
“Do you know what you want?”
“What are you going to do?”

The small, quiet voice lingered: escape.

I took a breath, turned away from my ride, and walked into the airport.

3.

My arrival in Kona is… disorienting, to say the least. Normally, Kona’s airport is a precursor for the kind of weather I will face: sun. Always gorgeous, occasionally brutal and unrelenting, the landscape is usually black rock and bright light, with little-to-no shade to protect you from it.

This time, the plane landed just as the sun was setting, and Kona is all dark blue sea and black jagged edges. Stormy palette, I think to myself, the sixteen-year-old-girl in me amused at the clichéd connection between the colors outside and ~my heart~.

I have visited the island multiple times, but rarely on my own. I normally arrived for work events that I needed to get to immediately, or with another person, or to run into the eager arms of my family.

“What time will you get here?”
“Did you land yet?”
“Do you need anything?”
“Where are you?”

As the sun sets to dusk on a mid-May evening, I got off the plane and onto the street. I looked around and realized that, for the first time in a while, I was truly obligated to no one but myself.

In an amusing twist of fate, I ended up in a silver, souped-up Mustang. It has an engine I will be unable to use to full capacity and a sound system that I don’t know what to do with.

It was absolutely perfect.

4.

I bought wine. And beer. And Goldfish and ice cream and junky dinners and girly magazines and I think nail polish?

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Oh, cereal. It seems I also bought cereal.

I took the above photo and sent it as a signal to some folks that I was a) alive and b) clearly on a path to try and find Jesus or myself at the bottom of a tub of Rocky Road or swirling somewhere in the Apothic Dark. After sending the picture, I looked at it and shook my head.

“Is this going to help?”
“Will this make you feel better?”
“What do you need?”
“What do you want?”

I uncorked the wine.

5. 

Text messages. There were lots of text messages. There was more wine.

6.

I took the hammock my mother bought and keeps, strangely, indoors, and turned it facing the TV. I painted my toenails alternating colors, like when I was thirteen.

I started swinging myself back and forth, trying to find a rhythm while trashy TV plays in the background. Oddly, a line from Hamilton: The Musical wormed its way into my head.

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”

I laughed long and hard as I sang it to myself. My phone pinged with a new message, and I was equal parts terrified and eager to see it. That night, my phone had hosted fireworks and firestorms, and I wasn’t sure which I would get when the screen lit up.

“When are you coming back?”
“What does this mean?”
“What do you want?”
“Where do you go from here?”

I closed my eyes and took a breath.

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”

7. 

An hour later, I went into my room to get something (A magazine? A blanket? I cannot remember), and end up sobbing on the cold tile at the foot of my bed. My head is buried in the covers.

How did I get here?
What was I going to do?
What comes next?
How could this happen? 

The ticker-tape ran behind my eyes as I tried to wash the questions away.

8.

I woke up the next morning, head throbbing, face puffy, sprawled on my parent’s bed.

The sun shone through the large, sliding door that leads to our backyard. The image was almost too-perfect: the sky bright blue, the grass so green it was Crayola-esque; it’s as though the saturation of this moment has been doubled.

“Look around, look around…”

I picked my head up off the pillow and look around.

“What are you doing?”
“What should I say?”
“Should I say anything at all?”

I dragged myself off the bed and into the living room.

9.

The hammock was at an odd, 45-degree angle to the couch. My towel is on the floor beneath it. There was a half-empty bottle of wine, uncorked, on the counter. There was an open box of cereal next to it.

“What happened here?”

I closed my eyes.

10.

When I opened them, I started laughing. Hard.

This wasn’t the bitter cackle of the night before, though. It was cleansing. It was open and cathartic. It was the laughter of someone who had fallen down the cliff, tumbled over the waterfall, crashed their car and rolled it, and still managed to get up, look down at their body, and say, “Holy shit, am I alive?! I am alive!”

I laughed more and shook my head for a moment, then I looked around the living room. This wasn’t the sterile, cold, silent retreat of “my parent’s house,” where I could pretend like my mess wasn’t real or my own. This wasn’t a question I needed to escape either. This was the home I needed to clean.

“Well, I guess it’s time to get to work.”

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Head Above Water: On Self-Care

Side note: I wrote a piece about meeting with my students re: recent events over at EdWeek that, for me, is a companion to this.


“They identified the shooter in Dallas last night,” I am on my phone, wrapped in bedsheets, reading the news to my boyfriend, Chase, as he gets ready for work. My thumb brushes page after page upwards, the blue glow wrapping around my face in the early morning light. I scroll quickly, almost compulsively, through information.

“Oh, yeah? Did they catch him?”

“No,” I reply quickly, eyes still glued to the screen. “They killed him in a standoff.”

We talk a little more about the shootings. All the news this week– the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and now the execution of Dallas cops who were doing their job with care— leaves me with a pit in my stomach. My heart races as I read accounts, hear gunshots in videos, see images that stay behind my eyes longer than I’d like. The weight of it all can envelop me, wrapping me in gray and following me for the day.

Chase leans over me on the bed, takes his hand to the side of my face, and strokes my hair. The act makes me tear my eyes away from the screen and look up at him, handsome in his Navy uniform though he hates when I say it. I catch my breath. I have not yet told him, but feeling his hand there– fingers intertwined in my hair, palm heavy on my temple– is one of my favorite things.

He searches my eyes for a moment, before kissing me lightly. “Don’t read the news today,” he entreats softly. He kisses me again, nips my bottom lip. He is clean and Listerine-mint to my sour morning breath and tousled hair. “It makes you sad.”

My gut instinct, the twenty-one-year-old wanna-be activista, balks. Ignorance and silence are compliance, a voice in the base of my brain quickly beats back.

I know he is advocating for neither, though. He simply doesn’t want to come home and find me there still, wrapped in bedsheets and paralyzed by my own personal melancholy. I look up and give a slight nod. “Okay.”


I thought about that this morning when my department chair, Marybeth, sent me an email asking for resources not just for our students, but for herself. She noted that engaging with the news is frankly overwhelming when she is also taking care of two young children at home and, you know, being an excellent teacher and mentor.

Once you “go down the rabbit hole,” she explained, it can feel impossible to get out. “I can’t let that happen since I need to be able to care for my kids. But I decided… I need to allow my students to think and converse about this since, otherwise, I am still part of the problem.”

The email hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew exactly what it was to go down the rabbit hole. I knew what it was like to get lost in its darkness, like there was no bottom,  like there is just falling into greater depths of our own helplessness. I knew the hours I had spent reading, listening, wondering, feeling helpless.

Of course, we’d be mistaken to not see our own privilege: I am not Black. I don’t live in a highly segregated city (arguably I experience as close to the opposite as exists in the U.S.). While I have certainly experienced racism, my experience can’t compare to what other people have seen last night and for generations.

I write a lot about being up front with students. After Orlando, after Mizzou, when the system failed to indict. Even just this morning, I wrote that we must talk about it.

I still stand by this, but I want to make it clear that none of us, myself included, are built to handle seeing trauma 24/7/365. Processing trauma is not an Olympic sport. There is no correct form for it. Simply because I know that many people have it worse doesn’t mean I beat up anyone who decides to take a break to care for themselves. I am getting better at trying to include myself in that.


It’s a weird thing, sometimes, sharing piecemeal on this site, in my other writing, on various social media platforms. Like anyone else, I suppose, I only share the parts of myself that I’m willing to– because they make me happy, or they feel important (and safe) to share. As a writer (who even sometimes gets paid to write), I also admittedly think about my audience, what will be interesting, or what people will actually care about.

Yes, I am the girl at the top of the story with the handsome boyfriend who reminded me to take care of myself. It’s a sweet story with a nice ending.  I also watched him close the door, and had a lightening-flash of worry. What if something happens to him at work?

Then, I buried my face in my hands for five minutes and cried, still wrapped in bedsheets. I cried because I was sad that I had thought that. I cried because I was still terrified that it could happen. I cried because there are people who fear much worse every day.

I’m a huge advocate for being vulnerable and upfront as often as possible. Still, please  don’t think for a second that I don’t have parts of myself that are hidden and scared. I hope I never paint a picture that I am not terrified at times, that I have no idea how I will discuss this with students or, one day, my own children. There are days where I worry that I simply will be unable to.

There are days when I can’t stop crying, and there are days where I close my computer and decide, “that’s enough.” It is a privilege to be able to shut it down, I know.

I also know, though, that if I don’t, my ability to also be the girl who sits in the diner and hears her students talk about these topics, or encourages them to write about it, or tries to elevate their voices when they raise them, can get washed away in tears.

Those are the days that I don’t always write about, but those moments of quiet self-care, of seeking out light in the darkness, that are just as essential.

2016-06-23 07.33.00-2

Where Are Your People? A Summer Letter to My Students

Mis corazoncitos,

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down and have smoothies and conversation with one of you.

Funny and sweet, the conversation ranged a number of topics: fitting in, what comes next, finding friends and your people. “Who are your inspirations?” he asked me.

I pondered his question for a moment. “You mean, like, who is my tribe?”

Here’s the thing, amores. I’ve been immensely blessed to have either been bound by blood or stumbled into people in my life who were far more wonderful than I deserved. Many of them have seen me at my worst, and still meet me with boundless love anyway. They have made me laugh. Hard. Like, stomach-aching-belly-crunching-laughs. They have prayed on the phone with me; they have sat there while I cried. We have laughed and snacked together. They have held my hand and we’ve cried when we have celebrated joyfully in the joy of our other friends. I have been blessed to have loved and been loved multiple times over. I absolutely think of these folks as “my people” or “my tribe.”

Still, I would be lying if I said that it was enough.

There’s a quote about love from Romeo and Juliet (ha, see, you thought you’d get away from English class just because it was summer?), that I love. Juliet uses it in is, of course, as different context than I am (and, as we’ve likely discussed, don’t even get me started on those two and their ideas of “love”) but the idea remains true:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
R+J 2:2
The thing is, love isn’t bound in by quotas. You don’t run out of it. The more I have been lucky enough to receive, the more it encourages me to give it. The more I open myself up to loving others, the more love I have been blessed to receive in return.
All of this to say: you are my tribe. All of you. You are the ones who center me, who help me come back to myself when I lose sight of who I am. When we sit in class each day, when we write together, when we challenge each other and we laugh so hard in class our stomachs hurt– these are the memories that shape a family.

 

Temporary, perhaps, but the beauty of our tribe remains untouched by its short temporal existence. The fact remains that all of you that have walked into my room, whether my students formally or not, have inspired and given me some small part of yourself. I am so grateful for it. I only hope I can return the favor.

 

Anyway, as we take the summer away from each other, I hope you are building your own tribes. I hope you are doing crazy (but safe, dear God, be safe!), funny, silly, wonderful things with your friends. I hope you’re sitting quietly with yourselves and rediscovering the sound of your own heartbeat. I hope you are eating good food and taking naps and maybe even reading or writing a smidge.

 

Just know this: there is always a space we can try and create where you know that you are with your people. There is always a room that I hope you can call home.