Thursday, July 7, 2016

Making Noise

I haven't said much about the recent shootings of two black men by police other than commenting on other people's posts or reacting to them with the convenient yet certainly not adequate emoji options Facebook provides. Mostly, this has been because there's already a flood of people who are more informed about these stories and the grimly numerous previous ones and who are more willing to post their opinions online. I didn't feel like anything I had to say would add to the conversation, despite having the urge to say something, anything. 

I didn’t want to create noise in a space that needed music.

And then, today, when I was driving to run an errand, I suddenly became acutely aware of my surroundings.  There was a woman driving her black SUV in front of me with an LSU Alumni sticker common of many cars in Baton Rouge who I nearly ran into because her left taillight had burned out.

Think about that for a minute. 

She is able to blithely go about her day without worrying about her taillight being burned out.  She might be at risk of being pulled over (though I doubt it) without fearing that she’ll be shot and killed during a routine stop for a traffic violation while her significant other records it and a four-year-old in the back witnesses the entire thing.

Even though she is, technically, in violation of the law.  Even though she didn’t use her blinker when switching lanes.  Even though she was in the middle of her turn when the light had already become red.  Even though she seemed to be reading her phone screen at one point while I was driving behind her.  Even though, because Louisiana is a concealed-carry state, she could feasibly have a gun somewhere in the car legally that might make any cop pulling her over a little nervous.

Why doesn’t she have to worry about this?  Why is she most likely oblivious to any of these violations that are the last thing to come into her mind as being an issue today?

Because she’s white.

And then I knew I had to say something, even if it doesn’t further the conversation. 

Because it keeps the conversation present. 

Because, even if what I’m saying is noise, it’ll help make the noise louder until it crescendos and people in power actually do something to prevent these deaths from happening anymore. 

Because my son goes to a daycare down the street from where Alton Sterling died and I don’t want him to grow up in a world where his black friends and teachers are afraid of going to school or work simply because of the color of their skin. 

Because I don’t want to find out one day that one of my black students has been killed during a routine stop for a traffic violation.  

Because I fear for my black friends’ lives. 

Because I don’t have a lot of power in this world other than my vote and my ability to use words effectively and to teach others to do the same.

Because, maybe, if more white people start saying something, if more white people become noisy about this, maybe, just maybe, black lives won’t have to fight to just matter. 


Maybe black lives will just be able to live.


Friday, August 7, 2015

#OnceASEMGirlAlwaysASEMGirl

Hello Ladies.

First, Congratulations. And to my residential girls, “Gong shi, gong shi.”  I’m very proud of all that you have accomplished and I want to thank you for giving me the honor of representing the faculty in bidding you farewell and good luck as you move into your lives beyond SEM.

You all know I value honesty and straightforwardness so I’ll be honest here.  Secretly, since returning to SEM as a teacher eight years ago, I have wanted to be the faculty speaker at graduation.  I have always felt a small pang of jealousy mixed with admiration for the people who have had the opportunity to do so.  I think, on some level, being selected represented some kind of validation that I had managed to make a positive difference, no matter how small, in your lives. 

The problem is I’ve had trouble writing this speech.  I’ve written and rewritten it about a hundred times in my head.  I thought about previous speeches full of Dr. Priest’s inspiration, Ms. Miller’s kindness, and Mrs. Greene’s encouragement and wondered what I had to offer you. I didn’t really understand what was making this so difficult until yesterday at Class Day when I didn’t notice I started crying and then, I couldn’t stop.  It became clear to me that the reason I’ve been having so much difficulty figuring out what to say is that you’re not the only ones saying goodbye – this year, I am, too.  And, like you, I’m excited and ready for something new, but I’m also a little bit terrified (I mean, teaching boys?  That’s kind of terrifying).  But, luckily, I know that my time as a SEM girl has prepared me to venture into my new life with the skills to survive and to thrive.  And then I understood that I could send you off with a reminder: that you have an incredible community cheering you on and supporting you because, once you’re a SEM girl, you’re always a SEM girl.

I have essentially been a member of the SEM community since I was in 7th grade.  Back then, there was an all-day workshop that SEM held to try to get middle school girls to see where the proverbial magic happens.  That year, the subject was English (the title was Semantics – I loved a great pun even then) so two of my Catholic school classmates and I decided to check it out.  I walked through those iconic wooden doors and knew there was something different about this place.  It didn’t hurt that we got to dress up as characters from a book and that the day began with a costume contest. Multiple literature-based activities later and a chance to see the nooks and crannies of the building, I was hooked. 
In traditional Admissions Office fashion, that landed me on the SEM mailing list and the rest is history.  After two years performing with the school’s former summer program Broadway at SEM, I, of course, had to shadow.  I was admitted and attended.  Which led to staying with my best friend and her family from sophomore to senior year when my father had to move for his job and I didn’t want to leave.  You see, SEM was my family when mine was far away.  And that connection has only become stronger.  I knew that graduation didn’t mean the end of my bond with Buffalo Seminary, particularly because of the lifelong friends I had made here.

Imagine my surprise, years later, when I heard about a job opening for English teacher only a couple of years after ending up back in Buffalo after multiple other adventures.   Three weeks before the school year started.  A job I swore up and down I would never do.  Oh, and, did I mention that I hadn’t really taught before in the full sense of the word?  Right.  That didn’t stop the inner SEM girl in me, though.  I promptly contacted my former teacher Robin Magavern and found out what I could do to rejoin the SEM community as a faculty member.  Apparently the hiring committee deemed me worthy – or else they were a little crazy, the jury’s still out on that – because here I am.  Thanks, guys. It’s had its ups and downs, but it truly has been a gift.

Why? It sounds a bit Dead Poets’ Society, but SEM really is a community that stretches across time and space.  You will have lifelong friendships not only with classmates, but also with teachers, and with the others you encounter through the school.  I never expected when I first walked in those doors in 7th grade that one of my best friends from the class of ’99 – Caitlyn Lawton – would  be present in the delivery room to support me when my son, Noah, was born last year and then, for all intents and purposes, become his aunt.  Or that one of my first seniors– the Class of 2008’s very own Catherine Knauss – would come back to work at SEM and end up becoming one of my closest friends.  Or that the girl who I shadowed during eighth grade – you know her as Molly Greene – would join the faculty at SEM the same year I did and that we would both be teaching Freshmen at the time.  Or that my favorite history teacher from high school – SEM legend, Harry Schooley – would become a cherished colleague and then a dear friend.

So, since I have all of these amazing connections at hand, I thought I would do a little crowdsourcing to help me with this speech.  Because, let’s face it, those who do things at SEM, never have to do them alone.  For those of you who don’t know, the inaugural Media and Communications class did a little experiment this year.  We created and sent out a hash tag - #OnceASEMGirlAlwaysASEMGirl - to see how far and wide and under what circumstances it would travel.  With responses ranging from the local environs all the way to France and Norway, as well as from recent alums to graduates in their fifities and retired former faculty members, we discovered that SEM is still very much present in the everyday lives of those on whom it has had an impact.  I re-tweeted that hashtag recently and asked friends of SEM to tell me what they learned here that still helps them in their lives today.  Here’s what several of them said:

“I learned to be honest and [to] take responsibility for my actions.  And to lead!”

“That 21 years after Freshman Orientation, you will still be best friends with someone you met that day.”

“How to be independent enough to get the job done, but I am also not afraid to ask for help when it is needed.”

“Confidence, integrity, critical thinking.”

“I learned that being a strong, intelligent, independent woman is something to be proud of.  Also I learned how to perfectly flip a grilled cheese sandwich without a spatula.”  (We used to be able to go into the kitchen and make food.  I’m pretty sure the health department didn’t know that.  It’s a long story…)

“Never fear your own thoughts, ideas, and aspirations.  Being quiet will get you nowhere.”

“Do not be afraid of making mistakes.”

“Exuberance and laughter are essential.”

“Embrace your own inner weirdness and the importance of caring.”

“Growth and change are not one and the same.”

“Just because you don’t agree with someone, doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.”

Pretty good advice, right?  I agree.  But as I was writing this, I couldn’t shake the sense that something was missing.  I mean, I have my awesome experiences to share with you and I’ve compiled other sound advice to contribute to helping you embark on a new adventure with a support network, but it still felt, somehow…hollow.  And then I realized.  The best part about the last eight years has not only been having the opportunity to return to SEM and working with my unparalleled colleagues and being able to put myself out there, make mistakes, and try new things in the classroom, but it has also been you – my amazing, funny, thoughtful, energetic, intellectually curious, brave students.  The most important thing that I have learned at SEM is what you have taught me.  And those are lessons I’ll never be able to forget.

First, you taught me patience.  Patience with you, with myself, with technology…  Your class, especially.  You are big and bold and loud – let’s face it, this class has a lot of personality.  I keep trying to forget that one class your Freshman year that was so rowdy that I gave about 80% of you red slips, but you keep bringing it up.  But I wouldn’t change that.  You helped me to realize that patience is, indeed, a virtue.  And it has paid off.  Look at you: you are strong, independent, opinionated – still loud – young women who have already been doing incredible things and now you’re about to go out into the world and do even more.  We just had to be patient with you.

You taught me the importance of making people accountable.  I still don’t think your class entirely understands the concept of a deadline.  Just in case, for college, here’s the definition: the latest time or date by which something should be completed.  Synonyms include “time limit,” “finishing date,” target date,” and “cutoff point.”  From the historical: a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot.  Hence, dead line.  Anyway, I realized when I had to be strict with you because you had to commit to something and I realized when I needed to back off so that you could learn the consequences of not following through.  To do that, I had to hold myself accountable to you, which isn’t always easy to do.

I learned that it’s okay to take risks (although that touching the Miss Angell Portrait thing was probably a bad idea since, apparently, the lore is true and it’s now raining on your graduation day…)  You have taken a lot of risks during your years at SEM.  Some of them have paid off – like confronting little injustices that you see happening in your everyday lives.  Some haven’t entirely – going to visit Washington, D.C. during the government shutdown comes to mind, although, judging by your slide show yesterday, you still had a lot of fun.  But you didn’t let the risk of failure scare you.  I’m taking a big risk by moving on from SEM, but, at the moment, it is a move I have to make for my family.  It would be a bigger risk for me if I didn’t try, though.  And you taught me that just because you’re afraid to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  In fact, you always seem to do things in spite of the fear, so maybe I should take that lesson to heart as well. 

I discovered that it’s okay to have fun and to make fun of yourself.  Whether you’re lamenting how your class always seems to get the short end of the stick, particularly on class trips or you’re turning the study hall into a night club complete with glow sticks and bouncers, or if you’re like me, and you try to convince your co-workers to lip sync the final song in Pitch Perfect in the name school spirit, complete with, perhaps unwisely chosen split, fun is key.  You guys are always enjoying yourselves, even if part of that is reveling in a bit of complaining – I won’t miss your loud, whiny sessions in the gallery, to be honest – you manage to do it with a smile and a laugh and you always end up finding the humor in the situation, even if it’s at your own expense.  You will help me remember to keep things fun, somehow.

I could go on and on, but, because I’ve been speaking too long already, I’ll get to the last lesson you taught me.  I learned from you to always be genuine.  You, as a class, do not value beating around the bush.  You call people out on their insincerity.  You like straight talk and straightforwardness.  In the beginning, this meant a lot of missteps and, let’s face it, inappropriateness in your interactions.  Over time, though, you have refined your approach and are generally able to walk the fine line between bold and brazen.  You kept us on our toes.  But you also recognized when we were being reasonable and candid with you and when you were being unreasonable.  No matter what, you always stayed true to yourselves, without compromise.  When I was having trouble writing this, my husband kept reminding me to “be genuine” and true to who I am.  I knew that you would be able to tell if I was trying to be something I’m not and I will remember the importance of that thanks to the example you have set for us.

So, whenever things start to get difficult, remember the lessons that you have learned at SEM and the ones that you have taught each other.  I know I will rely on these experiences when life starts to seem a little too overwhelming.  In a way, we’re both graduating - I’m just on the 12-year plan and doing it for a second time.  On top of all of the academic and communication skills, we have taught each other patience and honesty and bravery and we will be able to use these lessons as foundations for our ever-changing lives.  And even though this is goodbye, it isn’t really.  We may be leaving, but we’ll always be connected because once you’re a SEM girl, you’re always a SEM girl.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Running Update

Well, I can't ignore it anymore.  If I want to succeed at this goal, I have to start working on it.  And, since I now have an actual 5K scheduled, I really have to buckle down.  The School Government Association is holding a 5K run/walk on September 29th so that's as good a goal as any.  Which means that, in order to be prepared with my interval training program, I need to run every single day until the race.  Yay.  I did get started today, so that's something.  Though I'm not encouraged at the moment...


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Running Goal: Week...

Sooo....you may have noticed that I haven't made any posts lately.  (Or, not, if you don't really care about any of this, but, for the sake of my ego, let's assume you do care.)  There are a few reasons for that.  The first, and most obvious, is that I haven't been running.

I've still been going on bike rides or walking or doing my physical therapy exercises at home, but I haven't been able to run much lately because of the heat and humidity we've had here lately.  For example, yesterday, when I went on a bike ride with my friend Beth, I was huffing and puffing and felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest, making it that much harder to do simple tasks.  Even the inhaler hasn't been helping recently.

The other reason... well, here's a look at it:
Nah, I didn't need that toe...
Last night, I made the mistake of walking into the living room in the dark too quickly and had an unfortunate encounter with the ottoman.  Basically, the second to last toe stopped moving and my foot kept going.  Just be glad I didn't show you a picture of it before I wrapped it up - it looks like a rainbow trout.  So, with the broken toe, I'm going to refrain from running for a little while since, with the new style I've been trying out where you run on the ball of your foot, you are supposed to allow your toes to do a lot of the work.  Sigh.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Writing Goal Update

So, as I mentioned in my post about the background of my summer goals, I was hoping to write a play this summer.  I had an idea I had been thinking and brainstorming about, I bought a book with some helpful information in it and some writing exercises that I was going to work on, and I had a vision in my head of what I wanted to do.

And that's when it kind of fell apart.

Let me back up a bit.  I used to write all the time.  Like, constantly.  Unbidden.  I've been making up stories since I was three years old.  My dad would pick up a yellow legal pad at family gatherings and ask for a list of 20 words.  Then he and I would have to make up a story around the words, kinda like it was reverse madlibs.  I caught the storytelling bug and it's been with me ever since.  Poetry, short stories, even school papers - any time I could write I would.

Until college was almost over.  When I was rejected to every creative writing program I applied to, I sort of hung up my journal and pen and wandered into the real world, lost.  I even actively pushed away the idea of writing.  But it hasn't disappeared.  (Take this blog as an example.)  For a while, though, I've been grieving my storytelling career, until I realized that it hasn't been dead - it's just been in hibernation for a while.  It shows up in the comments I write for my students or in the ways I explain a difficult concept in the classroom.  I practice my word choice in my Facebook status updates or my comedic timing when relating a funny experience I had.  When I give my Autobiography students an in-class writing assignment, I write about the same topic.

But I hadn't been actively writing until last summer.  I was afraid it would be too hard.  I was blocked.  So, at the recommendation of a friend, I went through the book The Artist's Way.  For 12 weeks, I wrote morning pages every day, I did the workshop tasks, I kept artist dates with myself, and I started to feel creative again - not only in writing, but in teaching, and in everyday life.  I could almost define myself as a writer again rather than someone who dabbles in it from time to time.

And then life got in the way.  I stopped writing every morning.  I stopped making time to be creative.  I stopped, well, playing and having fun with creativity.  So that's when I decided I was fed up and that, this summer, I was really going to write something.  That's when I had the idea for the play.

Which brings us to the last few weeks.  Where I've been stuck.  Stymied.  Blocked again.  So I decided to write morning pages again.  If I'm going to write something as a project, then I need to at least start writing, period.  After I did that for a few days, I decided I needed some more encouragement.  So I picked up the book that comes after The Artist's Way - The Vein of Gold.  While the first book is about finding your inner artist child and digging her out of the hole she climbed into, this one is about recovery - now that the urge to write is back, what direction do I take it in, kind of thing.  I felt I needed to work on this for a little bit before I could dive right into a project.  Just like my running goal, where I have to build up my stamina with intervals, I have to flex my writing muscles before I can throw them into a 5K-type project.  They need a warm-up.

Part of that warm-up is my next project.  In the first part of the book, you're supposed to reflect on what has brought you to this point, year by year.  It's called the life narrative.  You look back on each year of your life and write about one or a couple of images that really stand out in your mind.  It's sort of like going to counseling with yourself because you end up realizing what is integral to who you have become as a person and how events have shaped your perception.  By examining the past, you can move forward in the present. So, I'll be updating you on the progress of this life narrative as well as the play itself.  Since the main goal is to get writing again, at least I'm getting back on track as far as that goes.

Tally as of today:
Life Narrative: Year 1 (29 to go)
Morning Pages: 5/last 7 days

Running Goal: Week 1, Day 3

As you may have noticed, I'm titling these posts based on the week of the program, not by the actual time that I'm completing them by (since there's almost a week between the last two posts.)  It's taking me longer than I thought since the weather's been so warm and humid, making it hard for my lungs to soldier on and get out there.  The link to my most recent run is here: info.  I must be getting the hang of it because my fastest running pace was 7:27/mile and the slowest was 10:06.  Hopefully, I can continue at that pace when I start adding longer intervals of running.

I've also been going for a 30 minute bike ride at least three times a week during the middle of the day with my friend Beth.  I'm hoping that will contribute to increasing my stamina (and muscles!) in conjunction with my physical therapy workouts.  We'll see.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Running Goal: Week 1, Day 2

The above photo pretty much says it all.  Not too bad today, but not great.  I had to stop for a few minutes after the 6th running interval because I felt like an elephant was sitting on my lungs, but, after walking around for a minute, I finished out.  The worst part about all of this is that I hate feeling weak.  Oh well.  Stats are posted here, if you're interested:  Run 2.