I Can Write: A Letter to My Elected Officials, #1.

I’ve reflected a lot the past three months about what I could possibly do to ease my worried mind. Emily Ellsworth and Ana Navarro have reminded me that I don’t have to just sit back and worry. I can do something. And then today, Mette Ivie Harrison reminded me that of the small things I can do, writing is a place to start.

So I wrote something, and sent it to my senators and congressman. I plan to make this a habit. When I write to them, I will post those letters here, because as Harrison wrote, maybe I can “give people courage and the promise that the future they hope for will come if they work for it.” Ellsworth’s advice for writing elected officials suggested making it personal, to not use form letters. So I made it personal.

Dear Senator [—-],

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

When I was 19, I became engaged to and moved in with a man who hit me often, and verbally degraded me daily. The black eyes and bruises healed, but even now, 23 years later, his words at times bubble up and make me question my value.

At the time, I had social privilege—friends who sheltered me when I found courage to leave, and a family who took me back with not judgment.

My family had economic privilege—my family lived in Nebraska, but I was an 18-hour drive away. My dad’s job in the Air Force was such that he could take three days to come get me. His career was such that he had enough money to rent a U-Haul, pay for hotel rooms on the trip, pay for gas money, and buy meals as he rescued me. And when we returned to Nebraska, he and my mom had a house big enough to fit me back in.

My family had insurance privilege—when I was ready to admit I needed professional help to heal from the abuse, they found me a program that offered individual and group therapy. Without that advantage, I’m certain I would not be the successful teacher, writer, and musician that I am today.

As I established my own career, I enjoy those same privileges—social, economic, insurance—and when the words of my abuser crash into me at inopportune times, I can call friends or family for support, and I have on occasion gone back into therapy for “tune-ups” to make sure I don’t allow the abuse of the past dictate my present or future.

The rumored cuts to the Violence Against Women Act from President Trump’s team trouble me. I did not need those resources because I had privilege. Other women do not. I  can imagine the helplessness that women in abusive situations feel. All I had to do to get help was swallow my pride and ask my family. Other women don’t have that luxury, and it should be our societal duty to help them escape and then heal from abuse.

I plead with you to seriously consider the effects of cutting the programs suggested by President Trump. Talk to women and children who have left abusers in the past. Please put a face on these programs at risk of elimination, and then please, find a way to keep them.

If we as a country stand by and allow resources such as these to be cut, I fear we have lost sight of the most basic truths from our constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Women in abusive relationships have none of these advantages. Please make sure they will in the future.

Thank you for your time.

What Would You Do?

This morning as I walked into school, exhausted from a week of not sleeping well, my mind drifted to what I would do if I witnessed a person of color being harassed by a white man or woman. Which led my mind to a story from a church gathering from my youth.

Olympic gold-medal gymnast Peter Vidmar visited wherever we were living at the time (Alabama? Nebraska? It blurs together.) and at a gathering for LDS members–mostly youth–he told us that the easiest way to take action in life is to decide before the decision has to be made. He told us that in his early teens, he decided he would never drink alcohol. This could have been problematic as he started competing on the world stage and was often at meals where alcohol was served, and those around him were drinking.

But he made the decision before the decision had to be made–he would not drink–so when those situations occurred, there was no hand-wringing, no pro/con list. He didn’t drink. He told people he didn’t drink. The world did not end, and he won a gold medal in the Olympic Games.

Getting back to my hypothetical this morning: I have to make the decision now about what I would do if–no, when–I see a person of color being harassed. And as I go through the pros and cons of various actions I could take, I think about my Mormon great-great-grandparents getting kicked out of Denmark for their religious beliefs, and my Jewish great-grandparents getting kicked out of Russia for their religious beliefs, and the pro/con list disappears.

It’s not a choice. It’s an obligation. It’s the least I could do, as my immigrant forebears took risks, crossed an ocean and then a country to find some semblance of peace in the face of being different.

My choice is this: I’m a human shield. When I see harassment, I will step in front of it. I will correct hate speech. I will do for my fellow citizens what the Danes and Russians failed to do for my ancestors.

The decision is made.

Not Resigned; Empowered.

“You have a lot to offer and should not resign yourself to being solo forever.”

Everything up to that sentence was perfectly fine: no romantic connection, different places emotionally. I completely agreed with his assessment, and I appreciated the forthright honesty as opposed to the usual ghosting that happens after a date–in this case, two dates.

But that line, that last line, was a gut punch of mansplaining. A right jab of pointing out I’m not completely repulsive followed by body blows of judgment regarding my choice to be single.

To be fair, I bungled the conversation in which he asked how I felt about relationships (not usually first or second date fodder in the first place, but here we are…). I tried to be honest and told him I didn’t really see myself married, and that I was okay with that. I told him that half the U.S. population is single, and isn’t it better for me to be okay with myself as a person, than to keep hoping for someone who would “complete” me?

He agreed.

But that last line of our last interaction said differently: “You should not resign yourself to being solo forever.”

It’s the connotation of the word “resign”–in this context, it signifies a defeat, not an empowered choice. And while I’ve felt defeated about my relationship status plenty of times in the past 25 years, I feel anything but defeated now. The implication that my qualities are wasted on myself, that I should offer up the different elements of my being for a man to appreciate is insulting.

It took the best therapist on the planet plus two of Brene Brown’s books and pages of scrawlings in my journal to finally arrive where I currently am. Happy. Complete. No longer constantly doubting where I live or my career choices or whether my life has any value on its own.

I didn’t respond to the offensive part of his last text; I acknowledged we were on the same page and thanked him for his honesty.

But for the record: I didn’t resign myself to being solo forever. Instead, I finally started living a life I could be proud of.

 

A Hard Truth.

Every fall I get a bit of a hankering for a boyfriend. Not a husband, since I’ve never had one of those, but for a boyfriend. I’m not sure I’m really the marrying kind anyway, but a lack of male companionship starts to gnaw at me just the same.

It gnaws at me on nights like last Friday night: I met Stueve and a former student for a bit of “how’s life” time, and I had to drive to the Old Market.

I hate driving to the Old Market on Friday nights because so. many. people. and parking make me break out in hives. I enjoy being there, I enjoy the people watching and the different places to hang out, but I hate driving and parking there. I wouldn’t have hesitated to agree to a meetup if I didn’t have to drive and park.

Maybe I don’t really want a boyfriend–maybe I want a chauffeur or car service. Hm.

Anyway.

In past hankerings for a boyfriend, I turned to online dating, which never turned out good (see my book for more on that) but I don’t know where else to turn, really. It’s not like UPS ships men to my door.

Enter dating apps.

Friends raved about Tinder, but it seemed like a hookup app, and I don’t want a hookup. But then I started to hear scuttlebutt about a different app called Bumble, which seemed like a classier version of Tinder. Hearing about Bumble coincided with my yearly yearning for a boyfriend, so I thought I would give it a try.

Here’s how it works: I open the app and a man’s photo appears. I can scroll down and see more photos (sometimes) and a brief bio (less of sometimes). If I think I might like to meet him, I swipe right. If he has also swiped right on me, a message appears: BOOM! You’re connected! And I have 24 hours to send him a message.

During a swiping rampage, I swiped right on a man who would not be a good fit for me and I saw BOOM! You’re connected!

And I panicked.

That’s when I realized that for three days I’d been swiping the wrong direction. I’d swiped right on dozens of men I didn’t like, and left on a handful of men I did like. And after the aforementioned swiping rampage, I was out of profiles to swipe.

Adding to my failed foray in the dating app world is this: those dozens of men I’d swiped right on–men I didn’t like for one reason or another, men I judged as being not good enough for me–didn’t swipe right on me either.

Later that weekend, a couple more profiles popped up so I looked at them, and this time I swiped right on a man who seemed interesting. BOOM! You’re connected! And I didn’t send a message right away because, well, fear. When I opened the app a couple of hours later, he was gone, which meant he unmatched me.

And then I realized the problem with me and men: they don’t like me.

Stop what your brain is doing right now. Seriously, stop. your. brain.

Stop thinking “Oh, come on, that’s not true <insert trite statement about finding love here>” and sit with me in this truth: men don’t like me. Let it sink in your brain, let it challenge everything that romantic comedies since Shakespeare have taught you, let it fly in the face of “there’s a lid for every pot.” Maybe I’m a lidless cast-iron skillet.

Men don’t like me–and that is okay.

This is a radical notion for some to accept, that I can be okay with the fact that men don’t like me. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t make me less than. It doesn’t mean I lack value, doesn’t mean my life is worthless.

It means that I fall into a category of women that, for whatever reason, men don’t like.

Plenty of people don’t like me–as a teacher, this truth has provided me enough callouses on my thin skin, which allows me to say “men don’t like me” without breaking down into a puddle of nothingness. And the more I say it, the more it makes sense and the more normal it feels. The problem isn’t the dozens of blind dates, the money wasted on dating websites, or even a dating app–the problem is that I’ve been conditioned to believe that my life as a single woman is a problem. It’s not.

When I take the time to examine my life, I bask in the following truths:

I have a career that I enjoy, a career that has provided me opportunities that sometimes challenge and frustrate me, and just as often enrich and delight me. I have friends to lean on. I have ten nieces and nephews to spoil and love, siblings and parents who have my back. When I clean my apartment and flop down on my couch, I feel satisfaction, peace and happiness at the space I’ve created as a sanctuary.

Men not liking me seems like such an minor sliver of my life’s happiness pie-chart, that the proportion of time and money I’ve spent the past 25 years trying to make them like me feels like the ultimate waste.

I don’t plan on making the same mistake for the next 25 years. And for that, Bumble, I thank you.

Technology requires an investment in people.

Today while I was at an iPad training, this article popped up in my Tweetdeck. Read the article, but here’s the headline:

Even Apple is acknowledging that the “iPads in education” fad is coming to an end.

I held back a giggle–I was in a room with 60 educators who teach with iPads, all of us collaborating about how to use them best in our classrooms, who had just listened to our district tech facilitators talk about future directions of district technology. I was in the middle of developing a lesson in which students would use their iPads to answer an essential question in my curriculum–and I was reading an article about how iPads are a fad and on the way out education’s door.

But the article highlights a major problem that education has had with technology dating all the way back the Apple IIe: throwing tech at teachers without any training whatsoever.

When I first started teaching with the iPads, I was terrified. I’ve blogged about the triumphs and failures of the past four years (just look to the left and click on the word “iPads” and you can read all about it), as I’ve tried to figure out how to best use the iPads in my classes. And one thing is certain: without adequate training and time, any technology will fail in a classroom.

Last spring, I wrote about how Bellevue Public Schools prepares teachers to teach with iPads. As our district’s Director of Technology reminded us today, we began introducing iPads in our district with six teachers (I was one of those six). Then we expanded to a few more, and a few more, each time bringing in more grade levels and content areas and each time, the district provided all of us with training and time and freedom to take risks and fail and try and succeed. It takes a special kind of leadership to accept and implement a slow-burn approach with such a high-ticket item as the iPad, but our district leadership was willing to do that instead of the alternative that I read about in so many districts across the country.

What bothers me most about the article’s attempt to spell doom for the iPads, is this:

According to one of the teachers surveyed, tablets provided “no educational function in the classroom.”

I would like to sit down with that teacher and listen to what s/he tried to do to use the iPads to improve student learning. I would like to know what kind of training s/he received prior to using the iPads.

I would like to talk with the teacher from Virginia about how the iPad “undermined her pupils’ conversation and communication skills” and ask if she ever used GarageBand to record her students’ reading fluency, or had her students interview each other using the Camera app and make an iMovie to introduce students to the class.

I would like to ask these teachers who declare the iPad such an utter failure how they manage other behaviors like writing notes, texting, daydreaming, reading books, or doodling, when students should be listening or engaged in learning activities. Because blaming the iPads for behaviors that have been around since the dawn of time is unfair.

iPads in education is no more a fad than SmartBoards were ten years ago, than the Internet was twenty years ago, than typewriters were fifty years ago. If districts continue to throw new technologies at their teachers and students without proper supports, if teachers continue to believe that technologies are to blame for behaviors–thinking that the technology supplants classroom management–headlines that blame the technology will persist.

Once again, I find myself incredibly grateful to be teaching in a district that values training teachers how to use technology in the best way possible. Where I’m expected to take risks and fail. Where I’m encouraged to learn constantly so I can improve my skills and teach not only my students, but also my colleagues.

So I offer my sympathy to the teachers in Maine, California, Texas, North Carolina, or any district where the promise of how an iPad could transform a classroom never quite materialized. It is possible for technology to thrive, but it requires an investment in teachers, an investment that I’m afraid too many districts are unwilling to make.

I’m glad that my district invests in its teachers.