Category Archives: Media

Endings/Beginnings: Living in Liminal Spaces

The Lebanon Valley rail trail near Cornwall, Pennsylvania

Summer is on its way out with a few last hot, humid days. Metereological fall arrived September 1, and the Equinox is tomorrow. Autumn is my favorite season. I love watching as it slides into our lives every year, chilly mornings and foggy fields reminding us, as Robert Frost once did, that nothing gold can stay.

With summer gone, I find myself nesting, decluttering and organizing my studio, making lists of fall projects, and taking some time to explore bullet journaling and planners. It seems as though everyone has a planner to sell. As I explored the options, it occurred to me that I could just make my own planner/journal, the goal being to use it for both planning and reflection. I have always been intrigued by the Daily Examen, a spiritual practice based on Ignatius Loyola. Loyola’s practice was based in Christian imagery, of course, but I think it is possible to take it as a more general approach to ending the day with intention. Actually, my Apple watch even suggests a bit of mindfulness as a way to wind down at the end of the day so the practice has certainly entered the secular world.

Even as I work on my organizer, I continue to drift along a bit. There have been endings: my retirement, the loss of Spot, the last of the vegetables from the garden. And there is the usual beginning as I head into the fall semester. But, for now, while there are a few glimmers of new opportunities, there is no clearly marked path. Astrologer Chani Nicholas mentioned the concept of liminal space in past two weekly readings, and the concept resonates with my current state. As I understand them, liminal spaces, from the Latin limen or threshold, are the spaces in between the endings and beginnings of practices and lives, its roots in anthropology and rites of passage. It is considered an uncomfortable place, and there are days when I wonder if I am living it right.

Joseph Goldstein, in the Ten Percent Happier app’s Common Questions course, commenting on what might happen at the beginning of your practice, says with a chuckle, ” The beginning can be the first twenty years.” I have only been exploring my own new beginning for a couple months so maybe I don’t need to worry too much and just allow myself to experience liminality for a little while longer. I created the image at the beginning of the post, using my own photo of the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail.

Choose Carefully: Politics Over Friendship

Since my Twitter rant turned into a somewhat thoughtful blog post, I decided to do the same for a Facebook rant . I think this one is still pretty ranty so take it for what it’s worth. Mostly, let’s be kind to everyone.

Perhaps I am the last person in the world who hasn’t unfriended or unfollowed everyone with whom they disagree politically or religiously. To you, this  post will seem a bit outdated and naive and maybe even dangerous as I haven’t written everyone on the other side off as immoral and unethical.

Forgive me. Despite the political and religious divide in the world, I have attempted to maintain friendships with folks from the whole spectrum. And, while I don’t share overt political posts or rants on social media, I suspect my own politics are pretty clear from what I do share. (Let’s just say a lot of stuff from The Zinn Project and The Equal Justice Initiative.) I will admit to using the mute button liberally.

Mostly, I try not to be judgmental. We all have pasts and stories and cultures that define who we are and are difficult, and perhaps, impossible to shed.  I genuinely care about the people I follow, and I try to put relationship ahead of politics or religion. But, yesterday, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, two posts, in particular, just seemed incredibly out of line: a ridiculous “I’m just sayin” kind of conspiracy theory post and then one that showed real hatred towards those on the other side. Mean and ugly posts about people like me from people that I regarded as friends. Granted, they did not originate the thought, but they shared it and pretty cleared agreed with it.

One of the women who posted checked in with me via Messenger almost every day as I was recovering from my surgery last year. Yet, her rhetoric in a public forum was really hateful. She genuinely seems to find people like me repugnant. While I am no snowflake, my feelings were hurt. Had she considered me at all before sharing the post? She knows me to be a good person, I think, and must be aware that her post was going to hurtful.  She has chosen politics over our relationship. I considered a confrontation, but I pressed mute for now. It is tempting to try to engage her, but if her ongoing posts and comments are any indication, she does not appear to be open to ideas outside her echo chamber.

I guess I feel a little betrayed: I stuck with these friends even though we disagreed on larger issues because I wanted to know about their lives and support them as friends and even be aware of what others outside my own echo chamber were thinking. Part of the reason I don’t do “those people on the other side are horrible” kinds of posts is because I do care about their feelings. I know I’m not going to change their minds and it would just be hurtful.  How could we still be friends if I took that path. I wonder if these women stopped to ask that question of themselves?

Here’s my plea: can we, just for a little while, focus on what connects us. I love the posts from families about surviving quarantine and doing simple gardening at home. I look forward to the posts from a friend who is asking daily questions about what we are learning or cooking or thinking.

Today, we all shared pics of meaningful art from our homes. Here’s mine: my favorite poem from Wendell Berry seems so appropriate now. It is done as a collage, and I know I purchased it at an art festival in Corolla, NC, a very long time ago. There doesn’t appear to be an artist’s name on it:

If you have managed to maintain any friendships with people with whom you disagree, try reaching out in a positive way. Or at least unmute them for a few days to wish them well.

Be safe out there.

 

 

Keeping the Gaps From Getting Bigger: Randomly Connected Thoughts

I don’t know about others, but I have been having trouble mustering much energy or enthusiasm to do anything that required concentration. I’ve kept up my daily journaling (hard to break a habit of a lifetime) but putting together something for outside consumption seemed too hard. But, I do have a few public things I would like say:

Stop shaming teachers and schools for anything, especially if you were not actively involved in public schools on a daily basis prior to the virus. I have seen several pundits shaking their heads over printed instructional packets. One actually used the word “shame” to describe teachers who used them. They may not be the ideal pedagogy, but they are the lowest common denominator in a world that largely gave digital equity lip service until last week. Now, suddenly, educators are supposed to be transforming their education online despite a lack of devices, access and preparation. Schools are busy figuring out how to feed kids. Give them a break.

Read that again: schools are busy figuring out how to feeds kids. Our schools play a much larger role in the community than just teaching and learning, and we consistently underfund them, especially for the most vulnerable children and families. Ditto for public libraries.

Now is when we will discover the true gaps in our broadband access maps and surveys. If you are a teacher connecting with your students online, be sure to do an equity check now and then. Who isn’t showing up either synchronously or asynchronously? Is it because of access? What can you do to open access by using low bandwidth tools that are phone-friendly?

Just as they are feeding kids, schools are working on closing the equity gap. Schools  without 1:1 are doing what they can to get devices to kids. They are sending home mifis and keeping wifi up and running in schools parking lots. I’ve seen lots of tech coaches offering support for both their own faculty and generally for others. The Virginia Society for Technology in Education is offering just-in-time coaching in partnership with UnisonEDU.

There is so much more to consider here. Forget digital equity. I suspect many children in my low income community are being left home alone or in the care of older siblings as parents cannot afford to stop working. The library and community center where they accessed analog, digital and adult support are closed.

I have been meeting with VSTE leaders over the past week, and I am so proud of how they are leading their schools and communities. They were given little or no time or resources to prepare, but they, along with so many other educators stepped up, as they always do, because they understand that they are the first line of defense for so many of our children.

Be safe out there, my friends.

Local History: New Resources and Recommended Reading

The Digital Public Library of America is a portal to digitized collections across the United States. I served as a volunteer ambassador for several years. Last year, I used their search engine and collections to create a series of postcards.

b x w photo of police and protesters
Public Domain, courtesy of VCU

Today, DPLA announced the launch of the  Digital Virginias service hub, which offers more than 58,000 items for research and exploration. One of the collections highlighted in the press release is a group of 490 photographs from Virginia Commonwealth University that document the 1963 Civil Rights protests in Farmville, Virginia. The photos, like the one to the left of protesters and police, have been released into the public domain.

Police arrest protesters outside College Shoppe, Main St., Farmville, Va., July 27, 1963
Photo Courtesy of Freedom Now Project (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

VCU is sponsoring the Freedom Now Project, an interactive introduction to the Farmville protests. Photos in the Flickr set include extensive notes help with identifications and context. For instance, this photo identifies the protesters and police outside the College Shoppe and includes a link to a newspaper article about the arrests.

Farmville is located in Prince Edward County, which was at the heart of the closing of public schools in Virginia known as Massive Resistance. The photos in the collection were taken by the police with the thought of being used as part of court cases.  Now, in the fullness of time, they show the raw emotions–frustration and persistence–as the protesters interact with the police.

In her book, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, Kristen Green tells the story of Massive Resistance from the ground as she grew up in Prince Edward County in the 1980s and attended the private school–known as a segregation academy–that was begun during the public school closings in 1960. She weaves the history with her own story and confronts ugly truths: her grandparents led the fight to close the schools and deny the county’s African American (and poor white) residents five years of schooling rather than integrate the schools. It took nearly 25 years for the private school to admit black students and then only under an ultimatum from the court. She was an eighth grade student at the private school when it was integrated and completely unaware of the still rampant segregation in her community. Ultimately, Green confronts her own ignorance. The book is a compellingly personal look at this dark period of history in Virginia.

Green described the lengths that some African American parents went to get education for their children, often requiring long separations,  sending them across the border to North Carolina or to relatives or even strangers in other counties. Most families, however, didn’t have the resources necessary to pay for travel and board.

…the vast majority of children stayed home and their only formal education would come in the form of church training centers. There, for a few hours a day, volunteers taught the kids basic skills. Many children simply played or, if they were old enough, went to work in the fields with their parents and pick tobacco. Some would never return to school. (Green, The Atlantic, 8/1/2015)

Green recommends visiting the Moton Museum in Farmville to learn more. Farmville had been the site of protests beginning with a student strike since 1951 and the former Robert Russa Moton High School, now a National Historic Landmark and museum, isthe student birthplace of America’s Civil Rights Revolution. Three-fourths of the Brown vs Board of Education participants came from the Moton student strike.