Thursday, June 24, 2021

summertime sadness, part 4

if i were to scroll back through my blogs over the past 25 years, i'm sure that i write a post like this every year, or at least write it in a journal entry offline.  with summer always comes sadness for me, but especially these past few years.  in 2018, the summer after losing my father, i was intent on healing and focusing on myself, but my mourning continued long past September, as grief is an everyday struggle that continues to this day.  in 2019, i was just getting a handle on grief, and wrestling with adulting, so the sadness turned inward as i tried to understand why i was struggling with growing up and being responsible.  last year, COVID and the loss of so many folks i love strung the grief out, but i continued teaching summer school, even though i should have rested.  so this year, i have said that i'm not working this summer, truly giving myself the time and space to rest and focus on healing and myself.  

and that's ugly.  it sometimes means not caring about the everyday things.  it sometimes means ignoring others and hiding so i can attend to myself.  it sometimes means losing my phone, or not being reachable or reliable.  always, it means getting sick.  my body has held itself together throughout the year, and mask-wearing + quarantining has meant we haven't been exposed to illness in the same way.  but eventually, my body tells me when I need a break, and it is now.  (and it's just a cold, thankfully)

i've been struggling a lot, as the world opens up, with my anxiety around what that means for socializing.  after 16 months and, people really give no fucks about safety at this juncture. i am still wearing masks in public spaces because my children cannot be vaccinated, and i must vigilantly protect them.  i am wanting to be around people and missing them, but feeling paralyzed and unsafe when i do hang out.  i cannot imagine dining or being indoors at a bar for a long time, or seeing live music, and this is what i loved to do to relax before.  what new ways can i work on being together with people, and feeling safe enough that i can enjoy the time together?  for the summer it can be outdoors, but what about in the fall and winter? 

i also realize and remember every summer how terrible i am at not working.  i keep picking up projects and deciding to "do more", even in the face of an obvious need for rest and disconnection from screens.  my husband, my children tell me how much i am engrossed in a device instead of the people in front of me, and this needs to stop.  as work became digital this year and as i used social media for work and personal reasons, i am always finding new ways to work, and disrupting my own rest with a need to feel connected.  what will the cost of this addiction be, and is it vanity, or something else? 

in the midst of this sadness, i am reminded that these are "champagne problems" as Jerome Nichols of The Butters says -- or high class problems.  i have a beautiful community of people who love me.  i have a home, a vehicle that is reliable, a job that i love, a husband and 2 beautiful children.  paid time off.  my health.  so many amenities and beautiful things about my life.  it is okay to recognize this AND also sit in this sadness, contemplate its purpose, its location, its lesson.  

i will continue to find my way to heal in these ways: being around and fully present with people i love and miss (outside, masked up), connecting with water and letting it teach me about perseverance, basking in the sun, loving on my family, feeling unapologetic about the need to rest and set boundaries.  the sadness is necessary to recognize and appreciate the joy.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

archaeology of self

 I believe in dangerous women

 (a love letter to my favorite writers)

I am a sponge, and I try

not to appropriate, 

not to ‘eat the other’,

but appreciate, uplift

and amplify the work 

of geniuses that history

does not always name.

say her name.  

I believe in dangerous women 

who care for themselves and 

their community like Audre,

prolific poetry-theory of hooks,

I am screaming 

Teaching to Transgress 

from the top of Kilimanjaro

and traveling to new galaxies, 

freedom dreaming through

Binary Stars, with Octavia.

Black women will be the mule

no longer, as we cherish, 

and love you, Toni, 

from the margin to the center.

we have been doing a series of professional learning with Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, and she challenged us to write yesterday an "i believe/i am" poem, using a list of everyday tools/objects, people who inspire us and things we believe in.  it was also mixed with a consideration of the continuum of whiteness, and i was drawn back to "eating the other", and how in college, that had been such an important concept to me as i listened to hip-hop, lived in NYC, went to shows, and engaged with the culture.  i wrote a lot in zines about wanting to be respectful and not appropriate, and i walk that line all of the time, still 20 years later.  i teach about hip-hop, and Black music, all of the time, and i have to be careful to appreciate and share my love for it, but not claim ownership over it.  talks of the self and others have been consistent in my classes all year, and all i can really do is be honest and transparent with my students, and with myself.  

as I dig deeper, in what Dr. Sealey-Ruiz has titled "the archaeology of self", I was talking to Sampson today about doing anti-racist work with white students.  I hope that my work is not construed as white saviorism, but I wonder, as I finish up year 13 of teaching, beginning in Detroit, then the Bronx, and now Ypsilanti, how can I bring this work to the people who need it most?  this is why I like to work with professional development and staff, as we know that teachers are mainly white women, but I also want to work with white students.  I've started to find small avenues, through trainings and side projects here and there, but will I make the shift?  and if not, why?   

today the New York Times cover is a visual of 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.  i commented "I don't know how we begin to recover from this magnitude of loss and Mulay reminds me of societies who have.  Genocide is not new.  Grief is not, either.  We must remember our old was of healing and forge new ways to collectively grieve.  We need each other."  this is where I am, coming out of the deep solitude of winter, into wanting to be safely together (still virtually, and maybe outdoors soon) to hold space for each other.  we have all lost so much, and the only way through is to feel it all, fall apart, pick each other up, take care and rest, and get up again.  we have to keep fighting, because we are alive to do so.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

on white supremacist terrorist coups

this is what i posted on facebook on thursday, as i spent Wednesday evening on English teacher pages of the interwebs, convincing teachers that they should indeed talk about terrorists taking over the Capitol on January 6, 2021.  

educators, please talk about domestic terrorism at the capitol today. fuck a lesson plan. show an image and ask them to journal, or ask what they're thinking about. answer their questions, be honest, if you don't know something... look it up with them. (or say "I don't know" and then come back with an update later) model how you research. give them links and resources to research and process on their own. and just listen to them. young people need places to process the white supremacist violence they see.  

we must understand it to dismantle it.

 i understand the reasons that teachers, parents, white people may want to "continue as normal", but silence is complicity.  if you don't know what to say, at least say something before you continue with your lesson plan.  allow the space for processing.  tell them that you don't know what to say.  read articles together, and learn about it side by side, become a student with them.  show them how you research.  even if social studies isn't your content area, you should still acknowledge this event.  talk about why it happened, who lit the fires of white supremacist nationalism for the entire 4 years of his presidency and campaign beforehand. 

please do not rely on statements like "this is not who were are, as Americans", because it's precisely who we are.  present to them other moments in history in which white supremacy has been allowed to flourish and be violent; there are thousands of examples that we can access easily on the internet.  google is free. 

on this very same day, my aunt Reni (Maureen Flynn Sieminski) passed away after a fierce fight with a rare blood cancer.  i dealt personally with the overwhelming grief of loss as i watched in horror at Capitol police just opened the gates for violent terrorists, who ended up killing 5 people, and reports are starting to show, intended to do much worse.  Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately.  now Twitter finally decides to block his account permanently, and now he is finally blocked from other forms of social media.  too little, too late. 

i will post separately about my aunt, and grief, but i have felt numb these past few days.  trying to be a parent and remember to feed, bathe and love my kids.  checking on my mom.  leading healing circles, which is the only therapy i have right now, so i will utilize it as much as possible to reckon with my own losses and see my own humanity.  my colleagues in the Restorative Justice Collaborative of The DRC reminded me this week that we seek to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see each other, which is the only way we can seek to challenge white supremacy in our conversations.  we can, and we must, but as a white practitioner, i have less risk in terms of beginning this conversation. 

i am excited more about The Collaborative than anything else right now, because we are working together as practitioners of restorative (read: transformative) justice... where we break down systems of oppression and institutions that have harmed people in Washtenaw county.  Courts and schools are two places where we need to work, and this group will allow us to be in schools, in the court system, and in the community, which is where the values are.  we need to collaborate with other groups in our area to maximize our impact and i'm excited to watch our work grow.  

the vaccine has arrived, and i will hopefully be able to be vaccinated in the next month or so.  i am willing to wait my turn to keep our most vulnerable folks safe and vaccinated first.  both Amy and my mom have gotten their first doses.  Mulay will hopefully be able to in the spring, so that we can travel.  inshallah, when it is safe, we hope to finally bring him home this year, for at least a few weeks. we can't control when it will be safe, so we are preparing in the ways we can.  it would be lovely to get away, but we don't want to harm anyone else, and will not endanger our friends and family, but 20 years is enough and he needs to go home. 

stay safe and healthy.  wear your masks.  keep distanced.  limit travel and gather virtually.  hug the people in your circle and remember that tomorrow isn't promised.  and if you're tired, full of grief, unable to move much, as i am, rest yourself and take good care so we can begin the fight again tomorrow. 

xo, lolo

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