Autumnal Reveries

I’ve felt restless this month, caught between one thing and another, going here and there, completing work, finding new tasks, never quite feeling done. It is a month of muchness: three days of parent-student-teacher conferences and four consecutive weeks of assessment after assessment to read and mark. October is that time of the school year, when we come into our own as students and teachers, reaching into potential more deeply than we did when the leaves were still green and our minds turned back to summer.

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Nobody Wants to Change

Generally, people don’t like it when you tell them they need to change.

They really don’t like it when you tell them how to do it.

They might grudgingly do it when they recognize you are right, but the world will be a little duller for it.

At this year’s Southern Festival of Books, everyone seemed to be ruminating on these truths in one way or another. Without having planned it, most authors I got to hear speak and read kept circling back to this idea that those who most desperately need to change are also the most resistant to it.

A few even took stabs at figuring out what to do about this. I was so drawn especially to Nicole Krauss, whose latest book, Forest Dark, is about the courage to turn from the certainty of self, toward the unknown in hope of personal transformation.

She said (and I’m paraphrasing- it’s possible this isn’t exactly how she said it, but it’s how I heard it) that the self is a narrative- a story we tell ourselves, and are told, since we were small children. This means that the story is much more flexible than we think. When the narrative we tell ourselves stretches too tight and limits who we are or who we can become, it’s entirely possible to enlarge our sense of self.

But so few people do this, because changing is terrifying and it is stigmatized. It’s embarrassing to concede that we have grown into a corner and must now take a different direction. It’s doubly embarrassing to be told what to do in that moment of personal crisis.

In the end, you’ll change when you have no other choice. And when it’s time to change, what do you need? Continue reading “Nobody Wants to Change”

Tired

“I am so tired of waiting,

Aren’t you,

For the world to become good

And beautiful and kind?

Let us take a knife

And cut the world in two-

And see what worms are eating 

At the rind.” – Langston Hughes

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Last Monday, I was scheduled to post my regular contribution to the Smart Women Write blog but then I woke up to the news of Las Vegas, and I just…couldn’t. I couldn’t post on the post-ac themed post I had planned to publish because it seemed so jarring, and I couldn’t publish anything else.

For a solid day, I tried to come up with something, but every time I even considered addressing the topic I went numb. At one point last week, my collaborators and I collectively talked about gathering useful links, but by that point I couldn’t stomach looking at anything else about the topic.

I honestly don’t know how anyone even dives into these topics anymore. 

Last year after the Pulse shooting, on another blog, I spent time exploring the pain the of that event and that experience wore me out for more than a month.  I had to take a news break for much of July before being able to ready myself for teaching that fall. Then, of course, there was the cycle of election politics and then the election itself. 

And it’s not just this year, or last year either. Yesterday on social media, Facebook’s “On this Day” feature reminded me:

  • That three years ago, my old hometown of St. Louis was in thick of protests over the Michael Brown shooting
  • That two years ago to the day of the Las Vegas shooting, ten people were killed in a mass shooting on a community college campus in Roseburg, Oregon
  • That a year ago, a video surfaced that showed Trump bragging about sexual assault.

Had the app gone back earlier it would have reminded me of my days living in DC, when 9/11, anthrax, and the sniper shooter fueled my autumns with anxiety.

Had the app looped in this past month it would have mentioned the latest police shooting verdict and related protests in St. Louis, the newest mass shooting, the latest sexual assault.

 And let’s not forget hurricane, after hurricane, after hurricane, and the earthquake in Mexico City, and the fires here in Oregon and along the Pacific coast.

No wonder I am tired. 

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I’m far from the only person with tragedy fatigue.  More and more often my conversations with friends turn to topics of coping strategies and self-care. I recognize in retrospect that the act of not writing last week was in itself a form of self care.  It’s okay to remove yourself from the news. It’s more than okay (even healthy) to avoid social media.

For me, it also helps to feel useful, and so I’ve turned my energies more towards my local community and family where I can feel like I can help. I have leaned into my role as a parent in ways that I never thought I would before this year, channeling my energies towards preparing my son for whatever may come in the future.  I’ve been paying more attention to my school and my neighborhood. I’ve been trying (imperfectly, I admit) to practice kindness as much as I can. And I’ve been giving myself more rest.

What about you? How do you cope with the weight of news like the Las Vegas shooting? What do you do for self-care?

 

 

St. Louis Protests 2017: Resource Round-Up

I’ve been thinking of Mandela’s words a lot in the last few days. It’s a reflection that resonates quite a lotfor me, standing on the sidelines as I watch and listen to news about the protests and often questionable police responses that have been happening daily for more than a week. On Friday, September 15, a judge found Jason Stockley not guilty of murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African American man who fled the scene when Stockley and his partner tried to confront him for what they suspected was a drug deal. Stockley shot Smith five times at the end of the ensuing chase.

You can read more about the verdict here, and see the full verdict here. Stockley opted for a bench trial, rather than a jury trial, and in the weeks leading up to the decision, things were tense. The governor even decided to make sure the National Guard was on hand “just in case” when the verdict came down. (Note: I may have missed something, but I don’t think the National Guard has actually been used at any protests.)

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Drafting the First US Nomination to the UNESCO Slave Route Project: Nashville’s Fort Negley

The other day, I did something terrifying.  I gave my professional opinion as a historian in front of an overflowing room at a televised Parks Board Meeting. I had the honor of speaking about one of the most rewarding and illuminating things I have done for history in a while: completing the involved research for the nomination of a local landmark, the Union Civil War Fort Negley, to the UNESCO Slave Route Project. If accepted, Fort Negley will become the first US site, ever, to earn this monumental designation.

…which is a big deal, because the park that the Fort sits on is slated for a controversial development that has consumed local and state news for months. This meeting drew a huge crowd of people concerned about the sale of city land to private developers at the expense of this fort and its history.

My relationship with this fort is as long as my relationship to Nashville itself. When I first moved here in 2007, I lived in a house with a few others in the neighborhood of historic Edgehill. When grad school got stressful, I would climb up to the ruins of Fort Negley, and sit under one of the trees there, soaking up the peace and quiet. To be able to see Nashville’s skyline but not hear many of the city’s noises felt like a luxury.  I would daydream and doze and if I let my brain relax and I squinted just right, I could see the way the fort looked when it was first built.

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Interpretive marker for the African American Laborers who built Fort Negley, at the Fort Negley Visitors Center, sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center at Vanderbilt University.

The tree behind me would have still been a sapling. I pictured the soldiers, in sweat-stained blue union uniforms, pulling cannons up the hills, and the laborers digging ditches in the hot sun. I could imagine the charge of the Confederate army’s attempt to storm the hill, smell the burning gunpowder, and hear the scrambling of people and horses as they moved defenses into place. Before moving to the US, the Civil War was just a series of films for me, but at Fort Negley, it felt real for the first time. I felt a special sense of wonder about this secret jewel of a place hidden in plain sight.

At the time I was only 23. I had an undergraduate degree in history and religious studies, and a year of museum work under my belt. With even that limited experience in public history, it struck me as odd that the city had not made more of such an important place. Where were the historical interpreters? The tours? Merchandise? Displays for all the artifacts found? Why wasn’t there a twice-daily reenactment for tourists?

It wasn’t until I completed my PhD in history at Vanderbilt in 2014 that I understood how Fort Negley, a union stronghold built by conscripted and escaped slaves, and defended by the US Colored Troops, had been allowed to purposely languish by the same people in this city who continue to try to rewrite history.
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Revisiting those New Year’s Resolutions

Now that we are three-fourths of the way through the year, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my resolutions for 2017 – or rather, as I wrote back in January, my New Year’s “themes.” Every January, I pick a few words to focus on that year. This time around, I decided that one of my main theme would be joy.

Why Joy? As Lisa Munro writes in her own post on the topic, there’s a risk to joy. It seems dangerous to submit to joy in a world of broken things. Yet practicing joy can be a pathway towards a more authentic self. As she writes, “JOY requires letting go of what we want people to see in favor of experiencing something genuine and being real about it.” In my original post (which was written right around the inauguration), I also wrote about the energizing power of joy and how it can operate as a strategy for building resilience.

How am I doing now? I’d say pretty well. I still get stressed and get grumpy like anyone else. But compared to last year around this time, I feel far more at peace and far more energized.

I’ve learned that joy is a practice that you have to work on consciously. It is closely tied to both gratitude and vulnerability. It feeds on faith, and it falls apart when there’s too much fear. There are many many things in this world that make it hard to practice joy, and so I’ve had to learn to tune some of it out. A more forgiving attitude also helps – both towards others and towards myself.

Here are some other things I’ve done in my pursuit of joy this year, in no particular order.

1. I’ve spent more time looking at the smaller things in nature, especially those things that only appear briefly, like spring flowers, or the caterpillars of early summer that will later transform into butterflies.

2. I’ve focused my energy on kids. I’ve started a business that puts them first.

3. I’ve reduced my time on twitter, dropped all political and news feeds on my Facebook account, made a good faith effort to avoid talking about politics online anymore. Even with people I know well, I find that conversations can go in unexpected direction – and not necessarily because of different opinions so much as tonal misunderstandings.

4. I try to use my social media Facebook to talk about positive things in my life. 

5. I’m learning to recognize my limits and step back when the stress gets too high. It’s still a process, I still find myself comfort eating like crazy when I’m sad about something (you should have seen me after the Eagle Creek fire in our region broke out hear last week).

6. I practice yoga. It feels really good.

There’s much more, which I will address in more detail in another progress report when the year ends.

Flirting with Equality, Flirting with Rejections

It’s been awhile, but earlier this year I mentioned my book project in passing – and it turns out I’ve never said much more about it than that. With more than a year of querying and rejections under my belt, I’ve decided it’s time to say a little more.

A year ago, I finished the first round revisions of turning my dissertation into a book. It was a process that took me almost a year, including nights after work, spring break, and most of the summer of 2016, and I’m proud of that work. Dissertations are always just that – a dissertation, never great, but always something that gets you the degree. I’ve known since I finished mine that it could never go forward in the shape it was in.

But time – that’s the factor. I spent several years ignoring the dissertation, then began playing with it again in the fall of 2015. I ripped it apart, tore it into new pieces, made big cuts, restructured it, and even came up with a new title: Flirting with Equality: American Women in the Cold War Military.

It’s a project that I was obsessed with for years in grad school. I visited around a dozen archives, interviewed more than 20 women, and put my heart and soul into it. Flirting with Equality starts with the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which made women’s service permanent, and carries through to the end of the Cold War. To understand why women’s military service functions the way it does today – and by extension, policies relating to gay, lesbian, and transgender servicemen and women – my book is a must-read.

Well, at least in theory.

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