Mucking around in the Mess of Inauguration Day

This post wasn’t planned. It wasn’t the “next up” in my drafting schedule to write a new piece weekly in 2017 (#52essays2017). Yet, it’s flowing forth this morning, as I try to make sense of this day before me. An inauguration day? A general strike? A media black-out? A ramp-up to coordinated global demonstrations?

What I worry about—and why I feel the need to write—is that I’m experiencing the day as a day like any other. A day that makes complicity possible. A day of routinization. A day that normalizes what should never been normal.

Today I’m in Madison (Wisconsin), where I’ll march with friends tomorrow. As I set up for daily writing in a local coffee shop, I overhear a number of conversations—all among white people (or at least people who appear white). Among the conversations, people talk about an upcoming football game with excitement (apparently, the Packers are doing well in playoff games). And the “chunky monkey” smoothie is the best someone’s ever had, leading to discussion of various smoothie recipes (and would you believe that I planned to post a smoothie recipe next?!?). And two older white people are talking about Trump’s election.

They just don’t understand, they say.

Racism was a “non-issue” when growing up, they say.

They remember class mattering—they knew whose parents worked at the local plant and whose didn’t—but even then, they treated everyone with respect, they say.

And they know they’re biased “a little,” but not in a big, “harmful way,” they say.

They just don’t understand what’s happening these days. “Is it this younger generation?” They say.

And their conversation reminds me of another …

As a teacher, I so often have conversations with younger white people, people who express shock, confusion, and anger when realizing their own power, privilege, and sense of security (as opposed to vulnerability and precarity).

After Trump’s election, I was told by someone around the age of 20 that they’re really proud to be a millennial, that their generation is really open to talking about racism, and that they’re certainly “less racist” than their parents and grandparents.

*****

I’ve been gifted access to these two conversations side-by-side. So, what do I make of them?

I’m wondering if white people are beginning to realize that white people are doing and have done harm, but it’s still easier to imagine other people (i.e., other generations of white people) as responsible?

I’m thinking about the title of this blog (heart-head-hands) and wondering how white people develop the emotional intelligence—the heart space—to do significant self-work. Such self-work would involve rewriting narratives rooted in white ignorance. It would also involve thinking about why we talk about football or smoothies instead of the day’s inauguration, strikes, media black-out, or forthcoming demonstrations. It would involve mobilizing this feeling and thinking toward acting.

When I started writing this post—this totally unplanned post—I began with a single line: “We’re all mired in the muck.”

I kept looking at this line and seeing myself literally covered in mud, as I so often am when hiking (and, ironically enough, am a bit today, as I trucked through melting snow in what’s likely to be the hottest year on record).

The thing about mud is that the more you try to wipe it away, the more it spreads or gets deeply ingrained in fabric. It certainly can slow movement, add extra weight, and look unpleasant. And yet it’s absolutely possible to keep walking with and through mud. If I let the mud stop me, I would miss out on so many trails, so many sights, so much time in my most reflective and relaxed state.

So, yes: we’re mired in the muck, but I hope we’ll keep walking/working right through it. If we’re truly committed to the long haul toward justice, then we must attend to the terrain (to see and understand the muck or mud), but also not get so tripped up in it that we fail to move forward, to accept responsibility, or to imagine and enact visions of the “ought to be.”

Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut-Butter Mash: Changing My Relationship with Sugar and Rethinking Self-Care

The Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana mashed
  • 1 tablespoon of raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter

Process:

  • Mash the banana; then mix in the cacao and peanut butter (or other nut butter).
  • Enjoy for breakfast, snack, or whenever a boost is needed throughout the day.

Rationales:

  • This recipe has just three straight-up ingredients: ground peanuts, cacao/cocoa, and banana. Unlike many sweets, this one is exactly as described (no hidden sugar or artificial ingredients).
  • It’s full of iron, potassium, and other anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting vitamins and minerals that I often crave, especially whenever feeling low.
  • It allows me to feel that I’ve had a “sweet” without eating sugar, and the protein keeps me feeling full for a few hours after eating.
  • This snack helps with my ongoing struggle with sugar addiction. I now notice when I’m craving sugar and ask myself to reflect on “why?” while still enjoying this sweet.

Changing My Relationship with Sugar

SUGAR! Sugar. sugar …

Growing up, I loved Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster and identified with this character whose key personality trait was an endless appetite for sugar. Like Cookie Monster, I could easily down more than a handful of cookies (or other sweets) and would readily binge-eat.

Growing up, sugar of various sorts (cookies, ice cream, cake) became associated with holidays, seasons, and special events. I’ve found myself eating sugar to recreate feelings associated with these memories—feelings tied to a sense that “everything is ok.”

Growing up, sugar became my addiction of choice (especially as I don’t drink alcohol or coffee), and I’ve found that it’s taken a toll on my body. Now when I over-eat sugar, I often get sick and end up with derailed plans. It’s like sugar has become a coach taking me out of the game when I don’t recognize or act on my desire/need to cut back.

I’m still very much in the middle of figuring out my relationship with sugar and how I use it to harm (rather than heal) myself. Yet, these memories of “growing up” give me important clues into this troubled relationship—a relationship I want to better understand and to change so that I can fully show up in everyday and ongoing work for justice.

I’m noticing that I use sugar at different times to purge or hold onto, to comfort or disrupt, to numb or feel, to decompress or energize, to forget or remember …  Sometimes I use sugar to “fill me up,” as though feeling full and sweetly satisfied will take the edge off vulnerability. Other times I use sugar to punctuate (like a period at the end of the sentence)—to mark the end of an interaction, encounter, or period of time. Still other times, I find sugar sweetening (like softening) what’s hard about getting through the day.

The more I become aware of these patterns with sugar, the more I find myself asking: Why am I using sugar in these ways? What emotions underlie and lead to these habits? How might I heal what’s unresolved in my relationship to sugar—and to what it’s representing in my life?

Changing My Relationship with Sugar as an Act of Self-Care?

I understand changing my relationship with sugar (and I’m still far away from an actual changed relationship) as an act of self-care linked with self-love. And self-love linked with love for others. And love linked with justice.

That said, I’ve really struggled to write about self-care, because it’s so often watered down, meaning everything and nothing at once. It’s also really problematic when used to shame (e.g., fat-shame or body-shame). And because talk about food or movement is wrapped up with embodied experience, histories of body-shaming always linger around the discussion. Additionally, self-care (like pretty much everything else) is racialized so that a quick Internet search shows images of white women meditating or smiling, alongside images of outdoor and spa-like spaces. Even the images that just convey mantras (e.g., “keep calm and practice self-care”) invoke histories and contexts wound up with whiteness (in this case, motivational posters used in Great Britain during World War II).

So, self-care is nothing, if not tricky, and yet it’s absolutely essential to building resilience and resistance, particularly when under attack. As Audre Lorde wrote, when speaking from her positionality as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. - Audre Lorde

Lorde’s quote is so widely cited, so ubiquitous that it has deeply shaped how I understand self-care, even as I’m differently positioned as a white, heterosexual woman. Lorde names the importance of self-care as both an individual and collective, personal and political act. By naming self-care an “act,” Lorde ties it explicitly to activism.

Other feminists and womanists of color also name self-care as a “radical act—especially for black women,” noting the link between caring for and valuing one’s self (see the interview Evette Dionne). Similarly, Adrienne Maree Brown names the importance of “self-determined care,” which generates abundance for both self-determination and community-determination, naming the importance and interconnectedness of both types of care.

In reconsidering Lorde’s powerful quote, “feminist killjoy” Sarah Ahmed explains that self-care is an act of “warfare” because some bodies are always already under attack. To care for these bodies is to say that they matter. To quote Ahmed at length:

“Self-care: that can be an act of political warfare. In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. We reassemble ourselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters. Women’s lives matter; black lives matter; queer lives matter; disabled lives matter; trans lives matter; the poor; the elderly; the incarcerated, matter.”

So, self-care signals mattering. Through self-care, we not only express our value or worth to ourselves, but we also invest in reassembling ourselves and our activist communities. In this way, self-care is related to “caretaking the collective” (part of community organizing) and other movement-building work that invests in relations, resources, and resiliency. It also invites attention to positionality and investment in making sure that every person has access to the time-space for self-care.

Certainly, self-care is differently experienced and differently needed because our positionality and attacks on bodies differ. Rather than flattening self-care, we can do more to think about inequities. Think, for example, about how leisure time, disposable income, and many other factors amplify both privilege and access to self-care. Think about how women, people of color, queer folks, and others are bombarded by everyday microaggressions, experiencing a greater need of self-care. Thinking along these lines, it becomes apparent that there’s a mismatch between access to and need for self-care—and this mismatch signals compounding oppressions (along the lines of double or triple jeopardy).

To address these inequities, we all need self-care, especially to build self-worth. And self-worth is needed in order to stop playing small. Self-worth is needed to stand TALL, to stand up for what’s right and what matters.

Practicing Self-Care as Engaged Refueling, Reassembling, and Resisting

The most powerful ideas I’ve encountered around self-care have come from feminists and womanists of color—like Lorde, Dionne, Brown, and Ahmed. I see that their understandings of self-care invest in bringing about a more just world. They also articulate a life-giving version of self-care, one that feels very different (and more consequential) than dropping in (and dropping out) of spas, yoga classes, or meditation retreats. Here I’m thinking about how dropping-in and dropping-out (and images of self-care associated with whiteness and white women) also invite dropping-in/dropping-out of one’s alignment with purpose, attunement with the body, and attention to emotional intelligence.

In fact, as I work to understand self-care and its importance, I realize that many of the ideas I’ve inherited around self-care actually run counter to refueling, reassembling, or resisting. Think of an image like curling up on the couch to binge-watch TV, while also binge-eating chocolate … Or of winding down the week through “happy hour” or other activities associated with alcohol … Or of over-working many weeks in a row followed by total collapse (characteristic of hectic semesters and long-desired breaks). So many images of “unwinding” or “winding down” are associated with binging (of one kind or another) and replace the goal of care with goals like immediate release, mindless retreat, or much-needed recovery. Self-care easily crosses into self-sabotage. Instead of being refueled, we can become further depleted.

Certainly, my relationship with sugar has been more about self-sabotage than self-care. So often, the short-term boost I get from sugar is replaced by long-term regret, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. So often, the time spend eating sugar in front of the TV leaves me still feeling drained, still in need of refueling. So often, I end up questioning my own worth (a condition linked to all sorts of negative reactions, including white fragility and entitlement), instead of validating that I matter.

So, in changing my relationship with sugar, I’m working to understand self-care as truly showing myself that I’m of worth and, therefore, worthy to speak and act up. How might I invest in loving myself better? How might I listen to what my body’s really asking for, whether that be reflective silence, more engaged time with others, or something else? How might I learn more about the emotions or memories that sugar cravings are triggering? How might I befriend sugar?

In talking about and rethinking my relationship with sugar, I’m consciously engaged in loving myself and, in loving myself, opening myself to vulnerability, accountability, and responsibility to act. Self-care isn’t an out or a way to remove one’s self from the everyday life and activism; rather, it’s needed to fuel showing up with love within activist spaces.

These days, when I feel that I’m really gearing up for what’s to come, I need a version of self-care that lights self-love. May this simple recipe of banana, chocolate, and peanut-butter mash be one that energizes the work ahead.

Re-Reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

In preparation for a course I’m teaching this spring (“Writing for Social Justice”), I’m lucky to be re-reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In this powerful YA novel, Alexie describes growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and navigating interactions in the rural, white high school.

Alexie’s narrative reveals much about systemic inequities, colonization, marginalization, and disenfranchisement. I hope students will relate to the main character Junior (Arnold Spirit) and find their way into thinking about central concepts of (in)equity, (in)justice, agency, power, and rights, which we’ll be studying throughout the semester.

I’ve loved this book since I first read it in 2008. That summer, I took The Absolutely True Diary on a multi-day hiking trip. I’d spend each day thinking about the book while hiking and each evening reading in the dim light of remote huts. Being removed from my daily life and with long stretches of time for reading + reflection, I read with a sense of both/and—both true separation from Junior’s experiences and total immersion in the importance of his story and its implicit call to action.

As I’m reading this time, I’m taking notes on major themes/takeaways for social justice, tracing the emotions impacting different characters (heart); key social, cultural, historical, and educational concepts (head); and the potential for action (hands). Here is my list, which is sure to be revised as the semester begins and as I process with students.

I’d love reflections, additions, or suggestions by any of you who have read the book. And if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!

Themes/Takeaways for Social Justice:

  • Identities are always already intersectional: Race, class, gender, ability, geographic/regional location, nationality, ethnicity, linguistic background, religion, sexuality, and other facets of ourselves—cannot be disentangled or pulled apart, but instead shape all our lived experiences.
  • Oppression and privilege are embodied: Our bodies hold histories, legacies, generational knowledges, grief, joy, and even trauma and injustice.
  • White people interfere in many ways and typically with/through “good intentions.”
  • Oppression is internalized, limiting one’s sense of self-worth and erecting so many barriers/boundaries to jump over—and at every possible level: with one’s self, at home, in one’s community, and outward to the nation-state and international relations.
  • Both internalized oppression and internalized privilege/supremacy are pathologies—and with very different historical, social, and material consequences.
  • Schooling in the United States is, by design, separate and unequal. While the myth of the meritocracy persists, students encounter entirely different educational experiences—with many students facing what Jonathan Kozol has called “savage inequalities” (or grossly underfunded schools that cheat people out of their futures).
  • As a gendered construction, masculinity limits knowledge about and expression of emotions. At the same time, masculinity over-emphasizes/encourages physical dominance (e.g., fist fights and basketball). Men’s friendships, then, are shaped by the suppression of emotional expression—despite the obvious emotional tenor of any/all friendships—and by related performances of heteronormativity.
  • We always choose: if not solidarity, then complicity. Though only a few may be bullies, many make the bullying possible. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Or, as Elie Wiesel put it: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
  • Inequities stack up and feed into each other, so that colonialism walks hand-in-hand with systemic racism … and racism with loss of land and resources … and loss of land and resources with poverty … and poverty with dis-ease … and dis-ease with addiction/alcoholism … and addiction with death … and death with grief … and grief with loss of spirit, of hope. This downward spiral (or cycle of socialization) necessitates a total overhaul to break such structurally sustained dehumanization.
  • Hope is so important and so complicated! As Alexie writes (in Junior’s words): “I don’t know if hope is white. But I do know that hope for me is like some mythical creature” (51). It’s associated with possibility, mobility, and self-determination. Systems of oppression/colonialism/marginalization work, in part, by shutting down hope. In turn, any movement for justice must involve reclaiming hope.

english-4210-spring-2017-flyer

Gentle Yoga Practice for Healing

In the past week, I’ve experienced some new/renewed lower back pain. And the pain has brought me back to my yoga mat and specifically to this gentle yoga practice:

I appreciate this video for the s-l-o-w movement, the focus on breath, and the ways my body responds. With each day’s practice, I’m feeling a little less pain, a little more openness, and a little more myself. This practice also invites a quietness for me, allowing me to listen—and not only to my body and myself, but also to the messages I’m receiving (and not really recognizing or processing) throughout the day.

Such a process helps enormously with healing—and not just with physical pain, but also with legacies of personal and collective trauma and injustice.

Healing the Mind-Body Split and Valuing Yoga as Spiritual Practice

I found yoga (or it found me?) in 2008. Both friends and physical therapists advised me to “try a class” and recommended Main Street Yoga, where I luckily connected with a few instructors and found some relief for back pain (when coupled with acupuncture and a range of other healing methods, which I’m sure to write about in future posts :-)).

At first, I understood yoga as asana practice—the movement, breathing, and meditation I did in classes. This focus on the body was empowering to me, as I had become so cut off from my embodied being that I remember asking questions like:

  • “You mean that I can actively change my breathing? … How?”
  • “What’s the pelvic floor? How do I feel it? How do I engage it?”
  • “How do I rotate some muscles in and others out—and at the same time?”
  • “Why do my wrists hurt so much?”
  • “My body—as in MY BODY—can go upside down? … No, really?”

Over time, I could actively feel in my body that tension in my shoulders was connected down my back, through my legs, and into my feet. I could tell that when my calf muscles were tight, my neck would also hurt. I could feel my breath and began to see how it was shrinking (becoming only a gasp) when I was nervous. I could recognize the link between pulling at my toenail cuticles (so that I’d soak my feet in Espom salt) and doing so at times when I needed grounding or courage. I could see that my body was desperately trying to communicate with me, if only I would pay attention.

In this way, yoga practice was helping me value my body and embodied knowledge, which I’d become cut off from. In the United States—and western, individualistic contexts, more generally—we tend to de-value the body, intuition, and feelings, while over-valuing the mind, logic, and rationale thinking. This is especially true in higher education, where I spend much of my life.

My introduction to yoga countered this problem of disembodiment. Still, I faced another problem, which I’m coming to understand as the flip side of the same coin: by focusing on asana/movement, yoga practice became entirely about the body. Again, in the United States—and western/individualistic contexts—yoga is associated with exercise rather than spiritual practice. Rather than seeing the body as connected with one’s mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual lives (as giving insights into and helping us experience our spiritual selves), popular notions of yoga treat the body as the end goal. In this way, yoga = exercise; yoga = muscle strengthening and toning; yoga = de-stressing the body; yoga = physical healing …

Over time (and I’m still very much learning today), I’ve come to understand yoga as a larger spiritually-focused and culturally-grounded practice, a practice that aligns with ecofeminism, veganism, and decoloniality. Through studying the Yoga Sūtras (alongside other spiritual teachings and Reiki practice), I now come to embodied-movement-based asana as a spiritual practice, as prayer.

Even when returning to my yoga mat because of back pain, I ask throughout asana practice: What is this pain trying to tell me? What does my body have to teach me about myself and what I’m not consciously acknowledging? How is my body expressing my emotions, and why am I feeling those emotions? I listen closely, planning to take action as guided.

Healing from Whiteness and Practicing Yoga for Justice

The post can’t end here—with my valuing of yoga as spiritual practice—because I can’t write about yoga without thinking about whiteness. Deeply troubling, in the United States, yoga is raced, classed, and gendered so that it’s associated with middle-/upper-class white women. Yoga magazines, websites, and advertisements feature not only white women, but images of whiteness (the social construct). Similarly, yoga studios manifest whiteness through spa-like environments, unspoken codes related to respectability politics, and other features of this social construct.

I’m a middle-/upper-class white woman. This means that when I look for yoga instructors or videos online (like the one I share above), I typically find people who not only look like me, but who also share much of my background and beliefs. Such common ground goes deeper—and is more insidious, still—as numerous privileges associated with my identity allowed me to stumble my way into my first yoga class and, from there, into a meaningful yoga practice. Even the ability (time-space-mobility-access) to practice yoga asana represents layers of privilege.

Such privileges call on me to consider cultural appropriation and the problematics of yoga in the U.S. (western/individualistic) context. There’s much work to be done toward changing the ways we [read: “we” in the United States, particularly white people, people in the yoga community, and people with privilege/power] understand, construct space around, talk about, and otherwise “do” yoga.

I think that yoga—particularly the 8 limbs of yoga (with asana being just 1 of 8)—has much to offer on the long haul toward justice. Concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and careful study (svadhyaya) are all absolutely necessary for self-work. Similarly, nonviolence (ahimsa) motivates anti-racism and other movements for social justice, including current work to decolonize yoga. Here I think especially about the resources Decolonizing Yoga and Sistah Vegan Project (both of which offer extensive content—and blogs I follow). Following the spiritual practice of yoga should help us uncover systems of inequity and injustice and to develop the resilience and insights needed for intervention.

For me, such work—striving toward the “ought to be”—brings me back to my yoga mat and includes asana practice. With the larger spiritual and justice-oriented practice in mind/heart, I need the time-space for quiet, slow movement. Currently, it matters to me that the practice is gentle, as the gentleness toward myself (non-judging lovingkindness) allows for gentleness more broadly (non-judging toward uncovering internalized prejudice, developing bias literacy, and kindly correcting myself for the harm/wrongs I do).

Too often, I realize after-the-fact that I’m back in a spiral of beating myself up for the crap I inevitably do as a white person (as whiteness itself is a pathology that means always messing up and living in mess). To choose differently—to humbly acknowledge the mess and to step out of pathological hurt—I need gentle practice. This gentleness is not to excuse, explain away, or allow for white supremacy. Instead, it is to work on healing the wounds and white fragility that manifest as back pain.

With hands (and feet!), I’m working to ground myself and to heal not only my recent flare-up of back pain but also the pain underlying this physical pain. I’m also “taking it easy”—practicing slowly, mindfully, even cautiously—and using my favorite gentle yoga video to do so.

Going forward, I’d like to think more about yoga during illness, as too often it’s illness (or physical pain) that brings me back to asana practice. I’d like to honor my body’s wisdom when it speaks to me in whispers (and to hear the quiet whispers and not just the screams of pain). I’d also like to explore the links between spiritual practice and resiliency. I’d like to commit now—today and every day—to embodied self-care for justice.

Welcoming Winter by Looking Within

I haven’t always loved caves.

I remember years of summer camp when I was so afraid of entering “the bat cave” that I worried about this outing for days ahead of time and even sat out a year or two. Yet, growing up in Tennessee and spending summers in Kentucky (the land of limestone, sink holes, and caverns), I learned to love—truly enjoy, crave, and seek time visiting—caves.

Today, when I ask myself why I love caves, I realize that entering the earth feels like burrowing into myself—and in a grounded way. Metaphorically, the cave feels like a supportive hug. Literally, the cave is dark and quiet, a space that invites introspection.

Think of the long traditions of people meditating, soul-searching, and undertaking rites of passage in caves. Or of Plato constructing the “allegory of the cave,” a narrative of confronting illusion. Or of bears hibernating through winter and reawakening in the spring, a time of renewal.

Cave symbolism includes reflection and looking within, darkness and confronting shadow, winter and being inactive, the moon and embracing feminine energy.

As I seek to know and act from my best self, I look within. As I seek to befriend the feminine and see it as a source of strength, I learn from dreaming. As I seek to stand TALL and speak my truth, I find voice in silence.

fall2009_034

As I enter into winter (there’s already snow on the ground and temperatures well below freezing here in Wisconsin), I resolve to tune into how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and what I can do. I resolve to listen to my inner voice and its whispers (before my body yells through pain or other means for attention). I resolve to be truer to my truths, my commitments, and my joys. I resolve to work toward radical self-love, knowing that the more I invest in loving myself, the better I can love others, the more fully I can show up, the more forcefully I can serve.

White fragility persists because of insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of messing up. Similarly, internalized sexism relies on layers of emotions that are not only inherited but also implicitly driving thoughts and actions. Looking within—deep, ongoing, reflexive work—is needed to counter these and so many interlocking pieces of systemic oppression.

So, this winter I give myself permission to enter the cave, to embrace my bear-like desire to hibernate, and to look within toward making some BIG changes. I know that this blog is part of those changes, as it’s an active practice to let go of perfection. To speak out, I must get comfortable—really, really ok—with messing up, admitting wrong, recovering, and trying again.

Here I go with this practice!

 

Heart, Head, and Hands: Explaining the Blog’s Name

For months, I kept a list of keywords and imagined titles for this blog. For months, I ran possible names by friends and family, who responded with “nope,” “eugh,” and “huh?”

Then, casually and unsurprisingly, my friend and frequent co-author Rasha Diab said, “Beth, your blog is heart-head-hands. That’s your thing.”

I guess this exercise—this linking of feeling with thinking with acting—is “my thing.” Often in classes and workshops, I use the contemplative writing practice that this blog’s name draws on. Simply, I ask:

  • Heart: What are you feeling?
  • Head: What are you thinking?
  • Hands: What are you going to do?

Version 2

The day following Trump’s election in the United States, my students and I shared reflections: some focused on emotions (heart), others shared thoughts (head), and still others related action plans (hands). As a white woman, I shared my own embodied responses—including tight chest, aching muscles, and exhaustion—and my intended actions: “I must write, write, write! Stand tall in my truth, and speak out/up more confidently, courageously, even when afraid.”

I appreciate this exercise because it communicates the connectedness of our emotions, thoughts, and actions. It recognizes and values embodied knowledge. It helps us put into words what we implicitly know, but often have trouble talking about. And it holds us accountable to our commitments as we write and speak aloud the work we’re called to do.

Though there are many versions of this exercise (especially for K-12 contexts), I first learned of this contemplative practice from Michele Eodice, who suggested we use it in a research methods workshop. (Michele, thank you for the ways you’ve modeled for me both contemplative pedagogy and the valuing of embodied response.) The exercise has stayed with me, has become part of my teaching repertoire, and now provides the structure for this blog.

I invite you to join me by following posts that bring together embodied experience, emotional responses, and self-care (heart); ongoing research and active reflections (head); and attempts at everyday activism, which includes the writing of this blog (hands).

The Call to Write

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I’ve decided it’s time to move forward with this blog project focused on feeling-thinking-doing for JUSTICE. I’ve been tinkering toward this blog for months, but holding myself back. Now my heart, my head, my hands are insistent: the time to write is NOW. So, I sit at the screen, hands poised over keys. Yet, the only word-like expression coming forth is “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I’ve decided it’s time to move forward with this project focused on feeling-thinking-doing for JUSTICE. I’ve been tinkering toward a blog for months, but holding myself back. Now my heart, my head, and my hands are insistent: the time to write is NOW. So, I sit at the screen, hands poised over keys. Yet, the only word-like expression coming forth is “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”

I often joke that I study language (composition, rhetoric, and literacy studies) because “words are hard.” It’s hard to come up with the right words. Or meaningful words. Or words that express how I feel, words that represent what my body communicates in breath, in pulsation, in temperature, in pain.

What I can say is that my whole body H-U-R-T-S. Now more than ever, I have no idea how to sit in meetings, classrooms, and presentations that normalize whiteness. Sitting makes no sense. My body wants to curl or hurl … to jump up or out …

My body speaks my mind. A few days ago, I burned my hands with jalapeno and then heated up the burn in a warm bath. The result = hands on FIRE. Aching to write-do-act, my hands, like my body, were literally incensed. Yet, the more I used my hands, the more the fire calmed. Or perhaps the fire was just transferred into its rightful place (in this case, an article tracing rhetorical interventions into microaggressions).

I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Lorde inspires me: “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”

My mantras for this time: I allow myself to feel my emotions honestly and fully. I allow myself to acknowledge anger as a powerful source, one with transformative potential. I allow myself to write imperfectly, emotionally, toward moving forward.

mantra-copy

I may be writing nothing but “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!” for a while.