Monday, July 20, 2015

Seeking Balance--And Finding It in The New Yorker

So already, I've been feeling agitated, and mad about it. On a slow, enraged burn about it or something else, or lots of something elses, maybe. Whatever the source of my feelings, I suspect their intensity is in part due to some aspect of the present moment, the connectivity to everything good and bad, thanks--or no thanks--to technology. That the bad is winning out in the news these days is definitely part of the problem.

So hungering for a slower, non-technological experience, longing for something to inspire me or at least distract me thoughtfully, wanting to recline on my sofa rather than hunch over my laptop, I picked up the July 20 New Yorker last Friday afternoon. Because I was feeling angry, useless, and generally out of sorts, I expected to find little in it to engage me.

Instead, though, I found lots to engage me. First there was the Sempé cover illustration with its arch title, "Under the Same Hat." Ah, that everyone had such a summer garden in which they and their friends, cool and composed, might gather around the ritual of tea or something else. Nice idea, but hardly likely, Sempé's title suggests. It mocks and jabs lightly but surely at the similarly attired foursome assembled amidst four perfectly pruned trees. Perhaps the genteel, closed social circle exists to affirm the world view its members trust one another to hold fast to in the face of the crazily changing, majorly disordered world beyond the garden. And just how how often, and for how long, do the members of this foursome imagine the existences of the inhabitants of that majorly disordered world? I know what I think, but I could be wrong about them. And it's not that no one should ever drink tea in a garden, either. Maybe the problem is those hats.

Despite my desire to escape the world's problems, the first actual article I was drawn into explored a long overdue earthquake's potential impact on the Pacific Northwest, given the region's current inadequate state of readiness for such an event. Reading the scenarios Kathryn Schulz sets forth in "The Really Big One" reminded me of reading Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth in three New Yorker installments in the early 1980's. There are haunting lines in Schulz's article, and they seem to apply to so many situations that crop up on my news feed routinely:
"The Cascadia subduction zone  . . . poses a danger to us today because we have not thought deeply enough about the future. That is no longer a problem about information; . . .. Nor is it a problem of imagination. If you are so inclined, you can watch an earthquake destroy much of the West Coast this summer in Brad Peyton's 'San Andreas,' . . .. As these movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral summons, and still less of a plan of action. Where we stumble is in conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps us to avert them."
More bad news for sure: if the ladies in Sempé's cover illustration are drinking tea anywhere near Seattle, they won't stand a chance, even if their hats convert into flotation devices. But there was something helpful in Schulz's analysis and her tone. Imagining can't be the endpoint, and we're in big trouble if envisioning our own destruction makes us feel we're responding adequately to the possibility of it. But Schulz's tone makes it possible for people who've been looking the other way or simply living in ignorance of this information to begin acting helpfully right now.

Near the end of the article, Schulz talks about a Pacific Northwest school superintendent who has unsuccessfully sought funds to build a campus outside what the article calls the "tsunami inundation zone." No such funds are being made available to him, due to certain regulations, and he lives with the knowledge that one of the elementary schools for which he is responsible cannot be evacuated to a location that would ensure the students' safety. Schulz's article was hardly uplifting, but I was grateful to Schulz for sharing Superintendent Doug Dougherty's willingness to imagine a terrible scenario and do all in his power to prevent it. I am waiting to see if something good and proactive might come of Schulz's advocacy for Dougherty and his students.

I was next drawn to a Tony Hoagland poem, a good counterbalance, I hoped, to the serious problem Schulz's article had educated me about. I always count on Tony Hoagland to slap me upside my head, always by holding the mirror up to himself and keeping it in place until we both laugh and know all too well who we are, even if those around us may not see it. In "Giving and Getting," Hoagland experiences rubbing the feet of an old friend who's been hospitalized as being "like reaching into some/ thick part of my heart that couldn't feel/ and kneading away at it . . .." Recognizing that he's receiving although he's ostensibly giving, he reflects on his "persistent selfishness," manifested by "one of my hands offering the gift, the other/ trying to take something back." And the problem is that this self-knowledge doesn't make the selfishness okay, doesn't in of itself reconcile and accommodate those ideas and acts which are mutually exclusive:
Giving and getting 
like two horses arriving at the same time

from opposite directions
at the stone gate

that will allow only one to pass.**
Any mention of horses in a poem invariably reminds me of Mark Doty's "Source"* and James Wright's "A Blessing." So Hoagland's poem washed over me as if redemption, usefulness, and peace were indeed possible, imaginable in a basically good world. Our own weaknesses, our arrogant selfishness--we can transcend them as long as we look reverently beyond the universe of ourselves. And yet, when we do look beyond ourselves, how hard it is to reconcile the flat, placid world where these two horses stand, far from any ocean shore, with the endangered coastal world of the Pacific Northwest. That's our challenge, holding it all, not being drowned by it while thinking about the seriousness of drowning.

Holding it all somehow is one of the problems of the protagonist of Lauren Groff's short story, "Ghosts and Empties." Groff shares Tony Hoagland's reverent irreverence, his ability to mock himself, but her story is more serious than Hoagland's poem, perhaps because its protagonist is a wife and a mother whose behaviors necessarily have impact on those in her family. I still don't understand Groff's title much at all, but her first paragraph spoke to me right away, even though I'm not the mother of sons:

"I have somehow become a woman who yells, and because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner and going for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell."

I too have a husband who doesn't yell; I too often go stomping around the neighborhood when I'm out of sorts, and walking around the neighborhood when I'm less agitated and the world can penetrate my consciousness without my rolling it into a ball and hurling at someone or something else.

But as a rule, I don't go at night, when Groff's protagonist goes. She explains that as her neighborhood goes dark, "a second neighborhood unrolls atop the  daytime one." This was the first hint she offered me of a parallel universe, one that's dangerous and aggravating, but also mystical. To explain how the neighborhood is "imperfectly safe"--dangerous and not dangerous--the narrator reveals that 
"There was a rape a month ago . . .; and, a week ago, a pack of loose pit bulls ran down a mother with a baby in her stroller and mauled both, though not to death. It's not the dogs' fault; it's the owners' faults! dog-lovers shouted on the neighborhood e-mail list, and it's true, it was the owners' fault but also those dogs were sociopaths."
That no one died is the good news; but if you're looking for compassion, it might be better to be a dog in Groff's narrator's neighborhood than a human being. And can dogs be sociopaths? I don't know, but I can feel that our narrator is up to her ears in a certain kind of exasperation that reflects my own on occasion, even though I almost always feel people, including myself, are doing the best they can.

But in general, Groff's narrator likes strangers at a distance, as do I: there are certain people whom she encounters on her rounds, wonders about, monitors the lives of, cares about: she fears that the old woman who walks a Great Dane "the color of dryer lint" is not well, wonders if the obese teenage boy who is endlessly on his treadmill can see "how with each step his stomach ripples as if it were a pond into which someone had tossed a fist-size stone," and fantasizes about the hymn-singing of the nun-remnant--"the three kindly sisters squeaking around that immense [monastery] space in their sensible shoes." 

There's something so beloved in her attention to the inhabitants of that second nighttime neighborhood. But they aren't the only ones taking up space in her mind, so she keeps yelling.

Which brings me to my favorite paragraph in this story, which is only three pages long in its entirety--something else I liked about it.
"It's too much, it's too much, I shout at my husband some nights when I come home, and he looks at me, afraid, this giant gentle man, and sits up in bed over his computer and says, softly, I don't think you've walked it off yet, sweets, you may want to take one more loop. I go out again, furious, because the streets become more dangerous this late at night, and how dare he suggest risk like this to me, when I have proved myself vulnerable; but, then again, perhaps my warm house has become more dangerous as well. During the day, while my sons are in school, I can't stop reading
about the disaster of the world, the glaciers dying like living creatures, the great Pacific trash gyre, the hundreds of unrecorded deaths of species, millennia snuffed out as if they were not precious. I read and savagely mourn, a if reading could somehow sate this hunger for grief, instead of what it does, which is fuel it."
Why--and how--does she think she's proved herself vulnerable? My guess is that anyone experiencing her passionate energy would think her strong rather than vulnerable. But if vulnerability is associated with feeling out of sync with the world marked by loneliness, ongoing dimunition, and large and small disasters, I so understand her feeling of vulnerability. And, oh, I so relate to her experience of compulsively "reading about the disaster of the world." 

Still, the phrase in this paragraph that really pulled me up short was "this hunger for grief." When I was younger, I characterized grief as something that we necessarily endured with the hopes of moving beyond the excruciating pain of it at some point. But in the last few years, I've begun to recognize grief--hard, true grief that can hardly bear the loss of someone or something dearly loved, that sits so deeply within a person that it's all she can do to breathe--is something to savor on an important level. When you grieve, really let yourself know the pain of loss and permanent change, you feel terrible--terribly true to yourself and terribly alive. And everyone wants and needs know that they're really, truly alive, at least some of the time.

Every once in a while, some version of this grief, probably a distant cousin of it, rears up in me, surprises me, and holds me fast. The last time was when I was watching Woman in Gold on a flight from Dubai to Boston. I didn't know why I cried as hard as I did during the last half hour of the movie--it had to be about more than my understanding of the number and nature of profound losses experienced by the Helen Mirren character. So I sniveled and wept, taking comfort in the fact that everyone around me was sound asleep and insensible to my struggles to breathe through my congested nose. I knew I was crying for me, too, about something I still can't identify.

Which leads me to Groff's narrator and the kind of wandering and neighborhood monitoring that is dangerous for her to give up--and not to give up. Groff's narrator doesn't give up her nighttime walks, and it's a good thing: during her second year of criss-crossing her neighborhood, she notices that the obese boy, "my flabby friend," has undergone "a transformation so astonishing it's as if a maiden had turned into a birch tree or stream" (as the former teacher of "Greek Mythology," how I loved this line!). She reacts audibly: "I yelp aloud because of the swiftness of youth, these gorgeous changes that insist that not everything is decaying faster than we can love it." 

Has that been the root cause of the problematic yelling, the fear that all would decay and die before it could be loved, before she could love it? By this point in the story, the narrator isn't talking much about her yelling, which may have ceased altogether. The world too changes; and as the vernal pool frog-singing builds to a crescendo, the narrator has an experience of profound beauty, courtesy of the lighting installed by the new owner of the former nunnery which illuminates the full span of the branches of an ancient, commanding oak tree:
I've always known the tree was there, . . . But it has never before announced itself fully as the colossus that it is, with its branches that  that are so heavy they grow toward the ground then touch and grow upward again; and thus, elbowing itself up, it brings to mind a woman at the kitchen table, knuckling her chin and dreaming. I stand shocked by its beauty, . . .
Groff's narrator writes herself into natural and mystical worlds with her domestic metaphor. It's as if she herself, like the oak tree, has needed to grow down toward the dark earth before ascending again toward light. Which she's finally doing.

"Beseeching Apparition" by Scott Ketcham****
And with her nod to dreaming and the reality of that which has never before been fully seen despite its having always been there, the narrator concludes the story with a long paragraph in which she divides herself into body and spirit, separate but interdependent and contributory to her understanding of the world: "I hope . . . [my sons] understand . . . that all these hours their mother has been walking so swiftly away from them I have not been gone, that my spirit, hours ago, slipped back into the house . . .," and eventually "slid through the crack under [their] doors" to breathe them in and out. She still fears the distance between her husband and herself--"my husband and I will look at each other crouching under the weight of all that we wouldn't or couldn't yell," no doubt augmented by "all those hours outside walking, my body, my shadow, the moon." But she's no longer desperately anxious, and furious about it:  somehow, she's made peace with the idea that "nothing is not always in transition." I think she's optimistic that her sons will be able to understand that some of her distance was to spare them the experience of dreading her when she couldn't help but yell.

It's at the tail end of the story that I diverge most strongly from Groff's narrator: she asserts that the moon laughs, but not at us because "we . . . are too small and our lives are too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all." If anything, social media has been convincing me that we can be big and powerful, that we can organize and act, that we need not feel defined by what is and has been, though we must learn from it. That's the wonderful opportunity it creates.

But here's the shadow of that opportunity: with that understanding of our potential individual and collective power comes a whole new responsibility for wielding that power. If we belong to multiple virtual and face-to-face communities that endlessly and very responsibly share information about injustices and disasters churned out by a world in which violence, ignorance, and indifference do so much harm--the kinds of situations and tragedies that Groff's narrator was reading endlessly, addictively about--choosing how and when to act becomes a constant and therefore potentially exhausting responsibility and imperative. Especially when tragedies proliferate simultaneously, it's hard to know which to attend to and respond to first. Plus new tragedies create a need for us to educate ourselves so that when we do respond, we can do so knowledgeably and effectively. There's always so much to do and to learn. Can we be blamed for wanting and needing to retreat from it all at times?

I haven't yet figured out how to take good care of me and good care of the world simultaneously. And having now almost finished writing this blog post, I now understand that this has been at the root of my feeling so uncomfortable--and so angry about feeling uncomfortable that what I really, really wanted to do was yell--at everyone, anyone, everything, anything.

I know that Wordsworth, the romantic poet who worried about the effects of industrialization on society and the human spirit, was lamenting those of his era's increasing disconnection from the world of nature, but as I was lying in bed this morning, I found myself recalling one of his great sonnets:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,*****

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The world is much with me much of the time, but I love the world, and it's very much in my nature to pay attention when tragedies and injustices occur, and to want to respond in some way. So the answer must be to recognize when the world is threatening to become, or has become, too much with me, and then to do what I need to do to reclaim or keep my balance.

"Attendants" by Scott Ketcham****
I picked up the The New Yorker when I was feeling desperate to reclaim my lost balance, and it took good care of me this week, inviting me to slow down and step back, providing me with companionship, consolation, and redemptive images that I can conjure at moments of anger, despair, and overload. It helped the world be much with me, but it also gave me a much needed place for myself, both inside and outside of the world.

Now it's late Monday morning. Outside my window, summer hangs in the air as if it just might be endless; the trees couldn't be greener and more lush than they are. The humidity feels like it won't relent, but that's summer. At the moment, I'm feeling more like the front figure in the painting at the right than like the disgruntled, lonely wanderer I sometimes feel myself to be. I think that when the imbalance warning bell sounds, I'm going to be able to find or regain the balance that's necessary for both doing and being. Perhaps all it takes is an hour or two off and a good magazine. If I take those kinds of breaks more frequently than I have been, I think I should be able to do right by me and right by the world.

* "Horses at the Gate" photograph downloaded from <>: Free HD Wallpapers for Wide Screen. 
** The poem "Source" follows the poem "Broadway" on this link.
*** Screen shot of <>
**** Check out other paintings by Scott Ketcham at <>. 
***** <>

Monday, July 6, 2015

Will You Be There, Good 'White' People?

So already, over the last few weeks, I've been paying attention to the online aftermath of the latest deadly act of racial hatred in America, the shooting deaths of nine Black members of a prayer group meeting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Some people have expressed their own thoughts and feelings; others have posted articles and columns offering others' thoughts and feelings; yet others have shared links to resources providing information about organizing and acting in response. 

In addition to trying to keep up with news reports and journalists' commentaries, I've also been paying a a great deal of attention to the Facebook page of Fanshen Cox, an educator-actress and former student who has dedicated herself personally and professionally to compelling people--us--to understand the always profound, sometimes insidious effects of "race" on each of us individually and all of us collectively, and then, on the basis of that understanding, to strive actively to create a just, peaceful America.

Urban Cusp's Photograph
The wrinkle for me personally has been that for a good part of the time period beginning on June 17, I was either in Singapore** or in transit between Singapore and the U.S.A. From June 25 on, the combination of intermittent wi-fi connectivity and the time zone difference made for a curious relationship with what people in America were posting online. Whenever I read any recent post in an in-progress discussion thread on Fanshen's page, I was certain I had missed some of the relevant posts preceding it. And despite my efforts to keep up with the unfolding national narrative, it was only yesterday that I learned about the church burnings that followed in the wake of the church shootings. It's been disconcerting to think about how easily I managed not to know about them.

But back to Fanshen herself. In addition to being an actress and educator, Fanshen is the creator and co-producer of One Drop of Love: A Daughter's Search for Her Father's Racial Approval. Through her play and her various other professional activities, she illuminates the history of "race" in America; firmly but compassionately urges people to acknowledge and explore how they have suffered and/or benefited from the systemic race-related oppression that continues to shape America; and then encourages people to act to end that systemic oppression. In the last months, Fanshen has been encouraging White people to grapple with their (our) privilege through both personal reflection and dialogue with others. 

And more recently, in the wake of the Charleston shootings, she has been actively encouraging the "good 'White' people" in her life--and that group includes me and a number of her other former teachers* at the Pilot School, the democratic alternative school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School--to become genuinely and visibly active in the movement for the full equality of Black and Brown people. Specifically, she's been asking us to move beyond being "supporters" and "allies" of people of color, and to become instead marching activists and "co-conspirators."

She's doing the right thing in challenging us. But it's never comfortable to be challenged to step up and out; and she's getting bumped and bruised for her somewhat public, pointed calls to action.*** Some whose feathers she's ruffled have been making how she's asked us more important than what she's asked of us. But ruffled feathers are not broken wings: they tend to smooth themselves out. It's fine if Fanshen ruffles some feathers for a good cause. 

Still, just because she is bravely and deliberately galvanizing us and shepherding us in new directions doesn't mean that Fanshen--or anyone else, for that matter--has nothing more to think about and to learn. But I never doubt Fanshen's capacity to learn or to love. And I never doubt her commitment. 

To be honest, I am seldom asked to clarify and assert my beliefs and commitments, let alone challenged to act on them--and I suspect there are many like me in Greater Boston's wealthier zip codes. In groups that prize politeness, ripple-free harmony, and pleasantness over all else, authentic exchanges about misaligned words and actions are deliberately avoided. Thus for me, to have been called out at all, let alone to have been called out by name in public, and to have been called out by name in public by someone willing to identify herself as the one doing the calling out--it's the lack of anonymity in all of this that is so novel in this current online climate--has felt simultaneously awkward and momentous.**** Maybe, just maybe, I've thought to myself, at the insistence of Fanshen and others like her, we are on the brink of a new age of accountability in which we'll all learn to stretch beyond our comfort zones, excuses, and hypocrisies in order to do what is right.

So here's my personalized chronology of this series of events that's challenging all of us to walk our talk and take responsibility for being the people we claim to be. 
  • On Wednesday, June 17, the nine Black Charleston churchgoers were shot and killed. It was three days after the CRLS Kimbrough Scholars Program teacher team had completed their Civil Rights history curriculum mapping for next year, and the course's theme--that America's racial past is manifest in America's racial present--was all too evident.
  • On Thursday, June 18, Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with having committed the murders. When the press revealed that he maintained a racist web site, the connections between past and present were confirmed. 
  • On Thursday, June 18, Fanshen posted a tweet by Rosa A. Clemente--I can't find the precise tweet that Fanshen posted, but its spirit and content were much like those of this other Clemente tweet Fanshen posted on the same day.
  • Later on Thursday, June 18, I received an e-mail notification that Fanshen had tagged me and some other people in a comment that began with "Where's my Cambridge crew?" Looking at the discussion thread, I saw the above tweet and some others exhorting White people to do more than feel sad, sympathetic, or righteously angry on behalf of people of color. I also saw my name--and felt uncomfortable, publicly chastised for my silence, shamed. I momentarily bristled at the thought of needing to justify my not having been on Facebook as often as I usually am. But as I read on, I quickly I realized that Fanshen was asking me to do something quite specific and concrete: to stand up, to march, to be counted. Her clarity was helpful. And the stakes were too high for her not to ask insistently and personally. She was trusting that those she respected and loved would understand--and I've been a teacher for too long not to recognize the powerful combination of "loving" and "challenging." 
  • A little later on Thursday, June 18, I responded to Fanshen: "Here I am! Off to Singapore, but will get moving when I'm back!" I wrote that response never having been brave enough to be much of a marcher in the past and not knowing where and how I could get moving; but I also could see that others were posting information that could help. I could figure out how to do this, then actually do it, I thought. Meanwhile, between Thursday, June 19 and Thursday, June 25, when I left for Singapore, I looked at Fanshen's Facebook page at least once a day to see who was saying what. 
  • On Monday, June 22, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the confederate flag to cease to be displayed on South Carolina's government buildings. Maybe this really was a watershed moment, I thought. But I feared that retaliation would follow in wake of this announcement.  
  • On Friday, June 26, while I was in transit to Singapore, Reverend Clementa Pinckney's funeral was held.  
  • On Sunday, June 28 in Singapore, I read President Obama's eulogy for Clementa Pinckney online, watched videos of it, and read a few articles that others had posted on Facebook about the significance of Obama's response. Perhaps this latest terrible event and the response to it really was marking a turning point. It was strange to be in Singapore when all of this was happening back home.
  • On Tuesday, June 30, still in Singapore, I received an e-mail notification that Fanshen had tagged me in another comment on Facebook; she was feeling shocked and profoundly let down by some of the responses from her Good 'White' People.
White fragility & privilege 101*****: 
I ask a group of 'white' friends who are frequently on social media - and most of whom are from the 'multicultural Mecca' of Cambridge, MA - to do more towards making things equitable for Black & Brown people.
They respond with:
1) telling me I didn't ask nicely or delicately enough and telling me how I should behave or ask so they feel more comfortable; and/or
2) challenging why I should get to tell them what to do; and/or
3) deflecting by making comparisons to other disenfranchised groups; and/or
4) saying they don't use social media for political purposes - only to post jokes or lighter fare (though their timelines speak otherwise); and/or
5) telling me I've caused damage to their reputations by 'calling them out' - when the true opportunity for damage presented itself in their responses; and/or
6) implying or stating that Black & Brown people need to do better for themselves; and/or
7) deflecting by not commenting on the article I posted or its contents; and/or
8) listing things they already do towards social justice; and/or
Worst of all...
9) crickets
Good 'White' people, how about if you try this response instead:
"Yes! I need to do more and I WILL do more because the discomfort I feel in this moment is tiny compared to the discomfort Black & Brown people live with every day."'
Because we know and love you, and we believe you and will hold you to it.
Initially, I was as surprised as she was by the responses she received. But then I recalled my own suspicions that some of the "good 'White' people" I know are too attached to, too proud of their reputations for being good White people.
I had to look up the word "crickets" in the slang dictionary to know that the silence of so many of us was among the many causes of Fanshen's pain. But I so appreciated that Fanshen had made clear the kind of response she was hoping for, along with the promise to trust in that response. As Switch authors Chip and Dan Heath might have put it, she was continuing to "shape the path."
  • I responded on July 1 in Singapore but what was still June 30 in the USA; it took me a while to decide just what to say, and I worried that the 15-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Singapore would be mistaken for crickets. As I contemplated the discussion strand, a respected colleague of mine responded with an apology and a request for guidance. Her apology felt right to me, so I apologized and shared my own reaction and thoughts of the moment, captured in the adjacent screen shot.
So now it's late on July 6, and I'm in the final stages of writing this blog post. Unquestionably, Fanshen has led valiantly, responsibly, authentically, and kindly during this difficult and important moment. Still, from my vantage point as one nearing her sixtieth birthday, I believe that there are a few things worth her thinking about. So I'll write as if I'm talking to Fanshen directly:
  • First of all, don't assume that all crickets are comments. It's hard to know for sure what silences mean. That said, you're probably right that most crickets are comments.  
  • Understand that the topic of who should march for and with Black and Brown people has periodically been complicated by divergent opinions about whether the presence of White people supports or co-opts. A few months back, I read an article--or perhaps it was comments in response to an article--that questioned the participation of White people in Black Lives Matter events because they couldn't know firsthand the lived experience of Black people. Something else I read suggested that White participation shifted the attention from Black people to White People. So it's probable that some of the people you're addressing have heard mixed messages regarding their participation and have been struggling to know how to participate. The beauty of what you're doing is that you're making clear that you want White people to show up. You're making clear what role White people can play even though they can't know experientially what it is to live Black lives. You're offering your own coherent message to supersede the mixed media messages that might discourage White people from standing visibly with and/or for people of color. Thank you for that! 
  • Finally, remember that you and I--you with your autobiographical show and vibrant online networks and I with my blog--are used to asserting our views and our lives in public. We're used to being confronted from time to time, and we have the thicker skins that go with that. Many of the people we know, especially if they're closer to my age than to yours, aren't nearly so accustomed to this, even though they participate in social media. That said, there's no reason you shouldn't use social media to ask important things of particular people at this critical moment--or any moment.
So I end this blog post with gratitude and hope. My former Pilot School dean Ray Shurtleff said it best when he posted a few minutes after I did on Fanshen's Facebook page: "Even at my age I'm still learning - from you and all of my students."

I'm especially grateful to Fanshen, who keeps bravely pushing us all toward worthy, difficult goals. And I'm also grateful to my online former Pilot School students (recently I've realized that they range in age from thirty-two to forty-five, the same ages I was when I was a Pilot School teacher) and my online Pilot School colleagues: without you and the other educators in my life, I wouldn't be part of any ongoing conversations about the events of the last weeks and months and the best ways to respond to them. Few non-educators in my predominantly White life are expecting me to do anything except know about these events. Yes, there's work to be done.

Finally, thanks to the many informational responses that Fanshen has received, I've joined the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) network. Fanshen, you've gotten me moving if not yet marching. Yes, I will be there. I know you'll hold me to that.
      * Technically, I never had Fanshen as a student in an English class. She was a senior during the 1987-8 school year, an established, positive student leader who played an important role in my Pilot School enculturation process during the first of my thirteen years as a Pilot School teacher. The Pilot School students frequently viewed  Pilot School staff members as "our teachers" and Pilot School graduates frequently viewed all Pilot staff members as "our teachers."
      ** I was off to do a week of workshops for teachers and teacher-leaders as part of ASCD Singapore's ongoing professional development program.
      *** Fanshen is doing this on her private Facebook page rather on the One Drop of Love public Facebook page. She has lots of Facebook friends, however, not all of whom know one another, which leads to that "public" feeling. Before writing and posting this blog, I asked Fanshen's permission to write about, quote from, and photograph her Facebook page.
      **** The only other time I've been challenged in this way was some years ago when I was on a Cambridge Forum panel with Katherine Paterson about how and whether religion could/should be taught in schools. When the moderator asked me if I believed in G-d, I realized how few people, even people who had known me well for years, had ever asked me that. I felt put on the spot, but I was also glad to answer, and I think others were glad I answered rather than avoided the question. 
      ***** I've added some blank lines to Fanshen's post to make it easier to read.