Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Days Twelve to Twenty-Two

Are we really halfway there?  I can't believe it.  It's been a whopping ten days of self-discovery, but first I must follow up with the idea I had about physical spaces and their impact on our daily lives.

This poster hangs in my living room.
Caro Diario is a film by Italian director Nanni Moretti.
I was recently invited into the home of one of my dear colleagues.  I have never in my life visited a home that embodied so completely the essence of the person who lived within its walls.  Ok, that's not true.  One other time have I been in such a place, and it occurs to me that both women who live in these homes share a number of qualities that define why I love them so dearly.  They are remarkably independent.  They are deeply introspective.  They are buoyant. (Don't you just love that word?)  They are highly, imaginatively intelligent.  They exude love and affection.  They are warm.  They like tea.  They are worldly and travelled and articulate and curious.  In both cases, walking into their homes was like walking onto a movie set designed to perfectly express a single, clear, strong personality.  Each item in each cranny has a story, a history, a meaning beyond it mere aesthetic appeal.  Each item in each nook is loved and looked at, not once, but over and over and over.  Extraordinary.

This hangs in my dining room.
I attended this event with my
husband (then boyfriend).
Does my home accomplish all of this?  What does it say about me?  Yes, there are framed photos, posters, and works of art on my walls that mean something to me.  Yes, some of my furniture was once my grandparents' and therefore has a history.  Yes, I chose my kitchen tiles with love.  But no, my
home is not like the homes of these women.  It is colder, neater, more angled, less soft.  It is too functional to be a mirror of my self.  It is a place where I live, but perhaps it is not yet my home.  What an interesting realization, and a sad one.  I have lived in my home for five years, but I have not poured myself into it.  Or perhaps what has poured out of me has not gone into that space, but into others.  Like my libraries.  I see myself in my libraries more than anywhere else.

Well, that's for another time.  I am again veering off course.  Back to my central research question it is! (A researcher must be disciplined.)
  1. What has been added to my life since becoming a mother (besides the obvious)?  Does each addition result in the subtraction of something, or is it possible to add without taking away?
Here are some things that have been added (and whether they are essentially positive or negative in terms of my emotional life):
worry over the health and safety of another person -
the solidarity of other mothers +
the company of children +
restrictions on how my time is spent -

What do those additions replace, if anything?
worry over the health and safety of another person replaces worry over my own health
the solidarity of other mothers  - this is pure addition
the company of children replaces the company of adults without kids
restrictions on how my time is spent replaces freedom of movement and choice regarding time

That doesn't add up to anything great, does it?  One pure addition, and three others that result in losses that are true losses.  So what to do?  What do other people do?  Perhaps that is where I should focus next: researching the existing body of knowledge on this topic.  The topic being how parents of young children remain connected to their childless friends, find free time, and maintain physical and emotional health.

Where can I find this type of information?  parenting books (ugh, I hate them!), parenting blogs (better, but still a bit smug), parenting magazines (nothing but ads).... actual parents?  There's an idea.  I could conduct my own research, right?  Some original data collection.  Of course.  So, next up, what to ask.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Days Eight through Eleven

You might think I have dropped this project, but you would be SO WRONG.  In spite of the fact that I haven't written, I have been exploring the Lenten idea of transformation quite deeply for the last few days.  They haven't been easy days, to tell the truth.  This exploration is stirring me up.  I thought this might be a quirky exercise, something to connect what I do professionally with my personal self, but it is already very much more than that.  I have to say, I'm a bit surprised.

A colleague and friend asked me what I meant about being a teacher for social justice.  Another friend asked me to help him feel better about the decision he recently made to leave the poor, under served school where he works in New Orleans for a swanky, amazing, private school in a nearby suburb.  In my responses to each of these friends, I came closer to answering my own questions about whether I still do the type of work I set out to do when I was that young, idealistic teacher.

What is teaching for social justice?  The Chicago-based organization Teachers for Social Justice describes it this way:

"We are working toward classrooms and schools that are anti-racist, multicultural / multilingual, and grounded in the experiences of our students. We believe that all children should have an academically rigorous education that is both caring and critical, an education that helps students pose critical questions about society and "talk back" to the world."

Teaching for Change says this:

"Teaching for Change operates from the belief that schools can provide students the skills, knowledge and inspiration to be citizens and architects of a better world — or they can fortify the status quo. By drawing direct connections to real world issues, Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens."

It's pretty basic, really.  Education is the key, the great equalizer, the way out of a system that tolerates injustice.  I became a teacher for social justice after spending time in an elementary school on the south side of Chicago (a poor, violent, under served area) where I met fantastic, curious, eager kids who had to endure clogged and overflowing toilets, teachers who fled midyear, little or no supplies for decent art projects or science experiments, and a system that exploited them in order to justify so-called school reform initiatives that did nothing to improve their educational experience.  I became a teacher because I wanted to address this injustice in whatever way I could.  (Also because I love school, so much that when I was a little girl I actually had a pretend grade book in which I took attendance and recorded scores for my imaginary students.)

I didn't become a teacher because I'm an expert in world literature, or biology, or political science.  In fact, I had no content-area expertise at all.  What I wanted to become was a teacher who is an expert in teaching (how am i doing?).  How could I help students learn?  And more specifically, how could I help students learn when the rest of the world is doing its very best to stop them from becoming educated participants in our society?  So I moved to Los Angeles and threw myself into a middle school where most of the students were reading three or more grades below their level.  I spent eleven years trying to help kids learn to take control of their own learning.  Some of this was in the classroom, some in the library.  I wanted them to read well, to read broadly, to question what they read, to share their ideas, and to persist in the face of the great pressure constantly on them, nagging them to just give up.

It was great and it was horrible.  You can read more about the great parts here and here.  Those are the ones worth discussing.  The horrible parts are too heartbreaking to mention, at least for now.

my previous school
The plume of smoke is from a titanium fire at a nearby recycling plant.
The explosion nearly resulted in an evacuation of the school.  Nice.
So here's my current question.  Do I still teach for social justice? I think I do, though it's taken me a long time to come to this answer. Over the last three years, I have frequently felt guilty for leaving my post in south LA.  Did I abandon those kids?  Have I been selfish?  Here's what I think now: Our magnificent girls have a chance to change the status quo.  As they build lives based on faith, integrity, and truth, they will be able to make choices that impact not only their own lives but the lives of my former students in LA, especially those who don't have a voice or an opportunity to do so.  Our girls can change the world if they want, and my role as a teacher for social justice is to give them the tools and the desire to go out and do just that.

I've mentioned that I am not Catholic, but I have to say, I'm a big believer in the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching.  Solidarity, the dignity of work, option for the poor and vulnerable, and a call to participation - these are principles of social justice work.  Before coming to FSHA, I never knew that the Catholics are all about social justice.  I just had no idea.  Perhaps it is not chance that I landed here, a school that has allowed me to continue my social justice work, but from an entirely new point of view and with an audience I never suspected I'd have the pleasure of addressing.

Ah, transformation.  It's right in front of our noses, really.

So where am I in terms of my research?  I seem to have strayed from my research questions a bit.
  1. What has been added to my life since becoming a mother (besides the obvious)?  Does each addition result in the subtraction of something, or is it possible to add without taking away?
  2. What do I want to cultivate?  How does my behavior teach my son how to be, and what do I want him to learn?
I can more fully answer Q2 now.  I want to pursue my efforts as a teacher for social justice, and to instill in my son those principles.  I can cultivate my thoughts on this through my work as well as my personal life.  In fact, my work contributes enormously to and strengthens my understanding of social justice.  Isn't that cool? How lucky am I?

Back to Q1 for a while then.  For my next post, an exploration of physical space and its ability to reflect or absorb one's essence.  Sounds deep, right?  It's a reaction to visiting a colleague's home for the first time, and discovering that I hate my furniture.  More on that later...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Day Seven

Back, back, back in time I go.  I'm digging in to my past as a teacher for social justice.  Am I still?  Can I be?  I think for today I'll let the blog re-post below speak for itself.  I wrote it in March of 2007.  I was teaching in a very different type of school, but my feelings about educating young women have not changed one bit since then.  The girls who wrote the essays mentioned below would be about twenty years old now.  I wish I knew what they were doing.  Did they become the women they wanted to be? Have I? (Maybe we should run the same essay contest here!  Whaddaya think?)

Hear Them Roar
March, 2007

For Women's History Month (March), I invited our 8th grade girls to participate in an essay contest. The Woman In Me was the title of the contest, and the girls were asked to write about women they admire and the kind of woman each hopes to be. The results were both disheartening and touching. First, the disheartening part. How far could we possibly have come if the 8th grade girls of 2007, in Los Angeles no less, write things like this?

"I see the role of women as second class in our world. The reason I say that is because women are still being beat this day and age by their husbands and boyfriends. Also women are still being controlled by their husbands or boyfriend which means they tell them when they can leave, talk on the phone, have friends or not all of these things. Some women have no role and it's sad because their man just walks all over them like a candy [w]rapper."

Spelling and grammatical errors aside, this provides a pretty clear picture of what this girl sees at home. Other essays included these phrases:
  • women must "not care about people telling you ugly, dumb, and letting them make you lose confidence in yourself, and making you fell like your not worth a thing"
  • "we help do most of the house cleaning, since most men can't even handle a broom. We women have to cook, even though some men DO know how to cook but are just to lazy to do work"
  • and a very hopeful: "Boys rule the house. Women can rule something bigger like the world!"
What does this say about how our young women are being taught about womanhood? The men in these scenarios seem like pretty big dopes if you ask me, but they are somehow maintaining control over the women in their lives. I worry about these girls in South LA. They're thirteen, yet they wax off their eyebrows and pencil them on. They have lip rings and tongue rings. Their bodies have developed well beyond their years, possibly due to poor nutrition. They know that they have to fight for their place in the world, but they are ill-equipped to do so. At thirteen, the battle against the boys is still fun. It's flirtatious. It gets them attention.

When will it turn on them, I wonder? When does note-passing and hand-holding turn into obeying orders and answering to the man (literally)? How will these girls learn to overcome the suffocating gender roles that serve as their models?

The good news is, they've been paying attention. Somewhere, somehow, the idea that women know how to struggle and beat the odds has wiggled its way into their adolescent brains. One girl wrote about Tyra Banks, saying that she is "a great speaker, creative, humble, and furthermore outgoing." Another girl writes that "A fierce personality will take a person a long way if she really wants to make it in life." Another says that "women are as important as men are", which is both hopeful and infuriating, making me want to scream, "OF COURSE THEY ARE!"

My favorite passage, however, is so lovely, so thoughtful, so sincere, that it leaves a big lump in my throat. It goes a little something like this:

"I want to be a mother who takes pride in herself and her children. I want to be a wife who takes good care of her husband. I want to be a loving sister who looks after her siblings. I want to be a niece who treats her aunts with all the respect in the world. I want to someday be a grandmother who can teach her grandchildren how to be brave and live life to the fullest."

She goes on to say, later in her essay, "I want to be the woman who steps up and speaks out for woman across the nation. I see the role of a woman being important and leaving a mark in history. I live to see women make it with or without the help of a man. In the end, I want to be me, [insert name here], a self-respected woman of her word."

Can't you just picture this girl standing behind a podium someday, telling it like it is? This girl makes me excited to be a teacher. They all do, really. All of the girls who turned in essays had something they needed to say. Whether their thoughts struck me as uplifting or tragic doesn't really matter in the end. They thought about womanhood long enough to write 500 words about it. They considered the women in their lives, noticing the bad and the good. I so want good things for these girls.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Days 4, 5, & 6

Here I am as a non-mom.
So, it's pretty hard to do something forty days in a row.  It's hard to do something even four days in a row.  While I thought about my LRP over the weekend, I never found my way to a computer to write about it.  Perhaps that's ok, and much of what I did do was in an effort to address my research questions.  Here is how I reviewed my sources and moved forward with my research:

1. I spent time with friends I haven't seen much since my son was born.  This was in an effort to intentionally develop a relationship both with my former self and with two people who knew that former self quite well.

2. My son spent the night at his grandmother's, so I spent time behaving as a non-mom.  I slept in, I stayed up late, I didn't worry about what anyone else was going to eat for dinner.  While I missed him, I also felt free and free of worry.

3. I went book shopping.  This is one of my all-time favorite things to do, but now that I'm a mom, most of my book shopping takes place in the picture book section.  This time I went to two used bookstores and just browsed.  It was fantastic.

I'm not sure where all of this is taking me.  If I look back at my original research questions,
  1. What aspects of my personality have changed in the last two years?  
  2. What has been added to my life since becoming a mother (besides the obvious)?  Does each addition result in the subtraction of something, or is it possible to add without taking away?
  3. What do I want to cultivate?  How does my behavior teach my son how to be, and what do I want him to learn?
  4. Am I still interested in things I used to love?  
I'm not sure that I'm addressing them.  In fact, a few of them are starting to seem like the same thing.  If I were advising students, I would tell them to feel free to combine, revise, eliminate, or add to their research questions.  I think the answer to number 4 just yes, and so it was not a very good research question in the first place.  I should have known better than to include a yes/no question! I think it should be absorbed by number 3, which is the deeper question.  It's not enough to identify that I want to pursue certain things; I must also consider how to pursue them.  Perhaps I have to make some decisions about what is realistic, what may need to wait until my son is older and I have more time.  

I think question 1 is a little facile.  The question requires a simple list for an answer, which is not useful to me.  I think it should be absorbed by question 2, which is the same thing, but better.

So now I'm down to two research questions:
  1. What has been added to my life since becoming a mother (besides the obvious)?  Does each addition result in the subtraction of something, or is it possible to add without taking away?
  2. What do I want to cultivate?  How does my behavior teach my son how to be, and what do I want him to learn?
These are realistic in terms of the amount of time I have to spend on this project.  They are also questions that require complex answers, as a good research question must.

Ok, so onward.  Back to my sources.  In the next few days, I will review my old teaching blog carefully and post excerpts from it here in order to begin to answer Q2 more fully.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Day Three

Last night I spent some time reviewing two of my sources.  The first was in an effort to address my fourth research question (Q4): Am I still interested in the things I used to love?  I looked at a transcript of a recording I made of my grandmother.  

This is my grandmother's
high school yearbook picture.
Ruth Murphy a.k.a. Toots, died in the spring of 2010.  She was ninety-three years old.  She spent the last year of her life in bed, no TV, no books.  She told herself stories, invented some fictions that she thought were real, and recalled the details of her life.  During the year or two preceding the health issues that landed her in bed, I had some sense that our time together was limited, and I made an attempt to be part of her efforts to document her life.  She had started this project long ago, writing snippets and remembrances in spiral notebooks and journals that were scattered across the shelves in her den.  I asked if she would let me record her and she said yes.  

Toots was a natural storyteller.  When I was a kid, she made up bedtime stories about George, an elephant who lived in the jungle with his tiger friend Ralph.  For exercise in the snowy wintertime, she walked circles around her huge basement, inventing stories of a little girl living on the prairie.  She recited "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes form memory, shedding tears every time she spoke the beautiful words that end that tragic story.  I wanted to capture her storyteller's voice, and so I asked her questions about her childhood, her father's death, living above a funeral home, getting through the Depression, life during rationing, the end of WWII, and becoming a mother.  I wish I had had more time.

Last night I skimmed through a transcript of those recordings and it took about two seconds for me to answer my research question.  Yes, I am still interested.  I do want to write her story.  She asked me to once, when I was visiting her during the last months of her life.  I told her I would.  I also told her she would have made a brilliant librarian.  

Even more than her transcript, it is this that makes me sure I want to pursue this project.  I wrote it five months after she died (November 2, 2010 - thank you GoogleDrive for recording the date!).

Dear Toots,
We are more alike than I thought.  I eat cheese and crackers all the time, as my preferred food.  I love candied nuts.  I am not always kind to the people I love.  I like to watch the shows I know well over and over again.  I tell myself stories.
I miss you.

It's obvious to me that I saw something in all of those photos, notes, journals, and letters she gave me that drove home how much of my self came from her. Somewhere in the bins at home, there's a picture of Toots' mother that looks exactly like me. Part of me is in her story, I'm sure of it. To research myself, I need to research Toots as well.

I'm a young teacher here, and yes, my hair is dyed black.
I also have a lead on Research Question One (Q1): What aspects of my personality have changed? Actually, this also applies to Q4 (see how a good research process leads to connections?). I started to review my old teaching blog, and it turns out that for the eleven years I taught in public schools I was doing something very deliberate. I was teaching for social justice. Of course I was! Somehow I have lost track of that part of myself. I need to dig in more to make sense of this, but my research plan now includes an exploration of what that means and whether I still do it.

Finally, I must add a research question. Number Five: What is the role of music in my life and what do I want its role to be? These days I listen to a lot of music that I think will appeal to my kid. Or music that will soothe him. Or music that he'll dance to. It used to be that there was always music playing in my life: in the car, in my house, through my headphones while I cleaned, or cooked, or wrote. Not so much these days. These days I long for silence. So this question is an important one. I've had a lot of music education, and I love so many kinds of music. I don't want to lose touch with that.
I've played a lot of instruments (5, I think) starting with violin.

Here are some next steps for my research: 

continue looking over the material about Toots

continue looking at the teaching blog to think about social justice teaching

look at music collection to see what's what

oh, and maybe cook some Indian food (there's no hurry; I have forty days!)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Day Two

Before I can create a plan for my Lenten research, I need to establish some questions.  In Librarian lingo, I need to define my information needs.  So what do I want to know?  Here are some starting points:

I mean really, who IS this person?
(me at around 22 years of age)
  1. What aspects of my personality have changed in the last two years?  Am I more fearful and therefore less adventurous or experimental?  Was I experimental in the first place?  Am I more nurturing now, and therefore more friendly and giving to others?  How would I have described myself two years ago, and how does that differ from how I would describe myself today?
  2. What has been added to my life since becoming a mother (besides the obvious)?  Does each addition result in the subtraction of something, or is it possible to add without taking away?
  3. What do I want to cultivate?  How does my behavior teach my son how to be, and what do I want him to learn?
  4. Am I still interested in things I used to love?  Do I want to go to the movies, take a road trip, have long talks on the phone with friends across the country, work on a novel, write my grandmother's life story, learn to take great photos, work my way through cookbooks, plant an herb garden, start composting, practice speaking Italian and Spanish, and perfect my recipes for vinaigrette and BBQ sauces?  Do I want to do these things, but just don't have the time?  Or would I rather do other things now?
Now that I know roughly where I'm going with this, how will I discover answers to these questions?  When I tell students about creating a research plan, I talk about the importance of brainstorming all possible sources of information that might answer their questions.  Where will I get my data?

I started working at FSHA in the fall of 2011.  Soon after that I learned I was going to have my son.  It stands to reason that these changes would have started around then.  So, what clues to my personality exist from that time that might help me review who I was before I was momma?
  • I used to blog a lot.  I could re-read old blog posts from my life as a public school teacher and see what I find.
  • Certainly I wrote a cover letter when I applied for this job.  I wonder what it said.
  • I took a trip to Manhattan with my husband that summer.  I could look at the photos and see if they sparked any memories.
These sources might help me piece together some information about what my goals were, my interests, my worries, my joys.  What else?

Questions 2 and 3 seem like they'll be harder to answer.  Like any practical student, I'm going to save those for last.

Question 4 seems to require some experimentation.  How will I know if those things interest me unless I try them again? (It's not that I haven't been to the movies or cooked a meal for two years!  It's just that I used to do those things ALL the time, with relish.  That is no longer the case.)  I'm going to start with just a couple.  Here's my plan:
  • Do I still want to write my grandmother's life story?  She left me all of her notebooks, journals, photos, and letters.  I also have recordings of her speaking to me about her life.  Some of them I have transcribed.  I think it's time I revisited all of that to see if it's time for me to make something of it.  Maybe now is not the time, but it's been too long since I've considered it.
  • Pick a cookbook, any cookbook.  My husband loves Indian food, and I have a dusty Indian cookbook that I've never used.  I'm going to bust it out.
So, that's the first phase of the LRP.  Review my sources and develop my research questions.  Once I've read through this material and tried some of these things, I'm sure I'll have an idea of the next steps I need to take.  In the coming days, I will report on my findings.   Of course, I'd love to hear from anyone interested in this process.  Feel free to leave a comment, question, or suggestion!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenten Librarian: Day One

In solidarity with my school community, I am observing Lent for the first time in my life.  I thought about doing this last year, but was never able to come up with something meaningful.  This year, thanks to my Lent buddy Hermana Maite and her ideas about having a non-lame Lent, I have come up with a plan.  Here it is: I will develop and intentional friendship with myself.  Yep.  That's right.  I am going to focus inward and rediscover what makes

I became a mother almost two years ago.  Since then my identity has changed as much as you might expect.  Being a mother is transformative, and I have welcomed and embraced the changes it has brought to my life.  Perhaps a little too much.  I suddenly find myself in an unfamiliar position. I no longer know exactly who I am.

I have had many identity shifts in this life.  I've been popular, 'alternative', a band kid, a bookworm, a slacker, a teacher's pet, and a wallflower.  I've been a sorority girl, a war protester, a film student, an exchange student, and a graduate student.  I've been a Unitarian Universalist, a Presbyterian, an atheist, an agnostic, a secular humanist, and briefly a Buddhist.   I've been a hot dog vendor, a bank teller, a bookstore clerk, a teacher, and a librarian.  I've been a best friend, a girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend, now a wife, now a mother.

In this photo, I am an 11th-grade jazz musician.
This is the first time in all of those times that I seem to be mostly one thing.  Momma.

During this Lenten season, I will seek to find the other parts of me and introduce myself to them once again.  Transformation of an additive variety.

Why tell you this?  What does this have to do with Librarianship?
My methods on this Lenten journey will mirror those principals I teach in the Library.  I will read.  I will think.  I will seek information.  I will share information.  I will record information.  I will study this topic like I would study any other and see what conclusions I can draw.  It's a Lenten Research Project (or LeRP for short).

My first task is to identify my information needs.  What do I need to know in order to begin?  What do I want to discover along the way?  What resources can I use to help me further my efforts?

But that's for tomorrow....