How the Hell did I end up here?

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Lately I’ve been thinking about what brought me to Denton and this PhD program. The thought really is more along the lines of, “How the eff did I get myself into this mess?” Maybe being on year 2 of dissertating without actually having a prospectus accepted is the cause of this or maybe it’s the natural question of someone working their ass off on a degree that will get them very few opportunities in the real world. Or maybe it’s the perpetual drama in my department. Who knows? I just know that I look around my life and think, “how did I get here?” more and more these days.

Here’s how I got here.

Six years ago when I was applying to this program, I knew that my chances of getting a tenure-track job post-PhD would be low. I came in aware of the situation in academia. I came in with three years of higher ed work under my belt as a minister at Butler. I knew the work it would take to get this degree and, even more so, the isolation that comes with a process like writing a 200 page dissertation on a topic that no one around you is an expert on. Greg Roper prepared me well.

It was hard to focus on the problems of a potential future in academia when I was in the middle of the problems of being a minister.

It was hard to focus on the problems of a potential future in academia when I was in the middle of the problems of being a minister.

Unfortunately, when Greg was talking to me about the problems of the future I was contemplating, I was thinking more about the problems of what was then my reality. Let me be clear: I loved being a campus minister more than anything I have ever done. I loved my students at Butler. If I could have worked just with the kids and had no other life or work, just been a hologram that turned on only when students needed me, I would have stayed long term. But unfortunately, that’s now how it goes. Church politics are still politics and I simply wasn’t made for that kind of drama. I get too invested and my faith took the hit. To make matters worse, I had no social life and very little in terms of a support system that was readily available. My sisters often had the opposite schedule that I had and my few other friends were busy with their own lives. I spent most of my free time at home alone or in my office watching Netflix. My work with students started to strain because they were my only source of social interaction with people near my age (then 25). It just wasn’t sustainable.

My internship with the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice the summer before I became director probably had something to do with this as well. I went from living with 200 nuns who loved me to living alone and doing thankless work. The contrast was too much. By October, I was looking at PhD programs and by November, I was applying to UNT. In February, I accepted my fellowship and notified my boss that I would be leaving Indy. He waited until the last minute to replace me, thinking I would change my mind, but I didn’t. I wanted something different, even though I loved my students so much. I wanted to continue the research work I had been doing as an intern at WVC. I wanted to study Environmental Literature and write about Wendell Berry. I wanted to be around people who loved poems for the way the words felt in the mouth, for the taste of the thing and the way it sits in your soul—so much deeper than simple words on a page. I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

Looking back, I probably should have gone back to UD. The English Department at UNT had no such romantic notions of literature. There were a few quiet but lovely scholars I could connect with, one faculty member who has since left the uni. But the life I imagined when I was leaving Indiana was not the life I found back in Texas—at least as far as the love for literature was concerned.

Yet, the life I found at UNT was good. I was happier than I had been in a long time. I was making friends, spending time with my old friends and pseudo-family. I had a support system. And, honestly, if it weren’t for the relationship that tore my life apart, my life here in Texas could have been an overwhelmingly good one. The worst thing would have been a bit of bullying at the office, common enough in academia and something that a tenure-track wannabe should make themselves get used to. Even with what happened two years ago, my life is good. I have brilliant colleagues who are generally kind people (ignoring, of course, those bullies). I have a sweet little dog. I have a generous director. But then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I quickly found out when I got to UNT that Wendell Berry, though loved in the ecojustice community, is not so celebrated among academics. Something about being a communitarian and that he’s not necessarily the most feminist writer, though I understand his worldview enough to appreciate him anyways. My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant (ish) paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic (Maybe I should have switched to philosophy?) and the sisters’ implementation of one such ethic. In the following semester, I continued to learn about Leopold, was introduced to ecocriticism, and met my director. I knew from the beginning I wanted to work with her and immediately signed up for her next class. It was really about the person, not the class topic, and I just wanted to get to know her better perhaps in a smaller class without so much overwhelm. Good idea, Ari.

My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic and the sisters’ implementation of one.  My experience as an organic gardening intern actually helped a lot!

My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic and the sisters’ implementation of one. My experience as an organic gardening intern actually helped a lot!

The next semester with her was a Xicana feminisms course and I was introduced to Gloria Anzaldua. And for the first time in my life all the little things that I had kept to myself, the frustrations and passions and thoughts, were suddenly on paper right in front of me. Like everyone who reads and loves Anzaldua, it was like she was writing my soul. And so, I eventually gave up the Ecocritical aspect of my research and writing and embraced Xicanisma. It wasn’t about my director anymore, but rather about me, about this experience that Anzaldua writes about that so mirrors my own. My term paper ended up being about the work of Roman Catholic nuns as nepantleras. I thought of my sisters. I felt connection to them and discussed the paper with them when I could.

It was completely different from what I had planned, but it felt like things were falling into place. I was moving away from my classical training at UD and overcoming my academic snobbery that I had become aware of during my time at Notre Dame. I was falling in love with texts outside of the canon and overcoming the sadness of leaving Greek behind.

Then all fucking Hell broke loose.

In August 2017, I took my exams under a haze of depression and anxiety that was so much more than the test anxiety my director thought I had. I spent two years being suicidal every second of every day, in the middle of which my theologian turned down my prospectus and I had to start over. It ended up being a good thing that I could start fresh from the beginning because I could go forward without using the Church because, really, why write about an institution that just fucked you over majorly? (You can check out the archives of this blog if you missed all this.)

And that about brings me up to November. And here I am, almost two years post-exams, still working on a prospectus that about half the time I want to throw out the window. But I’m here. And I’m going to finish this degree. And I’m going to keep teaching.

And you know what?

Overall, despite the Hell, despite the drama, and despite three little fuckers that made teaching last year kind of hard—I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. So, that’s how I got here. And in spite of everything, I guess I’m glad I am.

Shameless and Nadia Bolz-Weber's Book Tour

from Nadia’s official page

from Nadia’s official page

I’ve been enamored with the famous Luteran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, ever since a colleague showed me an article about her back in 2014. That was while I was still working at Butler University as the director for the Catholic campus ministry. So, when my friend and colleague, Sarah texted me about Nadia (who I lovingly pretend to be on a first name basis with) coming to Dallas to give a talk about her new book, Shameless, I jumped on board before I even looked at what the book was about or where the talk would take place. Even as a fan and a reader of both previous books, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Nadia would be talking about the impact of the Church on healthy ideas of sexuality and gender. Even more exciting, she would be speaking at the Church I have had a serious crush on for years but never actually attended, the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas—the largest LGBTQ congregation in the United States (and, as the pastor says, possibly the world).

The talk was on a Monday and it was one that was already crammed full for me. First, a chiropractic appointment, then lunch with friends, then time with my best friend at the camera shop he works at in Fort Worth (an hour’s drive from Denton), then the 40ish minute drive from Fort Worth Camera over to the cathedral. So, by the time I got there, I was a little overwhelmed with a day of running around and even more overwhelmed by the crowd assembling to see Nadia. My service dog was not overwhelmed, though, unless it was a positive overwhelm at the amount of green space outside the cathedral. After claiming about half of the space in the name of our doggy family, we joined the throng of people heading towards the front door of the church.

Seeing Nadia from far away, it occurred to me yet again the strangeness of celebrity, even in so small a community as liberal ecclesial Christianity. This woman has no idea who I am, but I know most of her life’s story, at least based on that which she had shared through her books. As I excitedly took in her fantastically styled gray hair and stunning liturgical tattoos (#lifegoals), she calmly scanned the crowd that had gathered to see her, clearly used to this kind of audience. Or maybe it’s just because she’s an experienced minister. I never did get used to speaking in front of hundreds—and maybe that’s one of the many reasons that my ministry was cut short.

Anyways, that is how the once-conservative, now very liberal, good little Catholic girl ended up in a huge protestant church to hear a parishless Lutheran minister talk about sex.

My life, man.

In her talk, she discussed a lot about how the idea of purity and purity rings actually does damage where loving instruction was intended.

In her talk, she discussed a lot about how the idea of purity and purity rings actually does damage where loving instruction was intended.

The experience itself—part prayer, part sermon, and part guest lecture—was short compared to the amount of anticipation that Sarah and I had put into the event. It lasted about two hours, about twenty minutes of which Sarah missed because grades at her public high school were due that day. (Oh, the joys of teaching!) It began with the church pastor introducing and welcoming Nadia, then with Nadia giving a brief overview of what was to come. She must have known she had a number of liturgists in the room—people who love knowing what is happening next.

Nadia began talking about her failed marriage (she divorced her husband—“the best guy in the world”—a couple years ago), her current relationship, and what caused her to write the book in the first place. Then, acknowledging that her book, written about her own experiences and those of her former parishioners at the House of Sinners and Saints in Colorado, was limited in the narratives that were given voice through it, she invited her friend, minister and coach Rozella White, to speak. Rozella made some excellent points and then the two sat down in the presiders chairs and had a conversation.

There’s not a lot of point in me writing about the content of the talk—I think it’s best to simply implore you to read Nadia’s book. But as a basic introduction, Nadia wrote about the impact that the Church’s (meaning all of Christianity) teaching on sexuality, largely focusing on abstinence in the case of singleness and procreative sex in the case of marriage, has had on the people of the Church. Just as articles have been discussing and studies have shown for the last decade, Nadia expressed her concern and showed evidence that many young people are finding it impossible to practice intimacy without feeling dirty, even in the confines of marriage. Then, of course, she acknowledged all those whose experiences, identities, and desires that are apart from the Church’s teaching and the ways in which those experiences could still coincide with the life of a follower of Christ. Essentially, she is calling for a reformation of the way that the Church deals with sex, leading to a new ethic. The talk introduced me to the term sexual stewardship and made me think as we discussed the differences between purity (separation from) and holiness (connection to).

Connection was another of the themes of the night—all types of connection and the role that plays in holiness.

Connection was another of the themes of the night—all types of connection and the role that plays in holiness.

One comment that Nadia made that really hit home to me was about the role of childless adult women, whether by choice or not. She said that there is powerful work in the world that can only really be done by childless adult women whose lives are not put on hold raising their own kids for two decades. She called for this role to be made into an honored place rather than a space of shame within the Church. (Of course, the Catholic in me could only think about my nuns and their childless spiritual mothering!)

All in all, it was a spiritual exfoliation (another of her terms) and a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the role of shame in my own life. I plan to read the book soon—I always read Nadia’s books via audiobook because she is such an excellent narrator—and will write a reflection then with more information about the book’s contents. For now, thanks for reading. Comment and share how the Church’s teachings on sexuality and gender have impacted you.

Goal Check In--43 days into 2019

I can’t believe it’s already February.

We’re 43 days into 2019 and I feel like I’m already falling behind on my goals. Moving has been hard since my back is messed up. I’m seeing a chiropractor tomorrow, so hopefully that will make it possible for me to catch up on my walking goals. Texan bureaucracy is slowing down my name change paperwork (what millennial keeps a copy of their birth certificate?) and the sheer amount of time I spend asleep (even though I’m supposedly better from the mono…) is killing my writing game. The goals I made for the first quarter aren’t even close to done.

First Quarter Goals (due by March 31):

  • Defend Prospectus

  • Complete Chapter 1

  • LLC Formed (this definitely isn’t going to happen this quarter)

  • Finish Life Coaching Certification

  • Complete a Lenten Spending Fast (this one will go into the beginning of quarter 2)

  • Get my TX License

  • Name change paperwork

  • Get another TX license with the proper name

  • Get my passport with my new name

  • Interview Dad

  • Get my tattoo

  • Birthday Celebration

  • Galentines

  • Spring Equinox.

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So far I have the tattoo (photo above), have celebrated my birthday and galentines, and have shown up to the DMV only to be told I didn’t have the right forms of id (see above comment about birth certificates). My prospectus is almost done, I think, though really are prospecti ever done? Who knows anymore. I feel like I’m stuck in a timeloop with my research and I’ll never get out.

At least my hair is purple again.

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How are you doing on your 2019 goals?

Turning 30 Part I: New Decade, New Name, Same Girl

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This past week was my 30th Birthday. Now, I know the drill. Women are supposed to freak the eff out about their 30th because we’re old or whatever. But if 60 is the new 40, then 30 is the new teenager, right?

To be honest, I am so excited for this new decade. My twenties were a shit show to say the least, but I know that my third decade is going to rock.

My 30th Birthday is a big fucking deal for a couple reasons:

  1. Until about a month and a half ago, I was seriously suicidal. I hadn’t gone more than a couple days without obsessively wanting to die for two years—since the big breakup.

  2. During the aftermath of the aforementioned breakup on my 28th birthday, C made the suggestion that the world would be better without me in it. And you know what, I’m still here.

So, in celebration of the fact that I’m still here, I made a huge deal about this birthday. Like seriously, I was the most extra person that I can imagine. And that’s so awesome.

My thirtieth birthday and the year following are all about reclamation for me. Reclaiming my birthday, reclaiming my joy, reclaiming my life. It’s also all about defining and openness: defining who I am, defining what I want to be, openness to the changes that are coming. I’m trying to take on this next decade with intentionality and openness and I’m so grateful for the friends who are already helping me make this possible.

But the reason for this post is not just that. One thing I’m doing—the biggest thing I’m doing—to celebrate my 30th is to give myself a gift—something that I’ve wanted for a long time.

As a part of this process of reclaiming my life, I’m giving myself a new name.

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There is power in a name. In different cultures around the world the act of naming a child is considered sacred. The word chosen for the name and the meaning behind the word are meant to imbue that being with those characteristics.

As a writer, scholar, and recovering philologist, the importance of words in my life cannot be overestimated. My life is dedicated to teaching others how to put words in different orders to communicate more clearly with those around them. I write about words, what they mean in certain orders, how that impacts the world. My faith even involves calling God ο λογος, “the Word.” I’m kind of a word person.

I am blessed to be part of two separate communities that value names as I do. In these communities, names are not just identity markers. The act of re-naming is also connected to taking on a new life. I think of my friends who have become priests or sisters, my friends who are non-binary or transitioning. They each took on these new names at important parts in their lives, showing that this new name symbolizes not only their identity but their choice to make a change, a commitment, a new life.

I’m taking on a new life. It might not involve any vows, but I’m making a promise to myself to love myself, to value myself, and to honor myself. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to be honest about who I am, to be authentic and real, to not hide behind my relation to other people. To be known not just as an aunt, a friend, a daughter, but as me—a unique human being with a name that symbolizes who I am and who I want to be.

This isn’t a decision I’ve made suddenly, or without a great deal of thought, or without talking with people I admire and trust. I’ve thought about changing my name since I was a teenager. I have never connected with Kaitlyn. I don’t hate it, it’s just not a name that suits me. I have made peace with Kait for quite a while, but still it’s not me.

The name I have chosen is Aurelia. It’s Latin for “gold.” It was my name in Latin class when I was in high school, so I’m already comfortable with it. Aurelia is a reminder to myself that I have intrinsic value—as scripture would say, we are worth more than finest gold (Is 13:12). I’ve struggled to feel any value in myself for a long time, especially since what happened with C. By calling myself Aurelia, I am reminding myself that I am rare, beautiful, and valuable—regardless of anything else. Gold makes me think also of the sun—of something bright, vibrant, shining. I want to be those things.

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The nickname I’ve chosen and that a few close friends are already using for me is Ari. This is a common Jewish name and I love the meaning. It’s Hebrew for lion, old Norse for eagle, and Armenian for brave. I think that all those are qualities I want to embody. And it’s a mostly vowel-based name with only two syllables and super easy to pronounce and remember. Three letters. You can write them on your hand if you can’t remember them at first.

Now, for personal reasons that I don’t want to talk about publicly, I’ve made the decision to change my middle and last names along with my first. I’m happy to talk about this privately, but it’s a decision that I’ve made after a great deal of thought, prayer, and meditation.

For my middle name, I am taking my mother’s middle name, Ann. St. Anne is the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus—a woman who I have always felt closer to than her daughter. Ann is also a form of the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning favor or grace. Hannah is also the first name of my childhood best friend and the last name of my dear friend, Corbin. So, to honor my mother, keep a powerful saint close, and connect with my two best friends—my name is Aurelia Ann.

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

For my last name, I am taking my paternal-paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, VonTress (some family stories say Tress, some say VonTress). This name still connects me to my family and honors my connection with my father. It reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of my dad, no student will ever come up with an inappropriate joke using it, and it sounds good after Doctor. It still shows that I belong to my family and, despite my desire otherwise, it still keeps me at the end of the alphabet.

I know this might seem selfish or confusing and I’m sorry if that is the case. I know some people might refuse to use my name, although I hope not. I know some will struggle to remember it at first and that’s okay. I know my true friends would never mean to hurt me by using the wrong name. I hope that everyone will accept this and embrace it as my choice to honor my individuality, my sacredness as a person with the right to define myself.

So, this is it, friends—my new name: Aurelia “Ari” Ann VonTress. Nice to meet you.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

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Welcome to 2019. It’s only 9 days old, but let me tell you: I’m already loving it so much more than the three years before.

New Year’s Eve has been a time of grief for me these last two years. It was on NYE 2016 that my world turned upside down and NYD 2017 that by best friends abandoned me. So, it’s not really surprising that, given the meaning of New Year’s for me and the fact that I had gotten a little off on my med schedule, I had a minor breakdown this year on NYE. My poor mother was terrified, but I knew that I was really fine. I was crying and shaking, but I knew that this wasn’t me, it was a disease that I hadn’t properly worked with for a couple days. I fell asleep around 8 or 9, knowing that sleep would bring the stability that my limited neuro-transmitters couldn’t provide. When I woke up around 3am on January 1, I celebrated by myself the beginning year that I have decided will be my year.

I think it’s kind of fitting, this less than auspicious beginning to 2019 because I think it’s the story that I’m going to tell myself over and over this year. This disease is not me. This trauma is not me. I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m held in the palm of His hand.

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Every year I choose a word for the year. To be honest, as a general practice, I’ve failed at embracing my word in the past. 2017 was obedience and trust, but I failed to obey or trust or even want to be alive at all that year. 2018 was focus, but my main focus became getting well and healing from not one, but two bouts of mono. I tried, but failed. This year will be different, I can tell already. My word is BE and I’ve chosen three subwords: RECLAIMED, TRANFORMED, and CONSISTENT. I’m reclaiming all those pieces of me that I lost during the break up from hell. I’m reclaiming hobbies, friendships, and dreams that I lost. I’m transforming them and my life into the life I want—my best life. The really hard part, the part I’m scared of and know I will struggle with daily, is being consistent. I struggle with consistency, mostly because of my illnesses mentioned above. I want to be a consistent teacher, grader, blogger, artist, friend, etc., but it’s hard. It requires rest and time management and energy. But I know I can do it. I have an accountability system that will hold me to it. (Love you, chicas.)

I have a long list of goals for the year, mostly the same goals from my 30 by 30, which I’ve decided is really 30 by the end of 30, not the beginning, because who knew a year ago that I would have mono? Not me. I’ll probably share some of those goals later this year, but for now I’m focusing on my words.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

What are your words for 2019?

#meandwhitesupremacy Part III: Days 5-8

I definitely fell behind on this—but not because I don’t want to do the work. I have a lot of things in the air right now. I realize that might sound like white privilege and maybe it is, but my work right now is literally in exchange for housing and my boss has asked me to focus more, so…

I am including here Layla Saad’s prompts because I think that it helps contextualize for readers who aren’t looking at her Instagram challenge.

Anways, here’s what I’m thinking through today…

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Day 5: You and White Superiority

Layla Saad’s Prompt:

Superior: higher in rank, status, or quality.
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White supremacy stems from this erroneous and violent idea that people with white skin and more superior to people with brown or black skin. The most extreme manifestations of this are the KKK, Neo-Nazis and right-wing nationalism. However, you don’t have to buy into this extreme ideology to harbour thoughts of white superiority. In fact, you can consider yourself one of the most progressive, liberal, we-are-all-one, peace loving white people and still at subconscious levels believe in white superiority.
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Don’t believe me? Here’s some ways that it shows up: Tone Policing BIPOC and thinking we should express ourselves the way you or other white people do (whether talking about racism online or protesting racism in the streets, etc.). Subscribing to and elevating European standards of beauty. Believing AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is ‘ghetto’, and thinking the ‘proper’ way to talk is the way you and other white people talk. Primarily buying from and working with white entrepreneurs and service providers. Primarily reading books by white authors. Primarily learning from and supporting white leaders. Primarily staying on the ‘white’ side of town. Only sharing the work and words of BIPOC if you think it won’t offend or upset the other white people in your communities. Holding the expectation that BIPOC should ‘serve’ you by providing free emotional labour around racism. Believing in subtle and overt ways that you are smarter, more valuable, more capable, wiser, more sophisticated, more beautiful, more ‘articulate’, more spiritual, more you name it... than BIPOC.
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Get honest and dig deep: what have you learnt about You & White Superiority. In what ways have you consciously or subconsciously believed that you are better than BIPOC? Don’t hide from this. This is the crux of White Supremacy. Own it.

 My response:

I think that one thing that comes to mind for me after reading Saad’s post is the friction between what I know in my heart about non-standard English vernaculars and my work as a professor teaching and grading according to SAE. I especially experience this with non-Spanish speakers. I grew up hearing Spanglish and German-English, so the varied vernaculars around those cultures seem natural to me, but AAVE and others are sometimes easy to dismiss. I am recovering from decades of grammar policing and still sometimes struggle with that habit.

I know that there are other ways—things that might seem small, but are really toxic to my being—that I support white superiority. These days I am often surrounded by white people, or those passing as white who have embraced some/many white ideas. I don’t consciously believe whiteness is superior, but I do fall into the Western Civilization trap—mostly because it was ingrained in me after so many years of education and my time at UD. For instance, I can quote Socrates and Plato and even read the original Greek, but know almost nothing about Taoism. Because of this, I’m afraid I sometimes exoticize non-whiteness—being fascinated by other cultures, beauty standards, and philosophies. I worry about how I consume POC literature and theory because I want to be sure I’m not appropriating or fetishizing it. It’s a constant struggle and balance.

I know that when I was younger, I was raised in a culture that very much embraced white superiority, even if they denied it. There was an entire part of our culture around judging how others spoke, dressed, etc., while simultaneously picking and choosing pieces of their culture to “praise” as if that made us not racist. I remember how fascinated I was by the formerly Nigerian students and professors from the university who attended my church and wore brightly colored wraps and how one family member constantly emulated African American style while being incredibly (and unintentionally) racist in her actions and words.

I could go on and talk about the darker things that I saw in my family (and note—how we use “dark” in language to mean “bad”—I should work on my usage of that), but this is about me, not them.

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Day 6: You and White Exceptionalism

f you’ve reached this far in the challenge you’ll begin to notice a pattern. All of these themes weave in and out of each other, interlocking and interconnected. That is the sticky web of white supremacy. It’s not just binary black or white you either ARE a racist, or you AREN’T. Rather, it is these multilayered behaviours and beliefs that make up your white supremacist world view. Your internalised racism is part and parcel with your view of both the world and yourself. These prompt questions are helping you to become aware of that.
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Today’s topic weaves in with yesterday’s one. White Exceptionalism. White exceptionalism has shown up every time you saw one of the prompt questions and thought ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘That doesn’t apply to me’. White exceptionalism is what convinces you that you don’t *really* need to do the work. That you don’t have to show up here and add your comments - that you can just do it in your journal or think about it in your mind. That you’re somehow special, exempt, above this, past this. That white supremacy is what those ‘other white people’ do, but not you. White exceptionalism is the belief that because you’ve read some books on this topic and follow some BIPOC, you know it all and don’t need to dig deeper. White exceptionalism is the hurt ‘not all white people!’ response when BIPOC talk about white people’s behaviour. White Exceptionalism goes hand in hand with White Superority: I’m special. I’ve already read about this. I’ve already spoken on this. I’m one of the ‘good ones’. I’ve already shown I’m an ally. So I don’t need to keep going any deeper. White exceptionalism is particularly rampant in progressive, liberal, spiritual white people because there is a belief that being these things makes you exempt or above it all. You’re not. And the belief that you are makes you dangerous to BIPOC because you can’t see your own complicity. .
What have you learnt about You & White Exceptionalism? In what ways have or do you believe you are exceptional, exempt, one of the ‘good ones’ or above this? In what ways have you believed you are the exception to the rule?

Oh geez, have I had to deal with this. I posted about this challenge in a facebook group and nearly got my head bitten off by white people and their exceptionalism. And I realize that, while being frustrated by them, I’m exactly the same sometimes. 

I love that Saad calls out “progressive, liberal, spiritual white people,” because I think that we are (yes, we) so bad about this. I see it in my groups all the time—even sometimes in my closest, most beloved friends. And I know that if they’re doing it, I am too. White exceptionalism is when we think we can culturally appropriate because “oh, we’re friends with people of x culture, so it’s okay.” Or, my personal favorite, “oh, I can say that because I’m 1/200th Native American” (which by the way, isn’t a thing—and as someone who is a very tiny bit Cherokee, I’m telling you, no, that doesn’t mean we can be racist assholes). White exceptionalism is also when we include Western canon in education as the main, required, core classes and then have a side class for “Asian History.” (Asia is a continent—not a country, by the way, and so is Africa.)

I think that I, and everyone else who Saad is describing, need to slow down a little on the judging others and calling everyone a Nazi (not a lot, but a little) and look at ourselves first. We can’t fix things when we’re part of the problem. That just makes the problem bigger.

I am complicit. I am part of the problem. I must become better than I am.

To quote my beloved sisters’ litany of non-violence: “Acknowledging [my] complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence, [I] beg the grace of a non-violent heart.”

May we all have this grace imparted to us.

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Day 7: What have you learnt so far about You and White Supremacy

On Day 7 we don’t rest. Because BIPOC don’t get to rest from (your) white supremacy. But we do reflect. This is not a break. Consider it a breather. Because a lot has been brought to the surface over the last 6 days and it’s important to step back, take stock of what you’ve learnt so far and integrate so that you can continue through the rest of the challenge.
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If you’ve been honest with yourself and digging deep during this challenge, then a lot of things should have come to the surface that you weren’t consciously aware of that you are now reflecting on. For today, share what you have learnt so far about You & White Supremacy. What have you begun to see and understand about your personal complicity in white supremacy that you were not able to see or understand before you begun this challenge? Again, we’re not looking for the happy ending, the teachable moment or the pretty bow at the end of all the learning. We’re also not looking for White Tears, dramatic admissions of guilt or becoming so frozen with shame that you can’t move forward. The aim of this work is not self-loathing. The aim of this work is Truth: seeing it, owning it and figuring out what to do with it. This is life long work. Avoid the shortcuts and be suspicious of the easy answers. Avoid the breaking down into White Fragility. Question yourself when you think you’ve finally figured it out. Simply take a moment to recall and find the patterns behind all that you have learnt so far about how you perpetuate white supremacy and then sit in it. Let these understandings work on you and through you. What have you learnt so far?

A lot of what I’ve been looking at and analyzing in this process is not something new, but rather the things that I already know about myself and try to ignore. That’s what is really at the heart of this work, I think, at least for me. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m not giving this enough of myself.

I was raised around racism that denied that it was racist. I was raised in a Church that, while I still love and am part of it, was a tool of colonialism and which still struggles with racism still, even though the majority of Catholics in the world today are not white. When I prioritize colonialism, westernism, Europeanism, etc. over other modes, thoughts, ideas, identities, etc., I am perpetuating white supremacy. I struggle with this constantly and have quite a bit of privilege as I do so. I’m hoping that in continuing this challenge, I will continue to grow.

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Day 8: What have you learned about You and Seeing Color?

“I’m not racist. I don’t see colour.”
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If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard progressive, spiritual, liberal white privileged people say they ‘don’t see colour’ when they’ve been accused of being racist... Except I wouldn’t want those dollars because this statement, ‘I don’t see colour’, is violent. It is violent because it says, I don’t see you for who you are. I’m choosing to ignore your skin colour, your hair pattern, your accent or other languages, your cultural practices and spiritual traditions. I’m choosing to erase all of the important parts of your identity that make you who you are. It is violent because it erases the identities of BIPOC, thereby also erasing our lived experiences with racism. It minimises these experiences. And it asks BIPOC to minimise these experiences too. It asks BIPOC to act as if the world is set up that way - as if institutional racism and prejudice don’t exist. It is also a form of gaslighting because it simply isn’t true. You do see colour. You’re choosing to pretend you don’t so that you don’t have to face the elephant in the room - your white privilege and your complicity in white supremacy. .
Are you someone who has used or thought this statement? Are you someone who has used the idea that ‘there is only one race - the human race’ to gaslight, minimise, erase, ignore and harm BIPOC? Have you wanted BIPOC to stop talking about race using this statement? Have you said or thought that racism only exists if we keep talking about races? Have you cringed or become frustrated anytime a BIPOC has used the term ‘white people’? Have you felt that it was racist or divisive to keep talking about white people? Have you thought they were talking about the actual colour of your skin and thought ‘reverse racism’? Have you wished we could just stop talking about race? And what mental gymnastics have you done to avoid seeing your own race (and what your white race has collectively done to BIPOC)? What have you learnt about You & Seeing Colour?

Color-blindness is such bullshit (in terms of race and ethnic identity—actually being colorblind is a whole different matter, don’t want to sound ableist). By being color-blind, you’re not only belittling diverse ethnic identities, but also assuming that difference is bad. It’s not. It’s what makes life wonderful. Let’s be real: without people of other ethnic backgrounds, we would only be eating bland white-grey food like the British and as a fat girl, I can embrace the glory of other cultures allowing us to learn about actual edible food from them. Sorry, not sorry.

I think that when I was younger, I may have been swayed by the color-blind bullshit for a hot minute, but it didn’t last long. It didn’t make any sense. Of course people are different and come from different backgrounds. But maybe as a white farm girl who frequently heard German and Spanish in my family members’ houses and who went to school with significantly wealthier city kids with families more stable than my own, I knew difference in a different way. Plus, I’m neuro-different and am constantly being told to change my entire identity to fit in with a world that wants everyone to fill a certain mold. I think that my own experiences helped me to see that color-blindness was bullshit, even if I didn’t always realize it was racist. On the flip side, I definitely have been guilty of expecting others to assimilate to the culture that seemed predominant (I got rid of my accent, why can’t they?), but I realized a long time ago that forced-assimilation is just a different way of committing genocide.

As for getting upset about people talking about “white people,” hell no. If I’ve got 99 problems, 100% are probably caused by some sort of colonial white-people bullshit, from the neurotypical superiority complex I’m constantly facing to the American hard-on for consuming and disposing of so much trash that our planet is starting to resemble a dumpster. Sure, talking about race is complicated, but I think we’ve been ignoring the elephant in the room long enough in America. As a white Catholic, I can look at the last 2000 years of history and find only maybe like 5 times something really awful happened on a wide-scale that wasn’t caused by someone who is closely connected to my own identity. That’s rough and it could easily lead to some self-hatred, but it is what it is and neither wallowing in it nor being defensive will fix the problem. Plus, the great thing about being descended from a whole lot of ignorant, violent people? It could be so easy for me (and us as a whole culture) to be infinitely better than my (our) predecessors. So, let’s fix this problem instead of ignoring it through color-blindness or any other bullshit “politeness.” Step 1: Confront how I am complicit in white supremacy.

I’m working on it--and thank you to Layla Saad for inviting me to work on it in an intentional way, creating the space, and performing the work of providing questions.

Life Update III: Back to the Woods

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A few weeks ago now, I was blessed with the opportunity to go home to my Woods.

If you’ve been following me since before the big breakup, you know that I am very close with a group of Roman Catholic Women’s Religious, also known as Sisters (not nuns! Look up the difference!): the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, located just outside of Terre Haute, Indiana. I have discerned with them, become an associate in the Providence Associate relationship program, lived in their novitiate house for many weekends, led retreats to their motherhouse in hopes of bringing more people to the woods, and even spent my MA comps summer working at their White Violet Center for Eco Justice. When I lived in Indiana, I would make trips to the Woods fairly frequently, but even during my first three years in Texas I made it home 1-2x per year. My trips to the Woods, along with most of the things I treasured in my life, were impacted and temporarily put on pause after the breakup and breakdown and my life falling apart.

I promised myself in the midst of the worst part of my depression last year that this year I would get home to my sisters for our annual meeting no matter what. My sisters and their love and prayers were a huge part of my recovery. My love for them was a huge part of my staying alive. I knew that I needed to get home as soon as possible and I’m so grateful it actually happened. That I ended up spending this summer in Cincinnati—only three hours from my beloved woods instead of the 14 from Texas—was purely Providential. That this year we received enough donations for the PAs to offer a scholarship for associates to come home was also Providential and a huge blessing, as I could never have come home without it. Gary’s becoming a service dog sealed the deal because I knew with him, I could make it through if things became painful or triggering, given that my last two trips home were with her.

When I drove onto campus, I felt a combination of relief and anxiety, thinking about the fact that some of these people had seen the darkest part of my breakdown take place. Yet, as soon as I walked into La Fer hall and ran right into my friend, Mel, everything but joy emptied itself from my body. Pure, complete joy. I went through the check in process, greeted by my dear Peggy, and took my stuff up to my room after chatting with even more friends. It was in some ways like I had never left and in other ways like I had been gone for a millenia. It was strange to see my friends with more grey in their hair, and sad to note the absence of dear ones whose celebrations of life I had missed when so far away. But overall, I was hit over and over with waves of relief, contentment, and love. I was truly home.

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Over the weekend, I got to spend time with people very dear to me, though not enough time to be sure. I ended up sleeping through almost every social event, my body suddenly so relaxed and my mind so at peace that I could sleep in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. I missed out on spending time with my closest, dearest sisters because they were busy and I was busy and sleeping and overwhelmed. But still, the peace at being in meetings and looking around and seeing so many people I love so much—it’s something I haven’t had in a long time. Lately in Denton I’ve been surrounded by so much toxicity that this space of love and generosity and non-violence was just so much sweeter than I even remembered. During my time there, I suddenly felt more myself, more alive, and more happy than I have since January 1, 2017. It was a pure gift.

It’s only been a few weeks since my weekend at the woods, but it already feels like a lifetime. There’s a lot of work to do here in Ohio and I’m behind—simply because there really was never enough time to begin with. I’m blessed with a compassionate community of support here—the wonderful doctor, my dear roommate, and several kind and loving patients and workers that I spend time with at the office. The work I’m doing here is complicated—there is the literal work I’m doing for Doc, then there is the physical work being done to my body both through treatments and my (often failing) own job of being active and eating clean. Then, there is the much harder work of my emotional-mental-spiritual-self work, including using new techniques for processing false beliefs. In addition, I’m working on growing my Etsy shop, in the process of starting my own LLC, taking classes to become a life coach, and researching for my dissertation. Life is full and complicated and the ongoing transition that my body and soul are experiencing causes some discomfort and anxiety. But I’m okay and I’m surrounded by love—both from the people here and my sisters and fellow associates at the Woods. For right now, that is more than enough.

Life Update Part II: What on earth am I doing in Ohio?

A unique view of my new home. Photo by  Jake Blucker  on  Unsplash

A unique view of my new home. Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Most people following me on social media are aware that last fall, I made a pretty good friend: Minadora. So, Minadora is now a second year poetry PhD (shameless plug: please buy her book and support an amazing poet AND an amazing small press) whose beagle, Aki, has shown up in many of Gary’s Facebook and Instagram updates. She is a kind, generous, patient human who, like me, is a total homebody who simultaneously appreciates the presence of another human. So, to save money (both in terms of rent and in terms of gas spent driving between the two apartments), we decided to get an apartment together. I’m excited to have a roommate again and to have a much larger space. The constant presence of #akiwiththebeaglenose and his wonderful slobbery kisses is the icing on the cake.

So, a little while after we became friends, Minadora’s dad, who is a fascinating human everyone should know, came to visit for her birthday. We spent a lot of time together and, by some strange miracle, he decided that he liked me (and I him—he’s a very kind, fatherly, gentle human and his daughter is a lot like him). Over Christmas break when Minadora was home, she happened to mention to her dad that I am an (aspiring) professional organizer (among my many other pursuits) and he offered to have me come stay with him and work for him in exchange for housing and food and (because he is a very skilled doctor) medical treatment.

If this sounds like too good to be true, it’s really not. I mean it’s good, but also true.  I’m in Ohio living with Minadora and her dad (who I call Doc), cataloguing some collections and helping him organize in exchange for free housing, amazing food, gentle, fatherly affection, and medical treatment for my PCOS/PTSD/etc. Gary is obsessed with Doc and adores him. I am enjoying spending time with my friend, being away from Texas, and meeting her friends and family. Also, being in Ohio has put me much closer to the Woods (that’s the next update) and several Butler-era friends. In fact, I am writing this right now from the home of one of my close friends from Butler who asked me to watch her doggos while she and her mom are on a trip.

There is really no question about who is getting the best end of this working for Doc deal and it’s me. I hope that I’m able to do everything he needs because I’m so grateful for the help he’s giving me. I’m losing weight, my body and mind are more stable than they’ve been in a long time, and I’m working through a lot of the things I need to work through. I’m really blessed to be here.

A note: I’ve been extremely blessed in the last year or so to really find out who my friends are. Minadora is only one of them. I have an amazing group of humans who offer support and love. I’m so grateful.

Update Part I: A Quick Summary of Last Semester

Photo by  Zoltan Tasi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

So, it’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on my life. There are a lot of reasons for that, so here is my very brief and not-too-positive explanation of like late November through May:

Life update: Towards the end of the fall semester, I was called into the department office because a parent had complained about the number of classes I had cancelled. While it was absolutely ILLEGAL for my supervisors to even read an email from a student’s parent, I got chewed out, was told they weren’t getting their money’s worth out of me, etc. I reminded them that I have a serious chronic illness, for which I have ODA accommodation. I was told that our department did not accommodate disabilities other than pregnancy. For those of you who know anything at all about the ADA, you know that was a lawsuit waiting to happen. I then spent the next like four months dealing with HR and my chair and a constant feeling of doom hanging over me because I was afraid of being fired for something over which I have no control. The fact that almost every close friend and mentor I had was encouraging me to sue my department didn’t help my mindset at all.

To make matters worse, at the end of February, I started feeling like my medication wasn’t working. I was constantly exhausted, oversleeping, felt weak and achy. I went to my doctor asking for a med adjustment, but when I described my symptoms she got a funny look on her face and ran some blood tests. It turns out that sometimes those things are symptoms of actual disease and I had mononucleosis. Apparently there was a serious outbreak of mono on campus and it’s a lot more contagious than we were led to believe in high school (less “kissing disease” more “touched the same doorknob and now you’re dying” disease). Excellent. Just what I needed for my first semester teaching three classes instead of two.

Between teaching three different preps (Comp 2, Tech Comm, and Ethnic Lit (!)) and constantly feeling like I was dying, it was a rough time for sure. To add insult to injury I had the first ever student who I genuinely could not stand. You know me, I love my students. I’ve had difficult kiddos before who I’ve dealt with patiently, but this one just took the cake. Between him and the disability situation, I met with HR way more than any one person should have to in a semester—much less a person semi-dying of mono for four months. 

Research update: As a result of the general feel of the semester, when my prospectus defense was cancelled because a committee member refused to sign off on it, I sort of gave up for a while. In all honesty, I’m excited about the opportunity to do something else—I just don’t know what. And with all the awful that I was dealing with, I spent most of the semester contemplating dropping out at the end of it. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but now here I am mid-summer still looking towards the fall with a mix of confusion and frustration. Sing to me, O Muse, of something I can write about!

So, that’s my very quick summary. I’ll write another soon and explain what’s going on now and where I am. Here’s a spoiler: I’m in Ohio.

#MeAndWhiteSupremacy Part I: Intro and Day 1

Check out Layla Saad’s #meandwhitesupremacy 28 Day Challenge

I heard about this challenge a few days into it from my friend, Sharyn Holmes. It took me a few minutes to find the original post explaining the challenge, but once I found it, I knew I needed to participate. It’s so important in today’s world to do this work. I can’t ignore it. I think I need to work through this and I imagine my colleagues do as well…

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Link Love for a Rough Week: The Last Week in March and Holy Week

Every week, I curate a list of the best links and articles to make you think and keep you informed. Enjoy!

Every week, I curate a list of the best links and articles to make you think and keep you informed. Enjoy!

Thoughts on this week:

Want to know why it's a rough week? Well, mostly because I'm still struggling with Mono and it's been a month. I'm exhausted and tired and achy and... you get the picture. Plus so behind on research, writing, and grading that I don't know what I'll do! 

What I’m Reading in real life: Honestly, as much as it shames an English professor, I'm not. Blogs, I guess? Books I'm preparing to teach? 

What I’m watching: I'm super addicted to vloggers right now, particularly Rowena Tsai and Kalyn Nicholson.

What I’m listening to: The Audiobook Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Webber. I adore her and love her voice. If you're a Christian who isn't following her, you're missing out. 

What else I’m digging: 

  • Puppy Snuggles: Obvs. 
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  • My Lavender Hair: Because I am a badass. 
  • Instacart and Uber Eats: Although it's been rough for my banking account, I would not have made it through Mono without being able to have groceries and food delivered. Once I get home, only Gary or Aki the Beagle will get me out of my apartment. 
  • Audiobooks on Audible: I finally broke down and signed up for Audible because I realized I was getting depressed from not reading book-length texts. I started with this amazing book, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero--which I have since purchased for three of my bffs and will probably be giving it to more people soon.  

 

What I read this week:

My favorite post: Why a conservative from Texas up and joined a labor union... (The Fire Within): My dear friend, Steph, tells it like it is. And let me tell you, this girl is one of my heroes. When she speaks (or writes), everyone should listen. 

Runner up for favorite: Go Ahead, Millennials, Destroy Us (NYT): Reading this the first time, I almost cried. Thank you, Mr. Kreider, for seeing the power of this generation. 

By Category:

Religion and Spirituality:

  • Women of Color Only: A Lenten Practice (Sojourners): Honestly, I wish I had paid attention to this at the beginning of Lent. But I think this is wonderful and the list includes so many texts I already love. I'm going to be checking out those podcasts, though. 

Social Justice: 

  • Blacks Were Enslaved Well into the 1960s (Vice): While I wasn't necessarily surprised when my friend told me about this article, after reading it I was devestated. I think that everyone should be aware that this continued to happen in the U.S. so late into the 20th Century and, quite honestly, still happens today. 

  • Japan’s Prisons Are a Haven for Elderly Women (Bloomberg): On one side, I totally get this. I think that if I were an older, single woman, I would far prefer prison life to being along, probably dying in a one-room apartment only to be found when I didn't show up to class (this is legit my life fear). But on the other hand WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR SOCIETY THAT THE ELDERLY ARE THIS FUCKING LONELY?

Reading and Bibliophilia:

Writing:

Life in General:

Success:

  • This Is How To “Work Smarter Not Harder”: 3 Secrets From Research (Barking Up the Wrong Tree): I have to admit that this article challenges me. I'm one of those people with like 10 different projects going at once and three side hustles in addition to a full time job and being a PhD student. So, of course when I read that I should "do less, then obsess" over what's left, I definitely thought "no way!" But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this author, and the many people he cites, are right. Focus is my word for 2018 and this article is definitely going to challenge me to follow through. 

  • The 6 Steps to Turning Setbacks Into Advantages (NYT): Working on it. 

Supporting Diversity and Representation: 

Art and Other Pretty Things:

Academia, Education, and Teaching: 

  • Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students (Inside Higher Ed): As a current grad student, mental health patient, and trauma survivor, I can tell you--this is real. Of the people who have come through my graduate program during my four years here, only one that I know of hasn't been on anti-depressants, anti-anx, or both--and he needed them. The rates of mental health and suicide among graduate students are too high and the support from departments are non-existent (I say as someone currently meeting with HR about abuses in my department). This needs to be fixed!

  •  Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be teachers (Andre Wheller): THIS IS SO TRUE. We need to prioritize educators--but this person forgets the more important and more abused contingent faculty at the University level. 

Environmentalism, Farming, Food, Health, and Nutrition:

Parenting: 

Coffee Shop Check-In

Photo by  wu yi  on  Unsplash

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

I can’t believe it’s February already. When I told my kids (and by that, I mean the college students I teach) that the year was 1/12th over, they all groaned. It’s like they don’t recognize the passing of time in the same way. They’re anxious already for Spring Break to come. I would prefer that it stayed away. There isn’t enough time in a day for all the work I need to do

My days are packed right now, with lesson prep, grading, reading, designing stickers (have you checked out my etsy shop yet), snuggling Gary, and spending time with friends. Research and writing are crammed into the moments that I can spare from my students and social circle. How on earth does a human finish a dissertation? I watched my friend, H, one of the best humans I know, finish hers somehow while also being an extraordinary professor, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. I have decided she must have some sort of superpowers or Hermoine-like ability to stop/turn back time. I can’t accomplish half of what she does and I don’t have a child, spouse, or family locally to take care of.

I spend most of my time at a local coffee shop here in Denton that is run by volunteers. It’s my perfect place: big tables, kind and friendly staff, and my money is going towards something that I can support (a home that helps men overcome addiction and get back on their feet). Gary and I have befriended other regulars who often come up to us and say hello, check in, and are generally good people. If my beloved Jupiter House ever reopens, it will take a while to readjust—the setting is so different. But both allow me to accomplish far more than I can at home or in my office. Here, there are no dishes to distract, no craft projects to tempt me. I am anonymous and can function without the anxiety that comes from being in an office filled with people whose primary way of coping with the anxieties of the PhD is to gossip about each other.

There are some difficulties in working here. I can be distracted by cute children, observing awkward first dates, and people who, upon realizing that I have a service dog, generally look and point and talk about how cute he is (they’re right, he is). But, overall, coffee shops are my new houses of productivity. Plus, they have coffee.

The new semester has presented new challenges, but also has allowed me to embrace new adventures. I’m teaching my first technical communication class, which has my class schedule even more full. I honestly don’t think that teaching three classes is any worse than teaching two, especially given the nature of the course. It’s a lot of learning new genres of writing and styles of teaching. I took it on because I needed money and sold it to others as a “good learning experience,” but honestly, it’s turned out to be just a lot of fun.

Teaching Ethnic Literature has been by far the most rewarding part of the semester. I am excited to go to class each Wednesday night and talk about things that matter to me with my kiddos. At the request of my last literature class, I have changed up my curriculum design so that the conversation is more guided by me and less by them. It’s more work, but I think they might be learning more. Plus, it’s so much fun thinking about what we can discuss in each of my favored texts.

 

Teaching comp is about the same as always. I have another good class of kids who could probably use a grammar class before comp to give them confidence and knowledge they missed out on in the test-driven education system, but instead I’m just going to have to help them gain that confidence myself. I’m one of the few people I know who genuinely loves teaching comp. It’s fun to talk about writing and help students gain confidence in their writing. The theme for this year is talking about writing through the lens of race and we are preparing for a visit from Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout, in March.

Anyways, I just thought it was about time for a life update. There is more to come this week, so come back and check in!