Recharge: It turns out, I like to hit things!!!

During Shelter in Place, I have been able to insert time to work out into my schedule that was once filled with a significant amount of carting children to sporting events. Fortuitously, Box Union, a company started by a college friend in LA, began their digital platform a couple of weeks into our time at home. I have been watching Box Union from afar via Instagram posts, but as I am never in LA, I knew I would not be able to make it in studio and am really too lazy to look for a boxing studio nearby, so I just double clicked and scrolled.

But once the classes went digital and I had some more free time at home, I was hooked. I really like punching at things! I used to take a kickboxing class back in the Tae Bo days (oh, the 90s…), but this is next level. I am actually doing HIIT workouts! I don’t whine at Burpees… though I still hate them and really hate Mountain Climbers. The music and the trainers make it so fun that I am doing boxing workouts 4-5 days a week and we just got a free-standing heavy bag for our living room! What?!? Upside: my children can now take their aggressions out on the bag instead of their siblings’ faces!!! YAY!!!

“Take THAT annoying sibling!!!”

I am not an Instagram Fitness Influencer (which should surprise exactly zero people) and I do not get any referral benefits, so know that I am recommending that you check this out because I am supremely addicted to it in the moment. 🙂 They have a 2 week free trial and they also support some great causes with special work-outs and donation matching. Check them out!

Read & Rebel: Science Fiction/Fantasy and Social Change

This morning, I had set out with the intention of writing about why I think everyone should read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi followed by the second book in the series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Between my intention and the actual time when I was able to sit down to write, my friend the ravenous and omnivorous reader Anna sent me this article by Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue. Take a minute and read this insightful piece that far better articulates why reading Fiction, particularly Science Fiction, is such an important part of the process for people to truly become anti-racist in practice.

The thing that stood out to me about this essay is how precisely Myles locates the need to broaden our scope to include fiction as we journey through introspection. She writes,

“Nonfiction, while important, still affords you the comfort of looking at the problem from the outside. You get to intellectualize the grief instead of sit in it. You can passively observe the percentages and statistics instead of giving the numbers names and mourning families. Instead of being one of the names or mourning family members. You get to step away.”

Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue

Fiction serves so many purposes in our lives, including entertainment, but its true power lies in its ability to build empathy. If you want, I am happy to send you some research in this arena – how the brain reacts to reading fiction and what its impact is on our psychology. But, I think you can mine your own experiences and consider which fictional characters carried you through important moments or that came to mind when you met someone new or helped a friend in need. The ability of fiction to transport us into another’s feelings and to inhabit their world is critical to our personal well being but also to our citizenship in our communities.

Myles’ article pinpointed the unique quality of science fiction and fantasy to criticize, problematize and fantasize about necessary social change.

“Informational text is important, but emotional text is crucial. While we fight for the world of our dreams, we should read pieces from the people who have already created it.”

Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue

This is what compels me most about Adeyemi’s debut work Children of Blood and Bone and the striking follow-up Children of Virtue and Vengeance (which I enjoyed even more). There is a healthy blend of grappling with reality and dreaming of the ideal, which is equally complex and wrought with generational trauma. The books are squarely in the genre of Fantasy – both steeped in West African Mythologies and African American History, and the layered characters who struggle to make progress while simultaneously grappling with their inheritance as children of their parents in their communities. Magic is at the center of this story, literally and figuratively, as the story bounces between narration of Zelie, who is fighting for her magical inheritance, and Amari and Inan, royal siblings whose family brought about the end to magic but who each see a different truth for the future.

Young Adult Fantasy is not for everyone, but I think this one is worth everyone’s time, particularly in reading the author’s note about what compelled her to write this novel. I will leave you to discover that on your own, but it really adjusted my lens and deepened my experience with the book, and her insight is part of why I feel compelled to write about these books in this moment.

You should also read Octavia Butler’s Kindred. It is required reading for our sophomores, and I feel it should be required reading in all American High Schools. More in a future installment…

Rebel: Accepting (and then Correcting) Mistakes

In the work of learning to grapple with the impact of my whiteness in all spaces, I have to be at one with the idea that I am going to make mistakes. Often. I am not one who likes making mistakes. When I started to learn about mindset work, I realize that much of my educational career was spent in a fixed mindset in environments that rewarded my thought that learning was something people were naturally good or not so good at. Clearly, that is a problematic mindset in a million ways when going into teaching, and I quickly had to reprogram my brain around ideas of learning that were built on a broader definition of success.

As I approach anti-racist work in my own life and in my practice as a teacher, I have to find ways to root out the racism that exists in me. The biggest area of difficulty for me is in using language. I am a verbal processor – I talk fast and sometimes trip over my words. For someone whose professional life revolves around language use, I can be downright sloppy in my spoken language. So, it is the under-the-surface structurally racist uses of words and phrasing that are my kryptonite.

This is why I find Rachel Cargle’s work, in particular, her posts on Instagram, so powerful. Her practice of closely analyzing assumptions shows how comments become biting reminders of division rather than conversation. I strongly encourage you to follow her and to financially support her curriculum, The Great Unlearn. I find this quote particularly powerful for how she addresses “tone.”

View this post on Instagram

Good morning 🌞 • Just a quick Saturday School lesson for you, loves. • This is a comment I recently received. I wanted to offer an analysis for those who are new to this space and also for all who might be looking for language as they continue in this work. • 1. Linda went directly into the Angry Black Woman trope, a classic American stereotype reinforced through history in various media that intentionally is juxtaposed to the innocent blond haired blue eyed white woman, on a post where I simply said “I don’t want your love and light unless it comes with solidarity and action”. In a practice of gaslighting she completely overlooked the hostility of the actual racism I was addressing and instead deemed my response inappropriate. • 2. She then goes on to say that because of my hostility, an angry backlash can be anticipated. So she is irrationally justifying the feelings of white people and their “anticipated angry backlash” to my post yet is insisting that I not have any type of angry backlash to the racism I’m here to address. Another clear example of the delusion that white feelings matter more than black lives & experiences. This type of rhetoric lends to the often deadly results of white tears. Examples include when white people call the police on black people for no reason. They don’t “feel” like seeing a black person in a particular space so they put them in the direct danger of the American police force. • 3. She then assumes that my work here is to gain a “wide audience”. This misconception speaks to the reason I have to constantly remind people that social media is simply a tool, it’s not “the work”. The work is to keep black bodies alive, to find black liberation…..not to grasp for a social media audience. • 4. She then goes on to very directly tone police me. She advises me that antiracism work won’t be of interest to white people unless it is said in a tone that they find palatable. These types of respectability politics play out in various ways in society and here Linda made it clear that her interest in fighting against black pain and oppression is limited to how comfortable she is in the process. • Happy weekend, ya’ll 🙏🏾

A post shared by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (@rachel.cargle) on

Rachel Cargle on Instagram

As a teacher of writing, I have made this mistake and will make it again. It is a tricky line – the relationship between audience and purpose is one of the most tense and challenging areas where we grow our voices as writers. Most of the time, these arguments have to do with students sounding “whiny”, but sometimes, I have fallen short when criticizing a student’s work on what is a more deeply held value – sometimes one of faith or culture that is so deep in their ethos that I cannot approach it as it is not my lived experience. Her comment on “the work” is often what is what I am trying to drive at, but we end up in the emotion, and that may be non-negotiable as far as the student is concerned.

More often, these mistakes come in asking a student, inadvertently, a question or using a written example that is not designed to draw attention to the ways that society perceives them, but in action does. Once, early in my teaching, I referred to teenagers hanging out down on the corner in a vocab exercise, for which a student thoroughly chastised me. I did not know that meant selling drugs, and the sentence had become highly offensive to her. Then, I didn’t handle the situation the way that I would now. Fortunately, I was able to restore trust after a few weeks of truly demonstrating that I wanted to be better.

Here is the most important thing I have learned from making a lot of mistakes in this area: apologize but don’t expect acceptance. First, I try to apologize in the moment. Then, I have to leave the person to decide whether they accept my apology, which they are well within their right to reject. But, if the moment has passed, I have to just sit with the fact that I screwed up.

As Cargle and others point out, it is not the job of the person of color in my conversation to do the emotional labor associated with my inability to recognize the remnants of structural racism in my language. That is my work as a “well-intentioned” white woman. Explaining my intentions, rationalizing my mistake, pushing for their acceptance all require something of that person. My guilt is mine and only I can assuage it. I do this by verbally processing with a white, anti-racist colleague who helps me brainstorm ways to be more mindful and unravel the institutional practices that have shaped my implicit practices of language. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by excellent professionals who have made it their work to be anti-racist in all that they do, and they keep teaching me by giving me suggestions and leading me to voices of color who explain the needs of the communities who are struggling.

It is imperfect work, but I am committed to keep trying to be better and to dismantle the structures in society to allow these things to go unchecked. Then, we can aspire to future generations who have not internalized these divisions that continue to oppress.

Read: Unpacking My History

People who know me know that I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yes, that Tulsa that is dominating headlines this week as the site of Trump’s campaign kick-off. I have a complicated relationship with my Oklahoma heritage (that I am sure to write more about as I continue), but needless to say, like many others from my generation, I am educating myself now about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

I was never taught about this part of Tulsa history as a child. I learned about the land run, which we were required to recreate on the playground in 4th grade – a day I thankfully missed due to illness. I understood the story of the Sooner mascot for OU, the illegal land-grabbers celebrated as underdog heroes, an idea that my middle school mind began to grate against before our move to California. But I knew nothing of the complicated Black history of the community I lived in.

This is unsurprising. I had a rich education in racism from an early age – not due to cruelty from my kind and thoughtful parents but rather from living where I did, when I did. I heard blatantly racist comments from older generations of my family that I knew were horrible but had no language to confront. It took me many years including graduate school and my early years of teaching to start unraveling and constructing ways that I think about race. Regardless, I was shocked as a graduate student in the early 2000s to begin learning about the horrors of the fate of Greenwood.

For those of you unfamiliar with this story, I will give you a very short summary with hopes that you will go and read as much as you can. Greenwood was considered America’s “Black Wall Street” in the early 1920s. I was an economically and culturally Black enclave thriving in the middle of a metropolis where the KKK was growing at record speed. On May 30, 1921, this all came to an end after a white mob burned the neighborhood to the ground, killed an estimated 300 people and displaced more than 8000 people. The mass excavation of a suspected, unmarked burial site of those killed in Greenwood was recently approved and had to halt due to COVID-19.

Today, the New York Times published an historical overview of the event that is a good starting place to learning about Greenwood, with links to other resources. I have on my to-do list to listen to the Smithsonian’s podcast on this topic, and to explore some more of the first person accounts of the event. I would also suggest that you follow Michael Harriot on Twitter; he is a powerful communicator about pieces of Black history in America that go missing from white education and are necessary for all Americans to learn. Lastly, this weekend, HBO is streaming the second season of Watchmen for free. It is set with the Tulsa Race Massacre as the backdrop.

Taking responsibility for this part of my history is important to me. I think it is also important to continue to seek the first person accounts from Black historians – while my journey may begin with traditionally white sources, I seek out those voices of the history for whom it is primary. I don’t always land on the right path first, but I know to keep trying. I think this is important in all that we do to educate ourselves about those who history have tried to erase.

Rebel: Juneteenth

Clearly, there is a lot of thinking to be done right now. It is long overdue and honestly, I’m overwhelmed. But, I took to heart the recommendation that I saw on an Instagram post of one of the voices I have recently starting following on thoughts in anti-racism. (Sorry that I cannot give them credit right now – I will have a future post on people I am currently following on social media that provide some interesting food for thought.) It said to take Juneteenth as an opportunity to learn about something that will help in the work ahead.

So, in addition to taking some time later today to learn about the historical significance of Juneteenth and its origins, I took some time this morning to catch up on a webcast that I missed yesterday from the Commonwealth Club. I strongly recommend that you all watch “Parenting in Support of Black Lives: How to Build a Just Future for Kids (and How Media Can Help)”. This conversation between Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith, thoughtfully facilitated by Julie Lythcott-Haims, has some deep, foundational thinking in how to imbed anti-racism in our interactions with our families and the challenges faced by parents of children who identify in the umbrella of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color).

Once you have watched, let me know your thoughts. I will post some of my reactions in a future post.

Recharge: Spectacular Shopping Spectator

Whenever people ask where I live, I joke that it is in the Mountain View Target. We do live so close to Target that we would frequently take our kids on walks through the store as a summer “adventure” capped off by a bag of buttery popcorn and, maybe, an Icee. I’m pretty sure that there are Target employees who could identify my children as belonging to me without knowing any of our names, and they have also probably seen some amazing temper tantrums from those days when the emergency store run was not going smoothly.

So, it should surprise no one that my family are frequent shoppers at Target during Thanksgiving sales.  After our extended, extended family dinner (at my sister-in-law’s parents’ home where they have graciously incorporated the extended families of their children’s spouses), we come home and walk over to Target to check out the scene. Over the years, this has evolved from marveling at the lines on Thursday nights to actually going in the stores when Black Friday officially creeped into Thursday night. 

But, the great irony is that I rarely buy any holiday gifts on those Target runs! We get very caught up in people watching, examining all the possible Star Wars branded merchandise you could imagine, and generally walking out with whatever food we want to assemble for the next day’s breakfast. That leads to our other favorite spectacle – late night shopping for stocking stuffers when the December days are in the 20s and we forgot to get many things. 🙂

I cannot handle the mall during the holidays – I tried to go to Valley Fair a couple of weeks ago to exchange on online purchase and it was already getting crazed for the holiday rush. After spending a solid five minutes watching a woman pose in her high fashion and very serious face in front of white Christmas trees with others crowding around for other, very different photos in the same 100 square feet of space, I hit my saturation with trying to figure out what was going on and what social media posts this spectacle was generating.  But Target at the holidays, as grouchy and crazy as it can get, that’s my jam. The fact that my son photographed the stocking aisle where someone had spelled out “Epstein did not kill himself” with the stockings is strangely comforting in a way that people in $5000 outfits in front of multi-colored trees is not. Something about the haggard, confused, yet optimistic late night shopping scene at our local Target that really makes me feel in the holiday spirit. 

Rebel: Heart to Heart

In addition to teaching English to my students, I have been a health educator for about 15 years. The stories of how that came about are complicated, but basically, when I was pregnant and then had a baby, I became the best person to talk to teenagers about why they DIDN’T want to become parents too soon. I was supremely cranky and sleep deprived, and they were the unfortunate audience to some not awesome days.

When I started, I was pretty naive but enthusiastic. I dove into a lot of resources, and was fortunate to have a lot of students MORE than willing to try to make me uncomfortable asking weird questions. I also have a very supportive boss who supported my curiosity and desire to create space for sex ed in an English class.

I was so fortunate to have learned what I did early in my parenting, because I have come across many resources that I think are invaluable for parents of kids of all ages. It requires a little bit of rebel inside you to embrace open talk about sex and sexuality with your kids, but it is worth it.  I have been fortunate to see my former students become sexual health advocates for their peers and even go into professions around health advocacy because they learned how to talk openly about sexual health and seek resources that worked for them.

As a parent, I am a huge fan of the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Program: Heart to Heart. It provides honest information in a non-confrontational, funny format to help teens and tweens understand the journey to adulthood ahead.  They do it in a way that is as non-restrictive as possible but also creates room for all parents to follow up with conversations that fit their families. It has a basic introduction to sexual reproduction that can be uncomfortable (one of my children refused to speak to me afterward because she did NOT want to grow up YET!) but scientific and, again, created space to start a conversation at home where each child was.

If you are thinking about going and have questions about my experiences going twice with two VERY different daughters, let me know! 

Read: What I’m Teaching – Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

\ I am relatively new to non-fiction, being a fiction devotee most of my life before teaching.  And while I have been teaching non-fiction to high schoolers what seems like forever, I ask a lot of people for a lot of ideas when I am looking to update curriculum. 

A good friend who is a science teacher recommended this book. When I heard the title, I had a little too much Breaking Bad on my mind and was convinced it was about meth. Did I mention that I have an almost problematic obsession with True Crime? But, after it was explained that this was, in fact, about a botanist, I realized it was probably classroom safe.

It has truly been a gift in my high school classroom. The first reaction of most students is “This is boring! Why do I care about this scientist or plants? This is not for me.” They would rather be reading about murder (I can’t blame them) and drama, but it does not take long before Jahren casts her spell and the kids get swept up.

I know, it sounds impossible that a book about a scientist and plants could be so engaging for high schoolers.  But, Jahren is ridiculously talented.  She weaves stories of her discovery of science, some epic failures in the laboratory, and her struggle with manic depression all into a beautifully written narrative of one of the most important friendships in her life.  All of this within the framework of lessons about the complex and strangely human lives of plants.

It is hard to share the story of this book without ruining the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  And that I am able to say this about a book about plants continues to shock me.  But even better is the surprise students express when they learn something from Jahren’s book or notice something about her style.  In a particularly complexly written but easy to read chapter, Jahren uses quotes that she memorized from David Copperfield BECAUSE SHE DID NOT UNDERSTAND THEM in order to describe her work as a med tech and uses them to illuminate the moments when the quotes and her life start to make sense. Or, when she sets up an analogy using roots to later show friendship roots us in unique ways.   These moments make my English teacher heart sing! When students see what she is doing, they are equally surprised and feel as brilliant as they are, scientists themselves discovering something new and interesting about another person. 

If you’ve read Lab Girl, let me know what you thought.  Or, when you read it, share some insights!

Recharge: All good plans…

As many of my friends would tell you, I am a woman with plans…. that don’t always make it to fruition on the timeline I imagine.  When I started this blog process this summer, I thought I could totally get it pulled together before school started.

Now, the first marking period has ended and I am laughing at my August self.  But this is the life of a teacher! I always overestimate what I can get done in the time I have and always see possibility to change and create things. I guess that keeps me going during tougher days.

This week, I have been thinking about small ways to recharge myself that don’t take WORK. I have always been a DOER.  It is very hard for me to rest.  I am trying to find things that don’t bring out “TYPE-A”my but rather the lower case amy. 🙂 Doing nail polish with a friend on a semi-weekly basis has been a great option.  Trying to schedule lunch with friends, even in my packed schedule, at least one every other week has also worked. 

I have also been indulging a lot in True Crime Blogs on my way to work each day.  My current addiction is The Mysterious Mr. Epstein from Wondery. It is narrated by *NOT THAT* Lindsay Graham and it is simultaneously engaging and horrifying. Granted, this may sound stressful to many people, but for me, I get energized by thinking about something new. The content is full of content challenges – every episode has a content warning at the beginning – but the storytelling is so engaging it is hard not to listen. Books can be tricky for me – if I start reading something good, I quickly jump into English Teacher mode and it becomes work rather than fun; so I end up reading a LOT of mysteries and police procedurals (do you sense a theme?!?). I have been trying to practice taking off my teacherly hat a little to read more challenging fiction, but podcasts provide a lot of the same pleasure without me immediately trying to lesson plan (but it does happen… Serial Season 1 is now a staple of my 10th grade class…)

I love things I can count on and carve small spaces into my weekly plan to make me feel more connected to my friends or the world. What do you do for a little recharge during the week? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

 

Why “theamyreilly.com”?

Well, the obvious, is when you are late to the blogging game, your relatively common name is taken. And while I love words and wordsmithing… I mean I AM an English Teacher … it was difficult to sum up just one avenue of the many interests that teaching has cultivated in my life into one tag line. So, “theamyreilly.com”.

I have been wanting to blog for a long time about many of the things I have learned about teaching teenagers reading, writing and health and then having those adorable babies I birthed grow UP into teenagers for a long time. Now that my youngest is approaching her tween years and I got some encouragement from friends, I decided it was now or never. I am gradually moving away from Facebook but I still wanted a space to talk about books and hopefully continue a dialogue about some thing I’m passionate about.

This page will include book reviews, insights into health conversations that I’ve had with teenagers and some of my favorite distractions. One of the most important things I have learned in almost two decades of teaching  is how to find time to recharge myself and be okay with a little bit of self indulgence.

What do I want for this site? 

  • I hope you find this helpful.
  • I hope you find it thoughtful
  • I hope it reminds parents that you’re not alone muddling through adolescence, again but this time as a backseat driver. 
  • I hope that my non-parent readers find something that makes them think, makes them smile or makes them wonder.

I look forward to hearing from you