In the Wake of Parkland: a Love Letter to my Students

February 15, 2018

Dear Students,

I set out yesterday to write you a Valentine’s Day letter, to accompany the chocolate I have shoved at you all week. However, in the wake of yet another school shooting, I lacked adequate words, and a simple letter about your greatness was the wrong tone.

Don’t read me wrong: you are great. As many of you have said (correctly) over the past 10 years, you are the children I didn’t birth. You live here; sometimes it feels like I do, too.  I’ve taught grades 1 through 12. I have kissed your owies. I have counseled your broken hearts. I’ve covered puberty and sexuality education; you’ve given me pink eye and strep throat. We’ve seen each other through migraines, bronchitis, linguistic milestones, graduations, hailstorms, and power outages. Your writing and artwork have been astounding and heartbreaking.

You are amazing.

Over the past 10 years, our school has changed a lot. We lock more doors, we have better alert systems. The teachers wear badges. Sometimes we practice fire evacuations.

Or the dreaded lockdown.

My worst nightmare as a teacher is a lockdown.

Last night, I cried when NPR’s Ari Shapiro interviewed students from Parkland. One of them talked about a staff member shoving students into a closet to protect them from the shooter.

A month ago, I woke up sobbing, and my boyfriend held me while I shook. I’d dreamed about a former student coming back with a gun. Through my tears, I said, “I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t get the door open. I couldn’t get to my kids.” He comforted me and said, “It’s just a dream. You’re okay.”

It isn’t just a dream. Parkland isn’t a dream. Sandy Hook wasn’t a dream. Columbine wasn’t a dream.

Every teacher has students that need extra: extra love, attention, concern, support. We all have someone whose needs are above our training. Maybe not this year. But if we have been teaching long enough, we have taught a student who needed more than we thought we had to give.

My students, I love you. I love you when you are sick, when you are demanding, when you are puzzling. I love you when you are triumphant.

I love you when you are in danger. I will throw you in a closet, behind a bookshelf, under my self if it is necessary.

I love you if you are dangerous, and I am sorry I cannot do enough for you. I am painfully aware of this fact. We strive to provide the resources for you; I hope it is enough, on time, something.

My dear, dear students… I love you.

Always,
Your Elle

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Can’t Handle the Hustle

I want to write. I want to make art.

No.

I need to write. to make art. to teach, to change minds and ways of thought. I crave input to generate output, but not in an industrial sense. I write better when I’m reading broadly, when I drink deep words and dream the books on my nightstand. I make better art when I hoard found objects and old books and bury myself in the work of James Castle and my former collaborator and artist-educator Troy Passey (both of Idaho).

My art, my writing, my teaching are a reflection of the world within and the world without.

and
I. Can. Not. Handle. the Hustle.

James Castle made books before bookbinding and bookmaking and altered books were a “thing.” My former elementary students (and some blind students within my school) made hand-stitched books last year, some of which have spent the last 12+ months touring the state of Idaho. I’ve been digging into these arts of late, and the more I learn, the more I feel crushed under the weight of performance, hustle, namedropping, and (dare I say?) circle-jerking.

I want to create, to share, to engage. I want to collaborate and build. Maybe I want to tear some things down in the process of creation. But I see my friends. The friends who put themselves into their art, whose souls I see on the page, the screen, the canvas?

Some of them are dying. We’re going broke in an economy that “corrected” itself this week, as talking heads talk percentages and investments and percentage points that are just numbers on a datastream of using money to make more money.  We’re going bankrupt in a morally bereft landscape trying to scream or throw paint into the void.

I went to the store for paint; that’s the only thing I really want to buy new. I had to wade through a lot of crap to get to the paint. I’m trying to learn from what I see, but I just sat through a 10 minute YouTube tutorial on a certain kind of bookmaking, and if I had made it into a drinking game for every time she had to a) Name drop another blogger/vlogger; b) name drop a product she “just loves”; or c) I don’t need C I am already dead.

My point here is that neither of those things were about creating art in community or collaboration. It was all consumptive affiliate linking and back-patting. Yes, artists need an audience, and hopefully we can sell a poem, or a story, or a painting, and I’d really like someone to pick up that chapbook I just poured my guts into. At the end of the day, however, I don’t want to do art for capitalism’s sake, or for the sake of consumption. I don’t do my job for the sake of the dollar, although I’d die without it. I don’t want to do this just so I don’t die; I want to do this because we live. I want to re-purpose this old shell of the Empire.

But we are dying. Our world is on fire; Idaho rejected (AGAIN, I might add), the science standards related to climate change and human impact on the environment. I don’t want to add to the demand for resources… even though I recognize my preferred media are paper and acrylics.

I can’t handle the hustle. I submit cover letters with no website, because I can’t keep up my blog enough. My health has prevented me from completing my thesis. I’m sick. I’m tired fatigued. I’m pissed, and yet I’m in a good enough place to make some noise. I just have to be my own writer and artist and teacher. Whatever the hell that means. I recognize the privilege I have to NOT hustle. And I will give credit where it is due, but I can not go in these circles where we keep blog linking and back-patting other Crafty Cathy types for making pretties.

James Castle made his ink out of spit and charcoal. We can make our revolution art out of something other than Pinterest-pretty faux-ephemera. Screw your capitalist bougie YouTube branded hustle. That might be the worst sentence I’ve ever published. It’s ok; I’m on steroids. You’ll forgive me.

Migraine Monday: the unCommon Cold

I caught a cold. The Cold. The cold that had been spreading around the secondary department, and likely the rest of the school.

Eh, no biggie. Au, contraire. This cold knocked me on my proverbial and literal butt. I spent two days in bed. The head cold triggered a migraine, which was preceded by the oh-so-interesting Alice in Wonderland aura.

Interesting sidenote: I first learned the name of this aura when listening to an audio book of Oliver Sacks’s Hallucinations. I nearly had to pull my car over to the side of the road. What he described was a sensation I’d experienced as a child, but never shared with anyone. Hearing my self described to me was so jarring. It turns out “children who relay the features of Alice in Wonderland syndrome are noted to have … a very high likelihood of developing migraine headaches as they get older.”¹ Until that point, I thought my migraines were a new problem that emerged in my late 20s; it’s more likely the underlying neurology was always present.

Anyway, after my first sick day, I thought I would be able to return to work. I crawled into bed, and then my pillow became my tongue, my head was inside my mouth, and gravity no longer applied to my body. If this happens, it happens at night. It passed in a few minutes, during which I was lucid and aware that this was bogus. It’s neurological, after all, not psychological. I called in sick the next day; my head was not alright.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, as these auras are known, is more common than I knew. I have at least a half-dozen friends who have it, or had it as children. When I shared a NYT piece about it on Facebook, several friends piped up. Even Lewis Carroll himself is thought to have had it, as he kept journals of his migraines.²

Today I’m back at work, much healthier in body and mind. I hate missing work. The cold has made its way through most of the department by now. I have so much catching up to do. I hope my brain holds out, or the Queen will have my head…


¹http://www.neurologytimes.com/headache-and-migraine/alice-wonderland-syndrome

²https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/23/alice-in-wonderland-syndrome/

Trans Military Ban: Some Early Thoughts

Content note: transgender rights, transphobia, transantagonism, LGBTQ discrimination

By now most of us in the U.S. have read of the president’s tweets about overturning an Obama-era decision allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military.

I am not trans, but some of my nearest and dearest are NB and/or trans. I have a lot of mixed and strong thoughts on this. I do not know everything. I can’t promise they will be coherent or consistent. I own that, and in writing I attempt to engage the problem and always be doing better than I was doing before.

By framing the ban as an issue of “medical costs,” the administration has adeptly pathologized the issue as one of  a medical defect, rather than identity. Further, if we do choose to frame it as a medical cost, taxpayer dollars cover prescriptions for the military. The military spends five times more on Viagra than on the combined medical costs for trans personnel. Certainly we aren’t going to stigmatize that, are we? Nope, because what goes on in their pants is none of our damn business.

Of course, there is a delay in implementation. Are we planning to dismiss these active duty service members, despite clean records? That’s a slippery slope of second-tier citizenship for the rest of the LGBTQ community. It sets a dangerous precedent. Would they still be eligible for veterans benefits? The GI Bill, introduced after WWII, discriminated against any soldier discharged for homosexual behavior. Are we willing to go back that far in stripping access and benefits?

The framing of “medical costs” is intentional, as we are currently embroiled in the healthcare debates. Transgender individuals are not a burden to the military, and they are not a burden to society, despite what this president tweeted. Be very careful how this is debated.

A few of my mixed feelings: I am non-violent. I consciously joined a Christian denomination with a peace history and a long line of conscientious objectors. This complicates the issue for me. I want to dismantle systems of power that kill and maim. Military service is not the benchmark for equality, equity, and justice in our society. Even with transgender individuals allowed to serve in the U.S. military, the life expectancy of Black trans women is 35. LGBTQ people in Idaho still do not have housing and employment protections. And both LGBTQ youth and veterans still complete suicide at an alarming rate. See the forest and the trees. This is only one step of likely more to come, toward making LGBTQ people second-tier citizens, or worse.

If you want to do more than just be mad, this is a great Medium post to boost, share, and read:

To the cis person angrily sharing news of the Trump transgender military ban

Wacky Wednesday: Denver Comic Con

Cosplay is Life.

That may be a stretch, but I went to Denver Comic Con this summer, and it is evident that a great many people take cosplay very very seriously. I would count myself among those people, but I didn’t finish my Mass Effect costume, and I lack the funds to be as hardcore as the more serious cosplayers. I spent money on comics and graphic novels for my classroom, instead.

A quick, shameless plug: I went to DCC with my friend Dextra, an indie artist. I have a few of her pieces, as well as a fantastic T-Rex dress with her artwork on it. Her Facebook page has links to her etsy and Redbubble shops.

Anyway.

DCC is a celebration of geekdom in all its glory. I registered for a half-credit educator’s track and sat in several amazing panels on diversity and representation in comics and pop culture. Pop Culture Classroom sponsors several conventions during the year, and Denver is one of them.

Highlights from the panels:

  • College students presenting their projects through an intersectional feminist lens
  • High school (!!!) students presenting their projects analyzing the representation of an identity politic (gender, religious identity, mental illness, LGBTQ, race) throughout the eras of comics
  • The “Indigenerds” discussions of stereotype and representation of Native American characters in popular culture
  • The two Star Wars panels: one on critical reading, and one on stories of resistance

I added several titles from Native Realities to my library. I bought several of Jeremy Whitley’s titles, too (including some My Little Pony single issues, duh). He signed them for me. He happens to be one of the kindest people ever, and made sure to show me the three-panel dialogue exchange with a female Deaf pirate in one of the books I bought!

One last thing, speaking of Deaf characters: two different panels mentioned the graphic autobiography El Deafo by Cece Bell, which several of my students have read (and loved). It’s about a deaf bunny. You should read it. I also found out about Matt Fraction’s run of Hawkeye; issue #19 is in ASL! So: even though the comics world still needs work in regards to representation of disability (a couple panels mentioned that weakness), it’s improving, bit by bit.

“I was spanked, and I turned out alright…”

The above headline is not true. The first part is, I guess. However, science demonstrates again and again that spanking, or corporal punishment, or swatting, has lasting detrimental impact on our psyches.

I love science. Especially five decades of science.

Why do parents spank? In my own anecdotal experience, many have said they spank for immediate compliance, when a time-out or a conversation about negative behaviors will not suffice. The lead researcher on the study, Elizabeth Gershoff, stated:

 “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor said:

“[S]panking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

In short, spanking has no proven short-term effect.

What about long-term effects? What about we adults who were spanked as children?

The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.

We didn’t turn out “alright.” We only think we did, and are thus more likely to continue supporting the use of spanking.

The line that hit me hardest, and I will continue to shout from the rooftops every time someone tries to differentiate between spanking and “real abuse” came toward the end of the press release:

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

The difference between spanking and physical abuse is slight, and only by degrees. Spanking is abuse.

I’ve written about this before, regarding the use of corporal punishment in schools. Physical punishment damages children. It damages the adults who perform it. It damages the bond between the spanker and the spankee. It violates trust, bodily autonomy. A child’s brain cannot discern the difference between a “spank” and a “strike” meant for abuse. A hit is a hit, especially when we’re teaching our children not to hit.

In a country where the Cult of Compliance is the modus operandi from schools through law enforcement, it is not surprising we still cling to outdated modes of discipline in our homes. It doesn’t work. It never worked. Buying into the Cult of Compliance fuels such beliefs as “If he’d just listened the first time…” and “The officer had no choice…” Resorting to violence with our children warps our thinking.


I originally shared the Mic article on my personal Facebook, but the press release from the University of Texas at Austin is necessary reading.

Migraine Monday: Everything is (not) fine

I’m teetering on the edge of hope and absolute nihilism. I guess that makes me a Millennial, amiright?

Life in the two years of blogging silence has been a glorious shitstorm. Phrased otherwise, some things have been glorious, and others have been shit. I couldn’t write, though. Every time I tried I was too angry, too traumatized, too defeated. My world was on fire, and I was impotent.

this is fine

Image description: “On Fire” from Gunshow by K.C. Green. Full comic available at http://gunshowcomic.com/648 Frame 1: Question Dog sits in a burning building, with a cup of coffee on a table. Frame 2: Question Dog says, “This is fine,” with flames behind him and smoke above him, ignoring his peril.

I have enough distance from some of it to know I was in a constant state of emotional abuse and gaslighting at the professional level, and varying stages of grief in other areas of my life. My feet weren’t on a strong enough foundation of reality to form a coherent narrative of, well, anything. 

I tried to act like everything was fine, while I felt like I was going mad.

Maybe going mad is the only way to stay sane in a mad world.

I know some may see this language as ableist, but I do not mean it colloquially or glibly. My college religion professor Dr. Haar ended each class meeting with the words “Stay sane out there,” and he meant it quite seriously. How do we maintain our grounding in a world that organizes genocide, kills black men and women indiscriminately, pushes queer children and teens out of their homes, and attempts to cut health coverage for the disabled?

It’s Migraine Monday, and the only thing I have a grip on is my migraines. At least that’s something. It’s a start. I can wake up to face the day, the battle, the world. I can see out of both eyes.

My fistful of meds and I are ready to write again. I hope you’ll join the conversation, add your voice, and and your feet, and your hands.