Thursday, August 6, 2020

on dying for my profession

today, i woke up to a couple of pieces written about why teachers should essentially suck it up and go back to work.  it hurts my soul each time i remember that my profession has not only been intentionally decimated and defunded for the past two decades by government, but astonished at the 180 degree turnaround from us being heroes in the spring for literally flipping education around in a weekend and creating online programs for students, while we sheltered in place due to global pandemic.

police brutality reared its ugly head again (always) at the end of the school year, and we pivoted to teach about it, talk about it and help teach our white friends and family members about why their silence has not been okay for generations.  now is the time to wrench white supremacy from its throne, and burn it down. now is the time to deconstruct the systems that have long divided and segregated quality of life in this country as intricately connected to the color of one's skin.  but it has BEEN time, and white folks are just now listening.  we mourned with our students as we talked about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery, and Sean Reed. we embedded these discussions into our summer school curriculum and built our arguments about looting, terrorism and Black Lives Matter.  we refused to let the conversations die after the media coverage stopped.

i found out a few weeks ago that my husband knew Amadou Diallo and lived near him in the Bronx before he was shot 41 times by the NYPD in 1999. i recalled the protests that I attended afterward, holding our wallets in the air and demanding the officers be fired and charged.  I was enraged, and had never met Mr. Diallo.  Mulay helped his community grieve and family recover in the aftermath.  it has been so difficult to not be able to be in the streets this time, so i find myself asking myself, what is my role in this movement now?  i am talking with my students and my own kids all the time, discussing the pandemic, the protests, colonialism, racism, and mass incarceration.  when my daughter wants to "play police", we stop and talk about why not.  i donate and lift up the voices of Detroit Will Breathe and BYP100's Detroit chapter and have made my work my activism through restorative justice, but direct action is something i'm missing.  i'm tired of talking.

tonight, i listened to my colleagues and administration hold a "town hall" about re-opening, in which they assured our community that we will be safe in buildings.  i know that this is not the case.
the data we're seeing from southern states reopening is enough to tell me that we cannot do this safely.  students will get sick.  staff will get sick.  i love my students, i love my school, but i will not die for my job.  i will not send my kids to school to get sick, or carry the virus to their friends, or their teacher.  i will not bring it home to my husband and family.

there are so many complicated factors here -- but the articles i read today focused on teachers being essential employees, glorified daycare, and that like other essential workers, we just need to be quiet and hurry up in our dying. it reminds me of Langston Hughes' stark poem "Kids Who Die".  when we decided that Sandy Hook was not enough to legislate gun control, we told ourselves that our children don't really matter. as soon as we know that Black people were dying of coronavirus, we pressed on with "reopening our country", affirming that black lives don't matter to white Americans.  the higher impact of COVID on black communities is due to a racist healthcare system that created the pre-existing conditions with hazardous living environments and food deserts -- racism has so many insidious angles, from high-fructose corn syrup and cheap foods to schools reopening and exposing students to a deadly virus.  it is not random that these two pandemics are intertwined, and COVID has exposed all of the fictions of US prosperity.

i wrote a letter to our school board, sent a letter to my representatives and emailed the governor.  i am supporting the protest from afar tomorrow because i'm still teaching and can't be in Lansing, but more than ever, i'm wanting to be out in the streets, speaking up about how i would do anything to be back in a classroom with my students, but it is not safe. their lives matter, and their education matters. i will not sit quietly and let my students and their families, already ravaged by this disease, become the trial run for failed safety protocols that endanger people.

there is much more to talk about, and figure out.  how schools have become what keeps our society running, the safety net for all of our failings, but we have been defunded and demonized in media and by politicians, who should hold the teaching of the next generation in the highest regard.  how i get paid less now than i did in my first year of teaching, and this is year 13.  how i'm up at 2am planning and working on my next virtual classroom, even though i'm exhausted and need a three month instead of one week break between now and our next school year.  how companies should be paying folks a living wage and childcare should be free or affordable, and parents should get paid to stay home with their children this year.

let me be clear: i have lost enough this year.  i will not lose my life, or the lives of my children, my students, my colleagues. we must service our highest need students safely, from home and services that our community needs and we will.  educators always figure out how, with no budget.  we need to fund this work, and care for our children and our beloved community (John Lewis voice) and be innovative and creative in building community while apart.


list of the embedded links, just in case you missed them:
I'm a Nurse In NY.  Teachers should do their jobs, just like I did - The Atlantic, Aug 4, 2020
Detroit Will Breathe - Facebook Page
BYP 100 - Detroit Chapter
Michigan Teachers Rally at Capitol - Lansing State Journal, Aug 6, 2020
Teachers and their Unions Have Been Anything but Heroes - NY Post, Aug 5, 2020
"Kids Who Die" by Langston Hughes, video by Color for Change, read by Danny Glover, 2015
Lauren Fardig-Diop - Letter to YCS School Board, Aug 3, 2020
Schools Aren't Opening. We Have to Pay Parents to Stay Home... Medium, Shayla R Griffin, July 30

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

dreaming of vacay in quarantine

(please excuse formatting irregularity, I cannot get the paragraphs to function correctly)

I need a vacation more than I know how to articulate.  120 days today since our
quarantine began in March, and while my kids did have one sleepover recently
so that my husband and I could have a night off, we have been without our
community, for one third of a calendar year, and I am coming apart at the seams. 
The kids are unraveling on a daily basis, multiple times a day.  They are addicted
to their screens and I have facilitated that by asking them to learn online and then
be plugged in to stay relatively quiet for my meetings.  We have suffered the loss
of more people in 4 months (some due to COVID, others for other reasons) than
in many years.  We have lost friends much too young to pass onto the ancestors. 
Our collective mental health is not okay.  We are grieving, and empty. 

Yet, we are very blessed and have much to be grateful for.  We are behind on
some bills, but mostly able to keep paying rent, car note and have enough food
in our fridge.  We donated some of our stimulus check, mostly to our beloveds’
families to deal with final arrangements, and to bail funds. We have lights on, AC,
internet and all the devices. I am grateful everyday to live with a chef. I can survive
on $40 for a whole week, that is my survival skill.  I am frugal and want to learn to
garden, un-school and skillshare; maybe I will have a chance to do so earlier than
I ever imagined.

I digress.  I need a vacation.  So badly. Summer is a teacher’s time to travel and
enjoy what the world has to offer, even if on a shoestring budget.  I know how to
enjoy summer vacation thoroughly, as we pack our bag/the car each morning and
set off for new destinations -- pools, parks, lakes, friends’ houses.  This year it
cannot be, and we mourn also the loss of summer.  Some of us, anyway.

As reports start to come in of new COVID cases acquired from 4th of July parties,
I remember the piece I wrote a few years back about the white privilege of summer vacationHow one sector of our people are working all summer away, and another sector is at the Hamptons each weekend, aggressively showing their privilege in their ability to “get away” at a moment’s notice.  For me, part of becoming a teacher was moving up from working class, and getting to have a summer vacation, time off to write, breathe, think and enjoy.  But it is privilege, and on the other side of the coin, are summers filled with violence. This summer is no different. 

This summer is marked by police violence and “rioting”, as many summers are,
when the heat gets oppressive and the hypervigilant surveillance in the hood
means daily harassment of young black and brown boys and girls.  I witness it
all the time, and try to stand in and stand up when I see it occurring. But the
sustained protests demanding defunding of police and affirming that Black Lives
Matter and we won’t stop until the systems are eradicated and the people
liberated, they are not going away.  This is enraging to those who hoped it would
die out when the media coverage did.  To those who “allow” some civil dis-
obedience, but quickly want to return to the normalcy of oppression.

We have been tossing around the phrase “I want to get back to normal” so casually,
but none of this is normal.  A government that refuses to protect, and is even arming
paramilitary against the people, citizens who take the affect of toddlers in their
indignant refusal to wear a mask to protect others.  Schools, if they open, will cause
outbreaks and be forced to close soon.  Students and teachers will die.  I’m writing
furiously just in case this is my time and really should begin figuring out my will.  I
just turned 40 last month.  My dear friend passed away at 36.  I know that tomorrow
is not promised, but to be looking into the face of tomorrow, as a teacher right now,
is like stepping off the edge of a cliff.  I have more to do on this earth and I will not
sacrifice my life, or my students’ lives, or my children’s lives because my government
doesn’t care about my life. 

Everyone being home and confined to one space all of the time means that we
are starting to grow sick of one another.  This is true of family units and neighbors,
though I love my squad and our reggae dance parties every day.  The desire to
“go somewhere” is strong in almost everyone we are near.  I feel like I understand
the riots of 67 in Detroit and the riots of 1992 in L.A. more than I ever have.  There
is so much pressure, from all sides, and the fever pitch of noise and chaos is evident. 
From nightly fireworks since early June disrupting our sleep, to new incidents of
police violence against peaceful protestors and unarmed black people, to the
continued lack of arrest of Breonna Taylor’s killers, to the systemic racism that allows
for 40% of COVID-19 deaths being Black people in Michigan, despite only representing
13% of the population.  There is so much to want to get away from, and nowhere
to go. 

We need a break, some respite, to take a breath, so that we can return to the fight. 
Please do so safely, my comrades.  Be like Samirah, and take to hiking trails, or like
A’yen and paddle rivers.  Commune with nature and get your vitamin D.  Pause and
unplug as you need.  But we must keep looking ourselves in the mirror, as a country,
and keep fighting for justice, for equity, for systemic change, from the root. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

grief intersects

over 100,000 people have died in the United States, and the president sits bunkered in the White House while rebellion takes the streets.  the intersections of grief from the loss of so many loved ones to Coronavirus, disproportionately impacting black and brown communities, with grief from the loss of more black people to police brutality, captured on film and replayed millions of times on the internet have the people out in the streets.  the rage is so guttural and so deep and i hate that white people are talking about the looting and property damage, when i feel like burning it all down.  white supremacy must finally die and black lives must finally matter in the US, for the first time.

at the crest of the grief right now for me is Erin.  my dear friend and helluva principal was biking around the Bronx getting laptops to her students, was visiting the homes of students who had lost someone to COVID, and lost her life while fighting for others.  she gave everything she had to our small Bronx neighborhood school, and it cost her breath.  we can't breathe.

i can't breathe.  George Floyd echoed these words, spoken by Eric Garner and heard by the world in 2014, and again in 2020.  his memorial was yesterday and my eyes were so raw from crying that i couldn't tune in for too long.  i'm so tired of people's lives being taken so needlessly, everyday.  i'm so tired of white people who keep saying "why is it always a race thing?" or "i can't see color", but i need to find the energy and the patience to do the work.  it is my job.  i cannot walk away from this.  BIPOC (black indigenous people of color) do not get to walk away from this and i must shoulder some of the burden to take some weight off of others.  we are bound in the same garment of destiny, and it is with you that i look up to the sky and see an anti-racist future.

please, sit with your rage.  sit with your grief.  move because your grief compels you to not sit still, but not to avoid facing yourself.  if there is one thing i've learned is that you have to cry, rage, scream, collapse, so that you can create, re-envision, dismantle and rise.  it is similar with unlearning privilege and fragility.  you have to sit in it, be uncomfortable -- but save those tears for later, esp white women -- empathize without centering yourself.  you will never understand or be able to live the experience of a black person, but you can listen, you can hear, you can prioritize their feelings and health and well-being.  it is not about you.

the protests in the past two weeks have warmed the fires in my heart.  i struggle to find my place on the front lines, because of the pandemic and immuno-suppressed people i love, because of my anxiety, because i don't want to put my children's health at risk, but i hope that my words and dissemination of information is helping other people connect.  i am an educator, and i hope that i have used my minuscule platform to share information, books, reading lists, lessons and other ways to bring social justice work home, to the front stoop or the kitchen table or wherever you're doing your learning these days.  i have stolen a corner of my kids' bedroom to write my manifestos and take Zoom calls.  i am still organizing, and participating, trying to show up as loudly as i can.

how can you show up?  how can you interrogate the racism you find in yourself, and in your life?  do some writing, thinking, talking and then, most importantly, take action.

with lots of love,

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

adventures in a 2 bedroom apt

Before reading this, please put this on in the background: Chika's Tiny Desk
This has been my soundtrack to quarantine, when I've really needed to hear good music to feel a little bit sane.  I've also been finding joy in DJ D-Nice's IG live sets; his soul sets have been breathtaking and so important to my mental health.  Please let me know what you've been listening to during these times.

* * * * * * *

"We are in unprecedented times" is already a cliche, but I have to begin there, because it's true.   It is March 25th, and my last day of work was 12 days ago.  We have been in our 2 bedroom apartment 23 hours a day since, save for one of us running to the market to get food and a walk in the woods to move our bodies.  I feel fortunate that I am a teacher and for the time being, I am still being paid, but there are so many people who have lost their jobs and must stay at home until this pandemic clears.  COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) was something many people thought was a scare tactic in an election year, but with over 400,000 people in 156 countries contracting this virus since December where it began in Wuhan, China, it has quickly changed the routines of our daily lives.

At this time, schools in Michigan are closed until April 13th, which will be a month of "remote learning".  Research that I've read lately says that the peak in NYC is still 45 days away, and that we could lose up to 2.5 million people in the United States; many say that we should not expect to return to school this year, though our president is more concerning with money than saving lives, and it's despicable.  It has been tough to keep in touch with my students, many of whom do not have computers or reliable internet at home, so I've been trying to text and email (and hope they get their email on their phones), and find them on the interwebs.  I feel my age in the way that I communicate online, which is mostly facebook and ig, knowing that most of my students are mostly snapchat and tiktok-obsessed, and there are lines that turning 40 this year will not allow me to cross.  😝

I sent home stress-relief packets to my students with some articles to read, but mostly work about self-esteem, knowing your worth, developing  yourself, positive affirmations, coping mechanisms for depression and anxiety.  I didn't send home "work" because I can't grade their work, anyway.  Also, I can't imagine why they would be concerned about doing work at a time like this, I'm sure not focused on it.  For equity reasons, all work is enrichment work, and not required, which I'm excited about because my students lose out the most on their education in this situation.   I want to make sure they have enough to eat, that is a bigger priority to me.

It has been even tougher to try and manage connecting with my students, keeping the house in somewhat working order, and figuring out how my own kids can and should still learn while quarantined.  Their school sent home packets that we work on occasionally, but I am a high school teacher and phonics are not my specialty, so we have adapted project-based learning at home, too.  We read books in a new reading nook I created in their room, we planted seeds and have been taking care of them, we draw and do yoga stretches, we have dance parties, we bake things almost everyday, we identify bird calls and leaves on our walks (my 9 year old self would definitely approve). 

It has been tough to navigate time and space to ourselves in such a small area, and truth be told, I've found myself working in the kids' room because it's the only quiet spot in the house, but I am humbled and grateful about how much we have around us, our ability to get through tough times together and grow closer in the process.  On day 1 I wrote "omg, how can I do this?" but I am learning this, too, with the help of a partner who sees the look in my eye and says, "go." 

The only place we can go is the woods, which I walked alone today because I needed to feel my breath quicken as I pushed up a hill and paused at the water to say nam myoho renge kyo under my breath.  It is scary to know that this virus is everywhere, and I want to keep everyone safe, not just everyone in my life.  This is why I stay home -- for my grandparents, for my mom, aunts and uncles, for elders and immunosuppressed folks in my community, for the homeless and incarcerated, for nurses and doctors and medical assistants and grocery store employees, gas station employees and delivery drivers, for postal workers.

Look out soon for another dispatch from a 2 bedroom apartment in the Midwest.  May you be safe, healthy and stay at home to flatten the curve.

Lauren, Mulay, Nas and Sali Diop

Monday, January 27, 2020

Yesterday's Grief, today

There are days when I have no idea how I will stop crying, because grief is an abyss from which I've never returned. Then I turn the shower off, get dressed and smile for my children, because they need me, and I have to keep going.

There are days when it feels almost normal.  I smile, I laugh, I try to be in the moments of my life and be genuine, which can be a range of emotions, with this underlying distance.   I have hollowed into myself again, an extroverted introvert who got confused for a moment, but retreat is my normal.  

Grief brings me inward.  I keep expressing a need to connect, but the synapses are not firing on how and when.  It takes all of my energy and focus to make it through every day.  I don't make it through the evenings.  I am irritated and fatigued, every night.   My family sees the worst in me, and I want to change this.  Time is too limited to be upset all the time.  

I miss so many people.  I will find a way to be there again, with the people I love.  The Blind Pig always reminds me of the people I cherish in my home, and it was nice to have a late night pop-out to celebrate with Nickie P, Bianca, Rhett, Harlin, Leanne, Jessie, but many folks were missing.  

This is a common theme lately -- I am trying to be present and with my kids, with my family, with my friends, but too many people are missing to be fully in the joy.  There is a semi-translucent partition between me and true happiness.  

I know that I will figure this out, but the process of grief is so debilitating.  I hate that everyone has to feel and know this at some point in their lives.  That so many feel it all at once on days like today.  I hate that my children know a faded version of their mom, and want to be the version that felt complete.  Faith doesn't give me much comfort on some days.  I can think about seeing someone in the next life, but it doesn't feel less far away.

Most of all, there is no time limit, shape or way that this should look.  I try to love everyone I can, everyday, because my time, too, is not promised on this earth.  

RIP kobe bryant and gianna bryant. As I write, I hate that another mom and wife is feeling the gutting pain of grief that I am clawing to get away from.  I hate that this happens all over the world, everyday, to good people, without reason.  Life can be so vibrant and beautiful, and yet so terrible and unfair.   

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Unsent drafts

I draft things and never press send.  When I was younger and published zines, everything about my life was on a page for others to read.  I used to get in trouble with friends and family for oversharing and telling too much, so poetry became my way to say it without saying it.  I am built for sharing, oversharing, talking and listening.  I am trying to listen more; to understand and empathize has become like breathing, it is just part of daily practice. But can I hear and not attempt to solve?  Can I just sit with the heavy knowledge and be there for thinking through, or lashing out?

My unsent emails are books in and of themselves.  All the things I almost said.  So many things I'm glad I didn't.  This is a purgatory that I hope is never discovered after my demise.  Journals are fair game -- all saints have a past and I have never claimed to be a woman of god, but goddess, did I live zealously.

The state of the world has me shedding tears before putting on happy faces for my daughter's 5th birthday.  What hell our children are inheriting.  How can we stop the fires from burning, both literal and figurative?  How can we oust the fascists from all of their powerful positions globally?  Why is the change in decade feeling like a change in century, to the lessons of history we apparently did not learn, even though we tell ourselves to never forget.

As Greta Thunberg says, I don't want hope.  I am struggling to find it anyway in a new year of terrible omens, death, destruction and more endless war.  My kids and I will be on the streets and I will work to add my United Playaz course back to the elective options for 2nd semester.  We have got to mobilize, now.

Monday, September 30, 2019

the pink life

i don't know what to do with my hands.  a few times in the past few weeks, i have been away from my children with languid hours for resting, relaxing and remembering who i am.  the truth is, i have no idea how to do that anymore.  resting is alien territory, and as i navigate REALLY AND TRULY doing self-care, and digging deeply into the accountability of that work, i am trying to investigate why. 

resting means: i lay on the couch while he brings them to school.
resting means: i still got up early to lay out their clothes, help them get dressed and ready.
resting means: there is so much laundry to do, i'll do some today.
resting means: no!  you're supposed to lay down and rest.
resting means: he makes me a beautiful, healthy breakfast.
resting means: i do the laundry anyway.
resting means: i answer work emails.
resting means: i cry with gratitude that my boss will not target me in response to this absence.
resting means: i load the dishwasher.
resting means: i answer more work emails.
resting means: "i should..." for eternity

when i am with others, i am able to remember glimpses of who i was before.  at nicole and shawn's wedding, reminiscing with eli, with jos at the beach, with gail on walton ave, at ali's kitchen table.  but alone, i clearly have forgotten what to do with my time. 

renequa reminded me this morning that we must write.  so i am on the couch, still in my pajamas at 2:35pm, writing a blog entry and trying to figure out how to rest.  why i don't rest.  and why, when given the time and space to do so, i distract myself from the healing properties of actually resting.

having young kids, rest is an exquisite luxury, one that i haven't had in years.  but as my kids grow into their own hurricane force winds, i do occasionally have some time to think about who i am and how i want to grow.  i am turning 40 this year, and there is much i still want to accomplish in this short time on earth.

the "i should"s are what interrupt my rest, because those are usually domestic tasks.  in our household, we share domestic tasks much more equitably than in many heterosexual relationships, but there is the mental load that many women take on, where i am in a perpetual hell of managing dr's appts, calendars, soccer practices, prescription refills, cleaning, organizing, folding and sorting of our lives.  thank goodness we have no social lives.

as i'm writing this, the dishwasher is sloshing in the background, the laundry is in the dryer and i am poised to write back to my son in his Friday notebook, which i neglected to do last night.  i have just sent an email volunteering to be room parent, because i need more things to do with my hands.  sigh.

stay tuned for more episodes which expose the frailty of my commitment to rest.