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Language of Hope


A few days ago while scrolling through a social media site, I noticed that a student I teach had posted a photo with, what I consider to be, an offensive word. It is not uncommon for me to connect with students on some social networking sites. I am as selective about who I connect with as I hope and try to instil students to be. What made me pause when viewing the post was the word ‘retarded.’

My finger hovered over the unfollow button. I fumed.

I have known the student, Mack, for many years. We have navigated many, many difficult conversations. We have navigated many moments of crisis. We trust each other.

Maybe that’s why Mack’s comment, public or not, stung. I could not understand his cruelty. Or what I assumed to be his cruelty. 
It’s not that I simply don’t allow the word in our classroom, I explain its meanings and interpretations, and I have explained, why there is almost never a place, situation, event, or time suitable to use the word. And I share many stories of experience about how this language is harmful. 

That day, in my pause, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, paintbrush in hand, having taken a break, having checked the site, my finger continuing to hover over the unfollow tab.

But I genuinely care about this young person. And what, other than fuelling my own privileged sense of justice, does stepping away silently, and yes, fuming too, serve?

I continued painting, cutting-in around the ceiling, taking time, climbing up and down the step stool.

Hmm.

After a while I sent the student a private message and asked for clarification of the wording of his post. He replied simply, after offering a definition of the word, sharing that it means, “a bad person.”

I replied “No it does not.”

~

I set my phone down again and sat on the edge of the tub again.

And so far, all of this journey was too simple. I understood I was telling, not attending to his stories of experience. Too, I was not attending to my own stories of experience.

I sighed.

~

Last week I lunched with a colleague. We shared many stories of experience. Our sharing often returned to the mad-dash made by those within educational landscapes towards a singular social justice way of knowing. During lunch, my friend & I spoke of the importance of attending to all stories of experience. 

Yet, there I was. Sitting and fuming, tapping directives into my device. I had no desire to carry forward a singular way of knowing that would silence others, nor did I wish to lead in this space, when I had not entered through the opener of story, through trust.

I sighed again and reached again for my phone.

Years ago I was married. Those who stood up for me where an eclectic group of women I referred to as my sister people, each family in some lovely way. One sister person, a cognitively challenged woman, only a few years younger than I, was often mistaken for quite youthful. I have known her almost my entire life. Her mom is near to a second mom to me. Only once did her mom speak of the cruelty of living in a world where people are deliberately harmful with their words and more so lackadaisical with them too.

My beautiful sister people.

Truth: I was six months into my first teaching position before I truly allowed the depth and breath of being a language educator to resonate.

I began to ask myself the question I was posing to students. Does language always matter? I began to wonder, was the language fight my fight to fight, like it is and was, and in the same way, and remains to be for my sister person’s mom? Honestly, in the beginning I was foggy on the ownership of this life/issue.

I have lived alongside hundreds of young people. I have shared family stories with those I teach. Students have shared their experiences with me too. My Dad and daughter have often met the students I’ve known. We have journeyed together: cheering at ball tounaments, smiling at open mics, helping to paint classrooms, and hauling boxes into schools. 

I am no different with Dad & my daughter, than I am teaching a mini-lesson, or alone hiking a prairie hillside. In all landscapes of my life, I am fierce and I am kind. I am always me/mom/teacher. And I am reflective.

To all who have walked alongside me, they know that for me, others telling stories of me is a painful space.

I am thinking deeply about how others have told stories of me. I am thinking about my elementry and high school experiences, others telling stories of me through perceptions of my behaviours and my learning disabilities. 

I have spent a life reliving and retelling the stories others tell. 

~ Not stupid. Not busy. Not wrong. Not obstanant. Not rude. Not mean. Not loud. Not silent. Not. Not. Not. Not.

I returned to think deeply with the stories of Mack’s experience. I recalled when we had journeyed the Native Studies 10 course a few years ago, his worldview shifting as we inquired together. He would often send texts and screenshots of moments when he would address oppressive language/statememts made by his peers, even his family, as his own understandings grew.

I sighed. Tap. Tap. Tap….

“Mack, let’s talk about how, for you and others, that word might be understood and used.”

~

Honestly. I wanted to block Mack. I wanted to avoid a tough talk where I had no script. I had hoped Mack would simply learn that language is the most powerful force for change on the globe simply    by    reading       my    mind.

Language changes the world through our continuing reflection and discussion of its complex meanings and uses.

From those moments I came to teach English Language Arts courses all those years ago, I understood I must come as a Language educator.

During our dissucussion Mack remembered that the ‘r’ word is a word that I don’t allow in our learning space. I am thinking deeply too with the unfolding of that July day. I was painting my bathroom and dripping sweat. I am as fiercely blunt out of school as I am with students every day of our ten month year. My Mom says kids always know when teachers are fake. I think there’s a teaching there. This work is living work. Deeply meaningful, unscripted, and in the moment. Julys’s work too.

Maybe this is why I messaged. Because I trust my student. Because I know he trusts me. Because I already knew he was in a tractor somewhere and he already knew I was eyeball deep in blue paint, tackling a bathroom renovation. Because, we two, we trust the space between us.

Maybe that pause, is the trust that is the rootedness of our language of hope.

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Home Stories

Here. I took a step over the property line and stood on the driveway a while. I heard the radio tuned to CBC, the static from the old machine offering no real audio only comfort. Somewhere too, came screws jiggling inside old coffee tins and a saw moving along unused 2x4s, and I heard Dad sniff. I heard Dad sniff. Twice. I saw Mom’s big round wine barrels, the ones Dad cut width wise just for her, turned on end, filled with petunias, red and happy, waving hello. I heard the rustle of caragana pods on the bushes out front. I closed eyes and felt my ten speed near me, felt my friends running by and the pull of home base, capture the flag and the certainty of being 13. 

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More: the red shoes series 

soot

tacked the wheels 

stick in gravel

days paralyzed

we blink, blink 

against summer stinging

from windows 

time ticks on, somewhere 

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Bird Feeders: The Red Shoes Series

Coffee HouseThe students I live alongside set a challenge, to write about the past/future. They set the challenge so I would finish a piece, put pen to paper, stop sitting in conversation so long with each of them, and step up to the mic. After all, we headline in a month.

The future. The past. The future. Tricky business these places.

~

Tuesday my sister and I voted in the advanced poles. We stood in line for 40 minutes so our voices would count. my dad always told me, even the smallest change matters. So I stood in line.

I listened while the couple in front of me dissected Costa Maragos’s passivity moderating the leaders debate, “and couldn’t someone just hand that man a bull horn.”

The Langesten’s were leaving when we arrived. Lingering so Mrs. Langesten could take that mouthful after ‘how are you’ to tell us of her four days dying in hospital while Mr. Lsngesten wrapped his arms around my sister, then around me, smiling, finishing his wife’s sentence. We waited. I cast my vote. Dad was right. I have a voice.

At dad’s care home they have removed his transfer pole. The manager of the care home tells mom it is an issue of occupational health and safety. Paralyzed on one side two years ago by a stroke, the manager says it is easier to move dad using a sling.

The long weekend dad came home for two nights. There are no activities at the Manor on GoodFriday. My sister and I both arrived to help. It tires dad, being home. It tires mom. But Friday dad arrived already tired. He asked twice how my car was working.

Saturday morning dad and I sat in the sun room drinking coffee. A place where we used to start the day when I was in high school, those early, early mornings before I’d walk to meet the bus. The magpies would feed like vultures on the scraps dad would leave for them outside the window. The Makaboys, dad called them, a bird that reminded dad of a family and of a story from his youth. And we would sip our coffee and settle in.

But this Saturday morning the lawn was brown and mom was busy answering urgent calls from returning officers. The bird feeders lay empty.

“You’re tired today, dad.” I said.

“I didn’t sleep. I was up worrying.”

“Worrying about what?”

He looked from the feeders towards me then his lap and back out the window, “that I’m not getting well fast enough.”

The care home removed his pole this winter. Four months after dad taught himself to move his leg, to bend his knee, and to nearly stand.

They removed his pole. It is easier, they said, to transfer Mr. Saas with a sling. It is easier.

Mom works for Elections Saskatchewan to help pay for dads care. I can vote. But I am only the daughter. I can not speak to managers. But I can fill bird feeders.

 

 

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2015 in Reflection

For years I have taken a photograph almost every day. This capturing delves deeper than photographing an object simply because I feel obligated to take a picture. Almost two years ago my dad had a stroke. During those first hours and long months after my daughter, my sister, my mom and I followed the stretcher into the emergency room, I began thinking differently about capturing moments.

Capturing moments has become a significant part of my journey. Curating and sharing has become a significant part of my journey as well. Over the December 2015 winter break, as I began to compile images and videos of the past year, I realized how much the process of capturing moments and of returning to savour them has been a healing space for me.

My previous year in review videos have been different. At times they have been out of duty to document a year. Last year I was so filled with gratitude my video paid homage to those who helped, who stepped in, who listened, and who understood the effects of such change on my family.

My video this year though is for me. It is my year-end visual reflection, my visual year-end take-away.

And oh, I learned so much.   Hope. Love. Family. Change. Strength.

 

 

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Storying

This week marked meetings with our administrators to review our Profession Growth Plans. I am serving in a large composite high school this year and don’t get much face to face time with my principal. The time to chat were nice. 
After we talked about my plan, my administrator commented, “I don’t really know what to call the work you’re doing, with Project 104, with Jane* & Mark, its like you’re creating a space they take with them.”
I smiled. 
“I know what to call it,” I said. “Storying.”
I chatted a bit explaining the process and the rationale of sharing our stories of experience as a way to find a sacred space that we carry within. Storying.
What i was really feeling, however, what was breathing and whispering all around me, were student stories of experience, my stories of experience, and the giddy like a pre-schooler work of attending to stories of experience that has been my thesis journey. 
The phenomena of storying. 
No longer only theory, no longer teachings pulled solely from my Dad, bits understood from the Circle of Courage, its philosophical and its connectiveness underpinnings. No longer was this the methodology of narrative inquirers, sharing stories of experience. 
Living storying. Messy storying. With puzzles unfolding and much uncertainty and bursting with the interloopings, the weavings, the complexities of potential. 
My Dad would say, there is a teaching there. 
Today, I understand the name of this sacred space.
Storying. 

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2014 in Review: todays

2014

~ My photo/video story of 2014 (thank you to Jessy Lee for the many hours choosing and adding music).

This year the image capturing/collecting was often difficult and the compiling into this yearend video brought tears.

On December 25th, as my family sat together for the first time since my mom’s surgery my dad, looking at each of us, my sister, Christie, my daughter, Jessy Lee, my mom, Lynne and I, raised his glass to offer a toast.

“We made it!”

Then, Dad began to cry. And cry and cry. Mom pulled up close to him and took his hand. She finished his toast. She began with the story of how she had finished his toast on their wedding day, almost 50 years ago when tears of joy had come then too.

Recently Jess wrote, the “thing I’ve noticed about grief is that it is something that comes even when death does not.”

My video this year is for my family, mostly. It is for the way my mom looks at my dad. It is for the way she has always looked at my dad. It is for the way he still reaches for her, and how he cries with joy every time one of us is happy.

And this sharing is for you, too, for all those wonderful folks who helped my family by pitching in, by listening, by checking in and mostly, by loving us steadfastly and beautifully.

Thank you.

Poet Greg Simison writes of that phone call, “perhaps this longest night of our lives, we’re all simply small children who’ve only been outside playing grownups until our mothers call us home, one last time.”

Mostly, he is right.

These past 10 months I’ve become more grounded in the stories I’ve heard my parents tell, my dad shared hiking along tails, my mom lived while teaching, life making stories, stories I’ve grown with.

Mostly, my dad was kind and told me to leave nothing unsaid. As we waited for the ambulance last March and, mom and I talked though the nights this past November, well, I’ve become more…

I am so thankful for growing up surrounded with love and with family.

I am so grateful for today.

#love

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