Stop and Figure Out What’s Yours

It starts with checking your phone in bed. You wake up at 5:30AM, because it’s a habit you never really learn to let go of, even over summer vacation. Your eyes blink open, and your brain shoots a rapid fire message to all channels: “HOLY CRAP WHAT TIME IS IT AM I LATE?!”

You ignore the warm body stirring next to you and reach over. Grab your phone. As blue light bounces off your face, you get not just the time, but a reminder of the million other things you could look at right now. Your twitter notifications, what email came in over night. You decide a quick peek won’t hurt.

The peek turns into just answering an email or two. Then maybe a tweet. You chuckle as someone replies, begin to reply back, then try to quiet down so as to be considerate. You decide to quickly skim the news. It’s all important– an email from your principal, outstanding actions from fellowships, requests to host this chat or read this piece. It’s all good stuff. This is what it means to be a 21st-century educator, right? You’re always on. You’re always up-to-date. You’re always connected. You have to be ready to go at any time, because the world is still turning when your body is in bed.

All of a sudden, it’s 7:00AM. The person next to you kisses your cheek. “I love you,” you say, blue light bouncing off your chin as you look up. You don’t want them to forget as the rest of the world gets your attention.

“You too.” They patter off to get ready for their day. The shower runs. You find an article to share out. A witty note to add before the link. Scrape the meat off so it’s at 140. Good to go.

You put your phone down while your partner gets ready. You take a second, ask them about their day. You’re on summer break, so they don’t really ask about yours. Not because they don’t care, but because they can probably guess: gym. work. Summer can be a time to recharge, but you’re amusedly surprised to find out that constantly trying to better everything about yourself— your practice, your writing, your understanding of the world, your body– takes up a lot more time than anyone realizes (you included).

They have to go, you kiss them goodbye. “I love you,” you let them know, almost desperately. They know, and you know they know, and you trust that they love you too. The desperation isn’t that love isn’t there, but that it’s the only thing about yourself that feels constant and true anymore. It’s the knowledge that the sun rises in the morning. Everything else is a series of hop-skip-jumps along a path you’re trying to figure out as you go and that you’re pretty sure you’re going to screw up at some point.

They leave, and the phone is right back in your hand. You respond to a message, there’s another email. It should be made clear that none of this is drudgery, you love what you’re doing right now. It’s what fuels you. It’s the main part of you that feels talented, strong, smart. 

Before you know it, another hour has gone. You hop a bus home. You go to the gym for a few hours. Write, email, tweet in between sets, at stoplights. You’re never not-available. You’re never disconnected.

You get home. Write, edit, read a new piece (you’re a teacher, after all). Suddenly, it’s 4:30P, and you know that the day is rapidly coming to a close. You wonder where the time went. You wonder if you used it well. Didn’t you want to try and go on a hike today?

Now, you’re a little annoyed. At what, you’re not sure, but you are. You have to figure this out.

You get up. You look in the mirror. The contents of the apartment you’ve been in for less-than-a-year are still scattered about, so you never really moved in. It barely feels like yours anyway– no more so than the last less-than-a-year apartment, or the one before it. You’re always looking for something better, and when you think you’ve found it, something else always pops up.

You stop looking at the apartment and back in the mirror. Your face is there. Nose, eyes, mouth. You like your face, generally, but some days when you actually look at it, it’s a shock that it’s yours. It doesn’t really feel like yours.

It takes a second, and then you realize what’s been frustrating you for the past hour, day, week, months: when did you stop taking a second to quietly revel in ownership of yourself? When did your actions become a reaction to everything you thought you needed to do to be yourself?  Did you actually ask yourself what “you” (in all senses of that word) looks like right now? 

You tilt your head– one way, then another. Put your hand your collarbone, feel the body stretch and grow beneath the skin as you breathe in. Breathe out again. Your chest collapses. Your heart beats. Yours.

The mark of the modern educator may be connectedness, but if the mark of a great educator is being authentic to yourself, I should probably take a second to figure out who that person is. That process doesn’t end, and it doesn’t need to be public. If anything, it needs to be in the quiet moments of my own breath, or the soft spaces with people where the walls are down and my own existence feels like enough.

I’ve been beating myself up all week because I didn’t have anything to say here. I realized that I’ve been so focused on authoring myself for other outlets, I lost sight of my own center.

I don’t have a lot of time left, but I think it might be enough to stop and make sure I understand where I am right now. So when the real work begins, I know exactly who is in the classroom with my students, and not the approximation of who I was trying to create.

Am I An Asshole?

or Trying to Self-Author My Story

(feeling tl;dr?)

“I was looking through your resume and saw you have a website! Why did you decide to do that? What do you… do on it?” My manager for a social justice pilot I’m in asked as she got to know me

I felt a trickle of sweat roll down my neck. My stomach clenched a little, and the flurry of self- doubt and deprecation began to scroll through my mind:
how could I think I needed a website? she must think I’m such an asshole. It’s so dumb. I’m not even a good writer. I don’t deserve that site. I don’t deserve it.

I sighed, and took a big breath, and repeated a mantra I’ve been trying to remember in times of doubt: Take. Up. Space.

So I told her a story. I talked about how fellow educolor member Bill Fitzgerald messaged me, saying he noticed that my name was available as a domain. I had considered it briefly, but didn’t know if I deserved a site. He responded, “Your writing and ideas need a broader audience, and you deserve a home for them that you control.

His words stuck with me. Clearly, I shouldn’t need anyone to validate me (and Bill is excellent at owning his privilege), but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t help.

The biggest obstacle is fear of looking like a braggart or an asshole. The first word that actually comes up is that I shouldn’t “mayabang,” or “boast” in Tagalog. It’s ancestral– not because my parents weren’t very verbal and constant with their praise and affection, but because that’s not who we are. Women in general are often told not to be too “high and mighty” about our achievements, lest we appear bitchy. The idea that I ever show pride about the things I’ve done has a weird, gross, undercurrent of things-you-can-feel-but-never show.

Which is difficult, because Western leadership often values the exact opposite. Where does that leave me?

I don’t think that taking up space means assimilating to the cult of personality, but I do think it means accepting and navigating the squicky things that come with creating that space– and ultimately, doing it. Again, if I think my voice matters, I also have a right to protect and control spaces I create. 

If there’s a place between “OMG CHECK OUT HOW AWESOME I AM BRUH” and not sharing– the “Hey! Here’s a thing I wrote that I’m proud of!” space– I should try and find it.

Because, here’s the thing: I am proud of my work. I am proud of the stuff I’m doing and think that it occasionally deserves being shouted out. 

Does that make me an asshole? Even just writing that felt weird, and I’ve written and deleted this post a few times, but I think it may be time to stop pretending I only self-deprecate and don’t take pride in what I do. If I didn’t, why would I continue doing it?

If I believe that women, especially WoC writers, should control, create and self-author their own space, I should walk the walk and try and do it myself if it’s what I want. 

So, I bought a domain, which you’re on now. I share and write a lot about race and social justice issues, especially in education. I sometimes often share that on facebook. I think that has come to be… strange for some of the people I’m friends with. Not all of my family agrees with me (which is 100% fine), and I’m sure a lot of my friends and family are a bit oversaturated. Sometimes, I am too.

Normally, I’m a big believer in the Donna Meagle school of Social Media:

but I know things are different on facebook. I don’t want to lose connection with family and friends who want to mutually share in each other’s joy of cute animals, babies, and vacations. That space should exist too, even for me. 

I don’t mean no one should put hard news on facebook. Plenty of us do. It’s more an exercise for me in finding balance– something I sorely lack.

So, tl;dr

Part of creating space is knowing when to give it. So, with the help of other great mentors (Alex, JLV, Doug), I’m doing something a bit crazy for me and created a facebook space to talk all things social justice, race, and education writing. As I begin to freelance a little more, I hope it will also be helpful.

It could be great. It also might go horribly. I really have no idea. I was worried I would look like an asshole doing it. JLV loving came back, “Then you’re an asshole. Over it?”

And I think I am. If only to try new things, maybe I need to do things that at least push me outside my comfort zone. If “being an asshole” means “fighting for self-authored space,” I just might be fine with that. At the end of the day…

and there’s nothing I can do.

People Are Terrifying (An Apology)

I have done this. And I’m sorry.

“There’s just too many people here,” I whispered to my mom at the beach earlier today.

“I know,” her nose crinkled like mine does, “but it’s nice to share.”

“…Maybe I just don’t like people.”

I promise, I’m familiar with the term “introvert.” I’ve written about being an introvert for Teach For America, and why I think introvert students need to be cared for. I’ve identified myself pretty strongly as an INFP (I even have a hat) for a few years now. Susan Cain’s Quiet (and its TedTalk) meant quite a lot to me.

So, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying my own needs. I’m glossing over a bit because, frankly, I’m worried that my friends and loved ones are tired of hearing me talk about it because I talk/think about it so much. I even feel like “revealing that you’re an introvert” is a cool thing to do now, something that people post memes about on tumblr and say, “omg this is so totally me!”

And maybe it is, and that’s good. I don’t want to be jaded here. I’m glad more people are thinking about what they need and how to advocate for it. That’s clearly a good thing.

It’s good for me to even check myself, since we’ve come to the crux of my matter: I don’t come across as an introvert. When I first wrote about it, I had quite a few people tell me they couldn’t believe it. That’s fair. I teach for a living now, so I’m around people for about 85% of my day (which, I’ll admit, is tiring. More on that later though).

Here’s the thing: I love people. I enjoy, generally, being in front of people, and I try to be a good conversationalist. When I’m in the right mood, I love hearing stories and learning more about people. I am always so grateful when people let me into their lives.

Still, something about new people, when I’m not in the right mood (and honestly, it’s like a 50% chance I’m not), is completely and utterly terrifying. And exhausting. What if they don’t like me? Or I don’t like them and it’s obvious on my stupid, Muppety, heart-on-my-sleeve face? What if they keep asking me questions? Or I don’t know what to say? Or I say something dumb? I’m just tired, and I already deal with people a lot. Can’t I stay home and quietly watch something? Or read? Or even tweet, which is the most introverted way of being extraverted ever?

50% of the time, that’s honestly what it is. Terror. Anxiety. Now, being in a job that requires me to be around people, the stakes feel higher, even if it’s different. I mean, my students have to be around me, so I care a little less if they like me (though obviously I care). Since so much of my time, though, is spent worrying whether or not I’m acting the right way, my me-time only feels more precious.

Looking back, though, on people I’ve met, on friendships I could have formed, on the people on the cusp of friendship I have now– I know what often stands in the way is my own mini-anxiety-attack about people. I have missed out on or straight up avoided seeing people or picking up phone calls because I am worried that I won’t be able to handle the emotional toll of that interaction. It is, often, easier to stay home quietly and avoid the 50% chance that I screw everything up. The only pass is my guy, who (like my students) I hope loves me even when I am a terrible human. Even then, sometimes we have nights that are separate or silent, because we both need it.

He sees me all the time though. What about the people that I’ve given every reason to give up on me because it always looks like I don’t care? I promise I care. I promise I’m grateful, and that I probably think you’re great. I just have no way of telling you that because every time I think about randomly letting you know my throat seizes and my pupils widen in panic.

I wrote in my last post about trying to find balance, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out as I type. What’s the balance between accepting your introversion and not completely cutting yourself off? At what point is claiming “introversion” just a shield for “anxiety about meeting people”? And how do I figure that out?

Anyway, I promise myself in 2015 (resolution post to come!), I am going to try and be better about this. I am going to try and find that balance, to move past my own anxiety and love big and crazy.

And to anyone that might have felt blown off by me, I’m really sorry. I promise it wasn’t you. It was 50% of me.