Through career discernment, I continue to learn the importance of slowing down, listening to embodied wisdom, and building emotional literacies. Decision-making involves more than well-reasoned answers, and it holds potential for healing when prioritizing commitments and alignment with our better/best selves.
I continue to wish for personal and collective healing and believe our working lives play a role in this process. How might our careers—and ongoing career discernment—contribute to grieving and growing? To greater acknowledgement of both/and? To the willingness to tread alternative paths?
During graduate school, there were many weeks of being so overloaded by assigned reading that I couldn’t do it all and felt constantly behind. I recognized that the goal was to learn to skim and to put my hands on more and more research, even if I couldn’t savor many pieces. The trouble was that the more I couldn’t savor what I was reading, the more I associated reading itself with feelings of being overwhelmed and behind.
When I shared with a mentor how stressful reading had become, she smiled knowingly and related her own experience of knowing that there will always be more to read than time to read it. More than her sympathy, though, I remember what she shared about choosing to read for inspiration:
“Yes, I read for my research (to answer burning questions), but I also read for inspiration (to keep the questions alive). Be sure that you’re reading what inspires you, what fires you up.”
For too long (in my faculty position), I read primarily for work: for courses I was teaching, for articles I was submitting, and for committees I was serving. I could feel the excitement when reading an article or book that really spoke to me, and increasingly, I read blog posts and sought out podcasts as sources of inspiration. Still, I wanted to prioritize “reading for fun,” especially books that could light my imagination and help me imagine more just worlds, more equitable relations.
Now that I’m creating new habits and work priorities, I’m reading again. I’m reading for research, for fun, and especially for inspiration. I’m reading books and audiobooks as well as continuing to learn from blogs, podcasts, essays, and articles. Now, instead of stress, I’m experiencing joy that there will always be more to read.
I’m certainly not the quickest reader, nor is that my goal.
I’m certainly not the most focused or studious or careful reader, nor are those my goals.
Instead, I’m reading to learn and love and light up with inspiration.
I’m choosing to read—a little each week—and it’s adding up to reading new books.
In what’s been some tough days—from feeling beyond messy and upside down to grieving and raging at outright injustice—these books are helping me see beyond this moment and into movement space. They’re keeping me inspired for the long haul, toward building and sustaining momentum. They’re helping me tap into my embodied self and the histories, emotions, and trauma it carries, while imagining ways forward—pathways to healing.
I plan to keep reading, not because I have to but because I want to. I choose reading, and I choose it for the future.
As a practice, the use of oracle cards helps me see patterns and seek guidance, slowing down to notice and reflect when I’d otherwise move too quickly through the day. I don’t pull cards for fortune- or future-telling, but instead as a sort of meditation on life. An openness to listening to what I might be blocking. A willingness to open my heart to divine guidance. A reminder to expect miracles in everyday life.
Over time, I’ve become frustrated with this deck’s mythical-norm representations of people (gender, race, size, and more) and its reliance of Christian symbolism (another part of what Audre Lorde so aptly named the “mythical norm”). At the same time, this deck has taught me a lot about trusting wisdom when it comes in unexpected ways. It continues to teach me about sifting through complicated emotions, imperfect situations, and kernels of truth.
While asking these questions, I’ve had several conversations reminding me that I’m not alone in feeling upside down at this moment. I’m not alone in wanting a different way to live that honors life and builds justice rather than seeing some beings as valuable and others as expendable. I’m not alone in grieving and desiring deep change. And I’m not alone in struggling to see this moment of possible change as a “blessing.”
So, in the midst of grief and anger and fear and trauma, here are some questions this oracle card raises for me, as I seek “blessed change”:
How might the pain (vast injustice) of this moment be prompting changes that too many of us might be too comfortable to confront otherwise?
Postscript: One thing I know from years of practicing yoga is that literally getting upside down (inverting the body or getting the feet above the head) does wonders. Legs-up-the-wall pose is both calming and stimulating, both quieting and energizing. It’s both deeply embodied and deeply contemplative. What I realize when thinking about being upside down is that changes, similarly, are full of both/and qualities. Perhaps it’s the recognition of both/and that will help move us toward blessed change.
This year I turned 39, and it’s my first in which I won’t be returning to school. I’ve spent my life in academic settings—as a child and adult, as a student and teacher, as a researcher and writer. Many of my friends are teachers, too, so I understand how August brings both angst and anticipation for the upcoming school year.
Recently, I’ve been having conversations with friends about syllabi and course designs. I’ve been reading social media posts about the start of school. And I’ve received emails from several people asking me to share my experience teaching “Writing for Social Justice.”
The combination of these conversations, posts, and emails has reminded me of the importance of rethinking what we know and have typically experienced as education. So much of schooling needs to be shaken up/off, as traditional schooling perpetuates social inequities, damaging discourses, and injustice. What we’re typically conditioned into—conditioned to accept and expect from schooling—does harm by contributing to the status quo. (I’m thinking here of scholarship by bell hooks and Paulo Freire, in Rethinking Schoolsand Teaching Tolerance, and in research journals like Feminist Teacherand Equity & Excellence, among many other sources.)
Given the recognized harms of schooling, August seems like the perfect time to question what we know about teaching and learning.
How might we intervene into and rewrite the scripts of schooling?
How might we rethink not only curriculum and content but also assignments, assessment, and activities that structure relations in and out school?
How might we change our approaches to education, even if/when those changes are considered “too much”?
2. prioritize relations, or put the time and effort into building and sustaining meaningful (and often cross-status) connections among people and organizations;
3. understand power as related to (in)justice so that efforts against sexism and for gender-and-sexuality-justice are linked with other justice-oriented work, since identities and issues are intersectional and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere;
4. cultivate agency so that students and other actors see themselves as having the responsibility to act, as well as the questions and insights to ask who is responsible to act, when, where, why, and how (troubling savior and victim narratives);
5. seek interconnectedness among ways of seeing, thinking, doing, and being in the world so that we work toward coherence across spheres of activity and recognize that our work occurs within complex socio-cultural, historical, and rhetorical systems.
I share this chapter and these principles as part of ongoing conversations about how to do education differently—toward making commitments to justice actionable. My hope is that the more we think of social justice education as the core or center of schooling, the more we shift away from schooling that leads educators to dismiss critical approaches as additional, extra, or “too much” to take on.
Though I won’t be returning to the classroom this fall, I’ll be reading, writing, and engaging as someone with much to shake up/off about my own educational history. May we share in this ongoing work and lifelong learning. May this new school year invite new ways of approaching education and learning to take action in this time of urgency.
As I did back in January, when recovering from a concussion, I’ve written a spell of mantras to help ease the shifts (the letting go and calling in) that I’d like to experience in my new space. This spell now lives under my bed and again taped to my bathroom mirror.
I share this spell here as an accountability practice—holding its potential not only in physical space but also in digital/online space. I hope it might motivate others to write. I can already see that it’s inspiring me toward further writing to make commitments to justice actionable in everyday life.
I make decisions based on my “strong YES,” asking regularly which way brings me closer to my divine purpose, listening for what’s next, and engaging in discernment, even/especially when the answers don’t seem to make sense.
I get comfortable working on my own and enjoying my own company, while noticing who shows up as accomplices, companions, and guides in the work for social justice.
I read “for fun,” and I learn through reading-listening-witnessing how to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), especially feminists and womanists of color.
I nourish my physical, emotional, and spiritual self: heart, head, and hands. In doing so, I invest in my relationship with food, building a relationship that’s full of integrity, consistency, forgiveness, appreciation, and love. I absorb nutrients and release inflammation. I show love to myself through the foods I take into my body.
I learn more about what it means to show up as my authentic self, getting to know Beth.
I treat myself gently, with tenderness and humility. I open my heart to forgiveness and peace. I allow myself to receive and give love.
I was only a few hours into Monday morning, and I’d already had three friends text me about grief, a conversation about not just anger but full-on flaming rage, and multiple conversations about how the word heartache doesn’t even come close to capturing the intense pain of seeing families separated and incarcerated. One friend wrote that “the horrors of this administration are making me physically ill,” a statement that caused me to stop and think about my own bodily aches and pains, which become more pronounced when taking in collective pain.
Throughout this series of interactions, I began noticing what I was doing to attend to my emotional and physical needs. And I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’m doing now, when the world is making me (us?) “physically ill.”
Not looking away (because the refusal to see or willingness to forget promotes ignorance, as in ignore-ance) but instead witnessing the dehumanization, injustice, and horrors of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, oppression—and naming this violence as violence.
Doing some small actions like making donations and signing petitions and reading, posting, re-tweeting, and otherwise sharing news and ways to take action. AND thinking long-term about shoring up my commitments and sustaining my energy for the long haul toward justice.
Learning more about and beginning to practice intuitive eating toward healing my relationship with sugar and valuing food as nourishment.
Writing while sitting with Castor oil and a hot water bottle (what I call a “warm belly pack”) to settle my stomach—literally, to address inflamed nerves and the sensation of feeling “physically ill.”
What underlies these actions is the importance of recognizing and honoring embodied knowledge, or what our bodies tell us. In this case, there’s real shit going down that makes us literally feel shitty. Once acknowledging the shittiness, we can support our GI systems (our guts) through baths, broths, and belly packs. Self-care for our emotional and physical selves allows us to keep showing up in interpersonal, online, and public spaces—to keep speaking out, to keep acting for justice.
Like my earlier post “Today Resistance Looks Like …,” I hope this view into healing communicates a both/and approach to everyday living for justice. Investing in healing helps with countering resistance fatigue. It also reminds us that actions associated with self-care and community care have an everyday (daily) role in our lives, as do activism, resistance, and re-envisioning.
I am taken, too, with Walker’s reflections on her many relations, including with her father and daughter, readers and publishers, ancestors and elders, horses and snakes. Across her essays, Walker shows the interconnectedness of all beings, tracing lineages of trauma and healing as well as fear and (in)justice.
Recently, the essay “Everything Is a Human Being” stood out to me. As a keynote address Walker gave at the University of California, Davis, in 1983 for MLK Day, this piece weaves together reflections on fear and humans’ destructive impact on the earth and each other. I found myself lingering over words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages …
In class, several students read aloud from the following passage, one I’d earmarked, as it spoke to my recent blog post on interrogating fear (fear of spiders and people alike).
Here’s a bit of Walker’s reflections on fear, which resulted in a neighbor killing a small garden snake:
“Everything I was taught about snakes—that they are dangerous, frightful, sinister—went into the murder of this snake person, who was only, after all, trying to remain in his or her home, perhaps the only home he or she had ever known. Even my ladylike ‘nervousness’ in its presence was learned behavior. I knew at once that killing the snake was not the first act that should have occurred in my new garden, and I grieved that I had apparently learned nothing, as a human being, since the days of Adam and Eve.
“Even on a practical level, killing this small, no doubt bewildered and disoriented creature made poor sense, because throughout the summer snakes just like it regularly visited the garden (and deer, by the way, ate all the tomatoes), so that it appeared to me that the little snake I killed was always with me. Occasionally a very large mama or papa snake wandered into the cabin yard, as if to let me know its child has been murdered, and it knew who was responsible for it.
“These garden snakes, said my neighbors, are harmless; they eat mice and other pests that invade the garden. In this respect, they are even helpful to humans. And yet, I am still afraid of them, because that is how I was taught to be. Deep in the psyche of most of us there is this fear—and long ago, I do not doubt, in the psyche of ancient peoples, there is a similar fear of trees. And of course a fear of other human beings, for that is where all fear of natural things leads us: to fear ourselves, fear of each other, and fear even of the spirit of the Universe, because out of fear we often greet its outrageousness with murder.” (Walker, Living by the Word, p. 143)
Walker’s words not only touch my heart but also remind me of the deep work I have to do with confronting, befriending, and watching for fear. I notice, for example, that fear of snakes is close-at-hand when hiking. I’m fascinated by and try to learn all I can about snakes, yet I still have much to do to quiet the learned/internalized fear that drives me to keep watch along trails.
Fear blocks the ability to see beauty, the potential for human connection, and the work of striving for justice. Fear tears down instead of building up.
In Walker’s words: “[W]e should be allowed to destroy only what we ourselves can re-create. We cannot re-create this world. We cannot re-create ‘wilderness.’ We cannot even, truly, re-create ourselves. Only our behavior can we re-create, or create anew” (p. 151).
With humility, I commit again to revisiting destructive fear and re-creating behaviors aligned with justice. To do so, I see the value of “living by the word”: words of relationality, connectedness, and kinship. Kinship with spiders and humans, snakes and structural change. Kinship linking why I’m vegan with why I’m committed to social and racial justice. Kinship toward blocking destruction and creating anew.