I Wrote a Guest Post on Dad Gone Wild

I wrote something about my experience in an alternative teacher licensure program and sent it to TC Webber of Dad Gone Wild. He posted it and hopefully it will get the conversation going about teacher training. Here’s a permanent link. I’m super excited that Diane Ravitch retweeted me!

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I’m Published on HerStory

An essay I wrote is going up today on HerStory, a blog of women’s writing. It’s kind of a journal entry from almost a year ago. I wrote the meat of it back in March 2016 about how miserable I was at the end of my pregnancy, and returned to in October. That was when I cleaned it up and made sense of it to present to an audience. I hope it helps explain some of my time away from the blog. Here’s a permanent link. Enjoy!

Ready to March

The Women’s March is tomorrow, and I’m excited to attend in Nashville with my baby. When I took him with me to vote in November, I was excited to think that years from now I would be sharing with him that he helped me elect the first woman president. Maybe someday he still will. This protest is a historic moment, one that I’ll be proud to tell my child he was present for. I still would have preferred to tell the other story, but at least we’ll be on the right side of history, as active dissenters rather than passive consenters.

This march will be the fourth protest I’ve attended since the election. I went to the Marcha Contra el Odio de Trump (March Against Trump’s Hate) organized by Dignidad Obrera, among other Nashville organizations, the Sunday after the election. There was a small bilingual discussion beforehand among parents and teachers looking for ways to support children who may be encountering racist bullying triggered by the election. About 300 people marched.

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The other two protests were smaller. There was one on the day of the electoral college vote. It was cold, so I brought hot chocolate to share with the persistent protesters who stayed longer than I did. And then a couple weeks ago, I joined a couple dozen people protesting outside of the offices of our Republican senators, focused on the climate change deniers who are nominated to the Cabinet.

I understand that not everyone can protest–and in fact maybe the size of this weekend’s protests is getting out of hand and borderline unsafe. Protests like this are by their nature a one-time event, when what we need is ongoing commitment. That’s why I wanted to share some of the other things I’ve been doing since the election and hope to continue to do as long as necessary.

I went to a meeting, sent emails, passed out flyers, made phone calls, and talked to coworkers about the vote on collaborative conferencing for a teachers’ contract in our school district. This victory, coming just a week or so after the crushing defeat in the election, has been a definite bright spot. I’m looking forward to watching this process and hope for a contract that will improve teachers’ pay and working conditions, and thus students’ learning conditions as well.

Inspired by the Indivisible guide, I have been calling my two Republican senators at least weekly. I’ve made over 20 calls so far. I receive daily action alert texts that give me ideas about what issues to talk to them about, but usually I already have something I’m mad about. Since education is my pet issue, I’ve been focused on the Betsy DeVos nomination for Department of Education. So far the senators haven’t done much that I wanted them to do, except push back DeVos’s hearing a week and say in the media that they want to replace the ACA. I want to participate in a growing wave of angry calls, so that these senators start to feel like their seats are at risk if they don’t change the way they vote. Senator Bob Corker is up for re-election in 2018, and getting rid of him should be a #1 priority for all Tennesseans.

I’ve done a lot of small things online: signing petitions, tweeting, using an app called Countable, liking, commenting, and using the angry or sad reaction emoji on facebook (Why is there no ‘scared’ or ‘yikes!’ reaction emoji? We need that one now). It’s easy to feel like these are throwaway actions, but they’re also effortless and cost me nothing. Why not spend the miniscule extra energy of a click or two? I like to think that when I click ‘like,’ that means that my facebook friends are more likely to see a story, and that may influence them.

I’m not detailing my activities here in order to brag, and I don’t want to participate in some kind of ally theater. I don’t need to give myself a pat on the back because nothing I do can ever be enough until our world is just and free. But on the other hand, I made a commitment to do these things, and I want to hold myself accountable, and there’s nothing like publicity to do that. My hope is that hearing about what I’m doing can encourage others and give them some ideas about what they might do as well.

These protests are only the beginning of a resistance movement that will have to last for several years. Going forward, my goal is to do about four things every week: a call to each of my senators, one local or state-level action or phone call, and one in-person action, like attending a meeting. I probably won’t reach that goal every week, but it’s a dramatic uptick in my involvement compared to last year, and it’s close to my limit for the amount of time and energy I have to devote to these activities, considering I have a full-time job and two little kids. So far I’m finding these actions very doable and empowering. They’re a great outlet for the frustration and anger that would otherwise build up just from scrolling my newsfeed. Compared to helpless inaction, doing something, anything, is a relief.

Let’s march!

Mereader: Year Five in Review

2016 was a tough year for the world, and in a smaller way, for me personally. I’m relieved that it is over. Here’s what I did on the blog this year.

I was published in the LA Review of Books!

I had a baby and took a break from the blog

I spoke at the school board and shared some links about education issues

I wondered why writing can be so hard for mothers

I attended the Southern Festival of Books (with my baby)

After the election, I resolved to get involved

In all, I read 122 books, reviewed 35 of them, and wrote 4 essays, for a total of 36 blog posts in 2016. Tomorrow I’ll post a list of my favorite books of the year.

How I’m Dealing with This Terrible Election

I don’t usually write about politics, but writing is how I process events, and this is something I have to do now. I know I’m not alone in feeling that this election has shaken me to my core and changed my world for the worse, perhaps irreparably. The last time I remember feeling this upset about a news event was September 11, 2001. At a time like this, pausing for self-care and mourning is important. I’ve taken some time to talk to people I love who feel similarly, to meet new people who feel similarly, and grieve with them. I’m probably not really done with that stage of grief, but I am also feeling restless and unsettled and need to channel some energy into planning next steps.

I feel tremendous guilt that I didn’t do more to change the outcome of this election. I did vote, and voting is crucial, but apparently not enough. I have lots of excuses: this was the year I had a baby, I was complacent because the media and my carefully curated facebook echo chamber told me that Hillary would easily win, it’s really hard to change people’s opinions and confrontation is hard. But those are just excuses. Taking action starting now to turn the tide back is so important that I can’t content myself with excuses anymore. I’m hoping that in addition to helping to change the horrible situation we find our country in, making a plan and following through will also help me to cope and keep me from despair.

These are the concrete things I’m going to do to deal with the next 4 years. I’m making this plan public to keep myself accountable. Some of these actions you might be able to do too.

  1. Get involved locally. I’ve put a meeting of the local neighborhood association on my calendar. I know these groups are very small, and the changes they enact are small too, but they’re also the place where city council members get their start, and city council members become mayors, who become representatives and congressmen and governors. Meetings like this are where I can meet my neighbors and get to know them and maybe eventually influence them.
  2. Pick an issue, learn about it, and intensify your activism there. My issue is education. I’ve started going to meetings for a local group of education activists, who are getting involved at the state and district level. I’ve blogged sometimes about education as well.
  3. Join a union. I’m in Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, a local chapter of NEA. I’m not just paying dues, but going to meetings and talking about the union with the other teachers in my building. I know not all professions have unions, sadly, but some professional organizations do similar advocacy. Another alternative might be just joining a mailing list or facebook group for a general union like the AFL-CIO. Robert Reich is another person I follow on facebook for info and opinions. That way you can pay attention to labor issues and see what these groups say about different candidates at election time.
  4. Every time Trump says something or does something that upsets me and makes me scared, I will donate a small amount of money to an organization related to that particular outrage. The amounts have to be small because I’m not rich and because I anticipate having to do this frequently. Online giving is quick and easy. When he says something sexist or misogynist or objectifying, I will donate to RAINN. When he does something that makes me scared about the environment, I will donate to the Sierra Club. When he says something racist, I will donate to the Movement for Black Lives. When he attacks immigrants, I will donate to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. When he does something that makes people in other countries less safe, I will donate to UNICEF. When he attacks journalists, free speech rights, or freedom of religion, I will donate to the ACLU. When he or Pence does something to hurt LGBTQIA people, I will donate to Lamda Legal. When he insults people with disabilities, I will donate to Easterseals. When a fresh outrage I haven’t anticipated here comes up, I will research it then and find a relevant organization to donate to. I’m hoping that taking an immediate action like this will assuage my fear and anger, as well as helping the causes that need so much more support now than ever.
  5. I will write my senator, congressman, state representative, and state congressman. Frequently. Whether or not I voted for them, whether or not I can promise to vote for them next time. Whenever an issue comes up and I have a minute. Emails are not that hard. Sometimes I might call. I’ll keep track of my contacts with them so that I can make sure I’m keeping my commitment and that they keep theirs.
  6. Before the 2018 elections, I will phone bank and canvass for Democratic candidates to the House, Senate, and Tennessee Assembly. I will write letters to right-leaning family members in other states to try to influence them to vote Democratic. I will text friends with reminders to vote. I will offer to give people rides to the polls. I will try to organize voter registration and/or a speaker at my school to talk to students about the election. Taking a branch of government away from the Republicans is so important. It is the best damage control measure we have available.
  7. I will push back when friends and loved ones make political statements I disagree with. My challenge might be to do this without losing my cool or making extreme statements that alienate them. I think in these cases it helps to avoid strong language and make it personal and specific if possible.  It also helps to ask questions and be genuinely curious about the answer, rather than using the question to make a point. Here are some things I’ve thought of to say that are not overly confrontational:
  • Yes, I’m glad the election is over, but I’m not happy with the outcome.
  • Actually, I’m disappointed in the election. That Access Hollywood video really bothered me.
  • He didn’t win the popular vote, you know.
  • Did you know that third party voters in swing states could have changed the outcome of this election?
  • Some of the students I have taught are immigrants or the kids of immigrants. They’re worried about their families being separated.
  • I’m nervous about Trump’s reactive personality and the unpredictable things he might do, especially in foreign policy.
  • I’m worried about the fact that Trump is going to make a climate change denier head of the EPA.
  • I looked at Hillary and Trump’s plans for maternity leave and child care, and Hillary’s plan would have helped my family a lot more. It might be the difference between whether or not I can have any more children.
  • You said you don’t like the things he said about Mexicans, but I’m wondering why party loyalty outweighs that?
  • We might have to agree to disagree, but when you’re open to having a real conversation about it, I’m here.

I’m certainly not the first one to write about steps we can take to get involved in politics. Here’s another really good list of ideas: How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action.

Please comment if you have other ideas for concrete things we can all do to oppose Trump, minimize the damage he will do, and help those that he will hurt. If you have other strategies for these hard conversations with relatives and friends, please share! If there are other charities or organizations that are doing this work that I haven’t thought of, I’d love to hear about it!

Southern Festival of Books 2016 Recap

I spent Saturday morning and afternoon at the Southern Festival of Books in downtown Nashville. I arrived at the downtown library at 9, unloaded the stroller and wheeled the baby to the auditorium for the early book talk. I didn’t know that it was sponsored by the Nashville chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, an organization I’m glad to have learned about. There were little muffins and coffee cakes on the way in. I parked the stroller in the hall and found a seat in the back, on the aisle, near a door, with the baby on my lap. Curtis Sittenfeld, Adam Haslett, Danielle Dutton, and Yaa Gyasi sat in a row in comfy chairs on the stage, interviewed by a local host. Each read an excerpt from their books. Questions concentrated on their writing processes, which I actually don’t find all that interesting. It’s kind of a repetitive question that comes up at every author talk I ever go to. But it was interesting and heartening to learn that Dutton’s book took her 10 years to write, and Gyasi’s took her 7. I had heard of Dutton, but not of Haslett; now both of their books are added to my long list of books to read. Luckily I’ve become comfortable nursing in public. I fed the baby during the talk, but when he was finished, he thrashed around and hit his head on the arm of my chair, making him cry. I got up and ran out the door quickly–my strategic seating decision minimized disruption. I calmed him and went back inside. He slept through the second half.

When the talk was over, I hustled the stroller up the hill to the Legislative Pavillion where the rest of the festival was. I found the ramp and the big tent from Parnassus Books with all the books from all the authors. I picked three, limited by budget, and knowing I couldn’t count on having time to get more than that many books signed. I got Sittenfeld’s Eligible, and the new books from Lauren Oliver and Beth Revis. Then I had to figure out how to get up to the signing colonnade with the stroller. I had to go into the building on the ground floor, through a hall to an elevator, then up. I met Sittenfeld, and told her I’m from Cincinnati, where her book is set. Then I rushed back inside and down the elevator to the room where Lauren Oliver’s talk would be. It was a very full room. Oliver was presenting with Kendare Blake, a small, funny woman whose YA books seem dark and gory, in a good way. Oliver’s disciplined, prolific writing schedule awes me. She writes as many as 3 books at a time, at least 500 words a day on each. No wonder she has so many novels. I also found out that her first book, Before I Fall, will be a movie in the spring. After I went back to the elevator, up to the colonnade, and got in line with the baby, I saw that Oliver actually had one of the longest signing lines I saw all day. (J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, had perhaps the longest.) The baby smiled at people in line. Oliver actually remembered me from two years ago, or at least she said she did.

I had a break then; Beth Revis’s talk didn’t start for almost 2 hours. I went back down the elevator and outside. I walked to the food trucks and got chicken tacos. That area was really crowded and hard to navigate with the stroller. I realized I couldn’t carry the plate of tacos while wheeling the stroller, so I sat down there on a curb and ate. Then the baby was fussy so I fed him too. He liked playing with my empty water bottle. Then I took my time going back to the door to get to the elevator, glancing at booths, picking up a couple brochures and wishing I could spend lots of money on cute book accessories. When I got back inside, it was still early; another talk was going on in the room, so I went to the bathroom. There was no changing table for the baby, so I changed him in the stroller. I sat in a chair and nursed him again, and he fell right asleep. Someone helped me wheel the stroller to park it in the anteroom. The room was mostly empty and there were 10 minutes to kill. I spotted two girls I’d met before at another book event and talked to them a while, exchanging contact info. Revis’s talk was mostly a prepared speech about the ‘origin story’ for her new book, A World Without You. I think she presented it that way so that she didn’t get too emotional. She said that it was inspired by the life of her brother, who passed away from complications of mental illness and addiction. That’s the kind of connection I like to learn about at a book talk. She also said that her son was born the day after she turned the book in to her publisher (and he’s now a year and a half old). Another elevator to the colonnade, then back down and out, down the hill to the library, and $11 to the parking garage (!).

All that is to say:

1) Book festivals rock. The people I meet there are so friendly and cool and alive with a spark that makes them unique. They are passionately interested in their quirky little niche, proudly letting their freak flag fly, and that is a beautiful thing.

2) Navigating crowds and multi-floor events with a stroller is exhausting. I truly feel for disabled people who have to deal with that every day and don’t ever have the option to leave the baby at home.

3) Tennessee’s state government building is not set up to be very easily accessible for the disabled or for women with children. But they made as many accommodations as they could and were very friendly about opening doors and pushing elevator buttons.

4) People like seeing babies, so even though I felt like I was taking up too much space and potentially disrupting things, I felt very welcome. That was a huge relief, because I was afraid parenthood would stop me from enjoying events like this.

5) I am super lucky to have such a chill baby who is so friendly in crowds and doesn’t throw tantrums when I need him to be quiet.

6) I got introduced to some authors I’m now interested in learning more about, including Haslett and Blake.

7) I have 3 more signed books to read!

2016 Southern Festival of Books

As in past years, I’m excited to go to the Southern Festival of Books this weekend! I’ll have a baby in tow this time, so I’m not sure how many events we’ll make it to, but these are the authors I’m hoping to see:

Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing, to be reviewed here soon

Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep and Eligible, which have been on my “books to read” list for a long time

Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium trilogy, Before I Fall, Panic, Rooms, and Vanishing Girls

Beth Revis, author of the Across the Universe trilogy

Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went

Maggie Stiefvater, author of Lament, Ballad, the Shiver trilogy, Sinner, and The Raven Cycle