Literacy, Clothes, and Moms.
You would think being on modified bed rest would be awesome for the reader-writer. But in my case, a combination of anxiety, illness (the flu), and trying to keep up with the basic minimum of parenting/feeding a child have left my brain a big bowl of mush. I am trying to do a bit of reading here and there but not much is sticking, sadly. I have reverted back to watching reality TV (and catching up on Kimmy Schmidt) and currently am just trying to keep fluids down.
All that to say, for the past few months I have been steadily producing small bits here and there and they are still trickling out into the wild. So this week I really felt like I was writing, simply because a few pieces of mine were published. Yay!
Here's a rundown:
1. For Good Letters, I wrote about the one student in nearly 3 years that I saw learn to read in one of my adult literacy classes. To be fair, I did have some progressing students in all of my myriad of classes I taught, but most of them came to me with a few basic building blocks of literacy and just needed a bit of guidance. For the truly non-literate (never been in a classroom, never held a pencil, etc) any progress we made was quite small and never translated to the ability to read. Instead, our classes became about creating safe spaces, community resourcing, and drinking delicious tea and enjoying one another's company (actually a very real and tangible need in chaotic life circumstances!). In my own way I wanted to subversively put out there how much poverty and instability affects our ability to learn, and it wasn't lost on me that the one student I saw make the leap to reading was living in stable housing. Really, that's what made all the difference in the world.
Anyways, here's the piece I wrote (which turned out to be great for processing the end of my teaching time here) and it looks like it will be my last one for Good Letters until I come back from maternity leave in the fall.
This past week, I taught my last English class for quite some time. Three years ago, I moved to my new city in the Midwest. Almost right away, I started teaching literacy to people (mostly women, mostly older, all East African refugees) who have been denied access to education.
The levels of trauma, displacement, oppression, and prejudice contained in that single educational qualifier “non-literate” are hard to explain. I taught in the corners of crowded libraries, classrooms, computer labs. I taught inside of makeshift police offices and elder housing complexes. I learned about the housing crisis in Minneapolis, I met large families who lived in homeless shelters, I learned of the cracks in the system, how gaping and wide open they turned out to be.
I helped people fill out forms and connect with resources and each other, I learned Somali songs and went to weddings, I ate delicious food and learned how to put the proper amount of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom in the tea I made for us all.
I scolded people for driving without a license and visited women in their apartments after they gave birth. I delivered cheese and pineapple pizza to people, baked hundreds of Funfetti cupcakes, which were much too sweet for any of us. And in the end, I saw maybe one person learn to read.
Go on over to Good Letters to read the rest.
2. I've mentioned Cordella before, but if you haven't checked it out, you must. My good friend Cate started this gorgeous magazine from scratch--I am truly, truly in awe of her. She loves both beauty and truth and is not shy of approaching the darker aspects of life while also celebrating all that is good to be found. Issue 3 is all about the theme "Woven" and they published a different version of my "women in clothes" essay for this issue. Feel free to read that here (plus, check out my husband's gorgeous photos!) but honestly the other essays are better and my friend Amy has an AMAZING interview with her sister-in-law that everyone should read first. You can check that out here.
3. Finally, I have a piece up over at The Toast on my mom and my teenage evangelical punk rock band. Yeah, I am not going to play it cool--it is such a thrill to write for the Toast (and it was a lot of fun remembering those days). I was pretty surprised by some of what came up when I was writing--specifically how I used to dress so androgynously, just trying to fit in--but overall I have such great happy memories of that time and it was a pleasure to write. Also, I just really love my mom. Here's the beginning of the piece:
When you grow up believing both God and your mom think you are awesome, you become woefully unprepared for the banalities of life. This is a side-effect of growing up self-assured and evangelical, a case-study in what happens to a teenage girl’s psyche when she believes that she truly can do anything she sets her heart on.
My mom is important here; it was from her I learned that intense, interesting women were the backbone of our world and our religion, and that God was more often to be found in the wilds of nature or a Russian novel than in a tame and strangled church service. To have an unquenchable thirst for God, to demand far above and beyond what the world seemed to be offering me, was not only expected but encouraged. Like my mom, I grew up singing side-by-side with Church people, and I learned to be wary of the artifice and perfunctory nature of their faith. From my mom, a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother, I learned that we all had our own wildernesses we needed to explore, and I didn’t need to apologize for it.
When I was thirteen, I started a punk rock band. I was the middle daughter, the one who never caused a fuss, the blonde-haired spiritual one, the girl who professed to wanting to be a missionary in a foreign land when she grew up. It all started when at a friend’s house the previous year I caught a glimpse of Green Day on MTV (a station which was forbidden in our house). As I watched Billie Joe nearly eat his microphone as he sang the words to “Basketcase,” I was mesmerized. I had found it. I had found people who were on a search for something, and who had turned to music as a way of exploring.
Go on over to The Toast to read the rest.
So there you have it. It feels like a nice, big, productive week for me, even though I didn't actually do anything at all. Now I am off to several doctor's appointments and a date with Anthony Bourdain and I will try my darndest to finish a book or two as well. Thanks for reading along!