Showing posts with label professoring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label professoring. Show all posts

Origin Stories

 The beginning of the Spring semester was just in January but feels like a million years ago.

 I feel like each day is a decade long in this new next chapter that is unfolding in my life, and I sometimes get lost in my  search for peace, happiness and meaning.

 This is my second semester 100% "back in the classroom" for all of my courses after the disruptions of zooming etc, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make a bridge from the things that used to work "before" to the things that will work for the students I have now. 

 I have to assume all of my students have been through at least a few bumps in the past 2 years, and if they are taking face-to-face classes they must be hoping to take part in some new normal  that they are willing to get out of bed, get dressed and  risk their lives for. 

With that in mind I dig deep to make every class meeting special.  They play Reacting to the Past games (which have brought backflips, splits, assassinations,  bribes and much karaoke singing in the past weeks), snack on a buffet of treats and take pretests based on the "wrong answers only" principle.  

I'm doing my best. 

The one thing I haven't done is share what they wrote the first day of class when I handed out a sheet of paper asking for their name, pronoun (omg that is an entirely different column stay tuned), contact info and "What is your superpower If you have multiple superpowers please list as many as you can" (followed by a promise that I will keep them secret).

Here are their answers, in no particular order:

*I'm a Leo!

* I can communicate with inanimate objects, especially electronic devices

*I can wake up at any hour and be wide awake!

*I can forget anyone's name

*I can do anything I put my mind to. I can also fly.

*I can laugh like Seth Rogen

*top secret

*Sense of direction. I never get lost.

*Reading minds. 

*I'm pretty good at multi-tasking and I am (sometimes) a human lie detector

*1) Drinking. 2) Being on time for class.

*Drawing this mouse perfectly every time (NOTE: student drew perfect mouse)

*I've never seen a ferret in person

*I'm a mother of 4, ages 13, 11, 7 and 3

*I love children, especially newborns

*Willpower and chasing my dreams

*Photo editing. Cat whisperer (they all love me)

*I can play 4 instruments

*supersonic flight, super strength, and the ability to manipulate anything at the atomic level

*shape shifting (I'm trans) and being able to write

*The power to control matter

*I can see around corners. I just can...


*I'm actually an alien wearing human skin

*I am a curious person and I like to ask questions. I'm good at taking minor details and finding a pattern. I like to debate/discuss. History is one of my favorite subjects.

*Caring, imagination

* I have ADHD and can get hyperfixated on topics I'm interested in and I hope it helps me here!

*I'm always on time, I hate being late. I'm also a super fast runner.

*I can do hair and dye hair.


*I try my best at everything. Big creativity and sense of humor

*electrokinesis, telepathy, time travel, omni-telepathy, teleportation, that's it!!!!

*Can hold a grudge forever

*Invisibility, teleportation, flight, super-strength, psychological manipulation.  All of these powers are very real. 

*I'm left handed

*I control black holes and gravity

*Invisibility. Persuasion. Shapeshifting. Really smart, really stupid.

*My superpower is my strength and my will to never give up and push myself to keep going no matter what

*I'm able to have multiple hobbies and be very detailed but then I can lose interest within minutes and be super spaced out

*I know how to find out information without being caught

*My awkwardness is mostly amusing! My bosses think so at least!

*Seeing the future

*Invisibility and animal communication (dogs/cats)

*Affect others' emotions

*Photography pro

*My superpowers are staying on task, being prepared for any situation, and having a good attitude

*Super jump

*I've done multiple internships at animal hospitals and I've never had a dog not like me


*spending too much money

*competitive knowledge

*I prefer to keep my powers private lol

*I could fly

*I am not really sure

* I can draw a photorealistic portrait of your face or pet

*Talking with others ;-)

*I am colorblind and good with sports fact

*I am an empath

* I can speak three languages

*I'd say my superpower is to read people

*Having the ability to stay on tiktok all day

*Extreme self-awareness

*Not really sure

*Lol I don't trust you

*I'm good with people

*I am a cyborg. I have two metal rods in my spine.

*I have ADD

*I find ways to solve problems concerning my financial needs since I was in elementary. I'm a hustler. Yes, legally.

*Stubborness and hyperfocus

*I'm tall AF, I play basketball. Main superpower is gambling


*Chronic anxiety and procrastination, ignorance, camoflauge .... psychosis?

*Super strength (not really I have tiny arms) and super speed (I have to run across campus to get to class)

*Animal whisperer

* Never having to sleep

*I have no known superpowers

*Superstrength, genius, drinking a lot

*I can read people's personalities based on body language and speech (extreme psychoanalysis)

*If I have a superpower I haven't figured it out yet

*I can make clothes

*Perpetual calmness

*overthinking. Sometimes I feel like professor X

*Cleaning my room in under 5 minutes

*I'm really good at tiktok

*I have to come back to this question lol

*My superpower is procrastinating until the last possible second

*My superpowers include overthinking and eating way too much


*super procrastination

*Cooking and eating way too much

*I can read people's emotions SUPER well ;-)

*Wearing crocs everywhere

* I could read people's minds

*I'm kind! I'm an overachiever, I want the best for myself,  I'm competitive

*Mind reader

*I want to have the ability to manipulate atoms but I won't lie and say I have it already

*I like to laugh a lot and smile

*sleeping for a long period of time

* The power to overthink things

*I can stay calm under stressful situations

How Books get their Titles: What if Women Wrote History?

Republished from January 2, 2021

This isn't the place where I tell you about how 2020 sharpened many of my ideas of what a professor does and how they do it.  

 In case you were worried,  please know my classes went very smoothly and I  challenged students while extending grace and kindness in ways that I had not before considered. 

The single biggest blessing that 2020 brought me was quality time with my daughter who moved home in Spring during the early hours of the pandemic and has since spent day after day with me.  

Yes, we lived together for most of her life, and no there was nothing wrong between us but over a year or two we had less and less shared experiences and I let her drift off to learn what people need to learn at her age.

But then she moved back and the walls came down. 

We watched Handmaidens Tale and Grey Gardens and please don't make me list all the shows here but understand we found more and more common ground.  

We talk about hard things and silly things and make up a game where out of the blue one of us pretends the dog doesn't exist and asks the other one "why are you talking to the floor? are you OK?" 

 She makes me improve my decorating game.

I teach her the joys of lululemons.   

She reads my writings. 

I revel in her art and documentaries.  

We aren't the same but we see each other and try to learn from each other.  

One day we were almost leaving the house to pick something up and I stopped our dash out the door to say I need to jot something down that was really weighing on me.

 She gave me a second and before I wrote it I told her what I needed to write:

 I've always thought if I was a nice girl and was kind enough, I wouldn't have to deal with really hard things or big feelings.

I believed that if I just behaved right,  then difficult things would have to go away easily. 

We took a moment to talk about that unwritten rule that seems to be a "female" thing and where it might come from and how dangerous it is.  

She helped me find a pen.

I cannot account for all of our other hours together but one of the single most important moments of my recent history happened soon after that.  

Zoe and I were doing one of the things we do to pass the hours when someone  (older than either of us) jumped in our bubble to announce they had an idea that was question but actually mostly a statement and that was "What if women wrote history?"

A thousand years pass in the seconds that followed.  

First, I looked right at Zoe and in one blink ask her wordlessly,  "did you just hear what I heard heard?"

She blinked back "oh hell yeah" and exhaled and I'm pretty sure she was noticing how I was taking a second to respond.  

We've discussed the difference between reacting and responding and hoo boy I am taking a hard minute to let the universe give me words and not the howling the WTF!!!!! 

I feel boiling at the bottom of my stomach, far from my disciplined and unmoving mouth.  

I feel unseen and invalidated in a way I could never have expected. 

 I feel like all the years of behaving and being quiet and trying to shrink to exactly the right size to fit whatever keyhole I needed to fit in suddenly are coming apart.  

I question why I have been following my mentor's advice of not writing too many books out of concern no one would take me seriously.

I question why I let myself be lead to write a dissertation on male Cuban-American bankers when my interest was in enterprises formed by immigrant women to help other immigrant women.

I question why I happily accepted being how smart I was "for a girl" by Jesuit professors who were ill equipped to respect me as an academic or ever see me as becoming their equal. 

The question was a gift, and my response was a choice.  

I said, "What if that was an actual college major?

And the person asked, "Was that YOUR major?"

And I said, "Something like that....." and the conversation just ended.

When Zoe and I were alone again I said, "See that? That's how my books get their titles."

She told me to write it and here we are. 

First Tuesday of November

 Today is a day of suspense and surprises. 

Play history games, win history prizes, answer questions, answer more questions and then repeat the entire process in all five classes.

Plant rows of uncertainty, harvest bouquets of improvisation, plow through resistance.

Today’s food: granola bars and bags of chips in class, because I now bring them and have become a vending machine but a failed one because I give it all away for free

First Monday of November

 Today is a day of beginnings.

Take initiative, set the agenda, lead.

Plant rows of niceness, harvest bouquets of toys, gather good things and share them.

Today’s food: frozen meal cooked on high for 5 minutes, no matter what the directions say

Today’s wine: Pinot Grigio in a coffee cup

Final Monday of October.

 Today is a day to float through. 

Show up, let others practice leadership, daydream politely.

Plant rows of stories, harvest bouquets of ideas, pick ripe juicy evenings.

Today’s food: coffee and a hug 

Alfred Williams 1858 Will Part 2: That each female slave receive one half of one week day in every week for every two children she may bear, while in my service, during the life of such children.

Mr. Williams mentions enslaved people in the tenth part of his will and testament, after money and children and fighting with people in his head and solving problems that haven't happened.  

I can only imagine how much fun he thought he was. 

Here is exactly what it says, then we can unpack it.

Tenth. I direct special care be taken of all the slaves belonging to myself and children, as regards their health and comfort.  I direct you as far as possible that they receive moral culture and religious instruction.   That each female slave receive one half of one week day in every week for every two children she may bear, while in my service, during the life of such children. 


OK. So it seems nice, right? It can't be.    

Any document that honors the right to own humans is fundamentally flawed.

 This one is especially strange because of the offer of time off to female slaves for bearing children "while in my service." 

Does "in my service" mean "having sex with me?" or "while I am forcibly enslaving them instead of someone else enslaving them when the child was born?"

It had to be well known that Mr. Williams gave women who bore children -- and whose kids survived -- more time off than everyone else, but I makes me wonder what kind of system that fueled.  

The clause about the children being alive in order for this clause to kick in is menacing.  

Why add that? Would you really take time off BACK from a grieving mother? I bet he would.

Did women (and the men they loved?) encourage each other to face nonconsensual sex in order to buy 100s of hours of freedom of the next years?  

Were the enslaved women  jealous of each other? or protective? 

What did older women tell their little sisters? Their daughters?  

We may never hear their side of the story.

Mr. Williams benefits from laws and traditions that were obstacles to literacy for people of color because I think they left none of their stories in writing, but in all truth .  

I have hours and hours to fill during this slippery time of questioning everything,  so I just might search the Library of Congress' Slave Narratives or Louisiana archives for answers that will lead to more questions and stories.

Just as it should be. 

Alfred Williams 1858 Will Part 1: Because I am not looking for anything in particular, I notice more.

 I have hours and hours each day to fill during this slippery time, and I can’t keep rearranging books or finding obscure Swedish shows on Netflix.


So I keep researching.   Sometimes I have a goal in mind, like with the Pandora’s Safe project.  Most of the time I don’t, and instead open digital databases and read file after file of raw data.  

There is something so uncomposed about data that relaxes my mind. When you read a book it’s been edited and architected to take you somewhere in a fixed number of words and images. 

It is a constructed ride and sometimes I need to have the feeling of taking a long walk in archives staring at documents like birdwatchers squint at trees.


On Monday night I read the death certificates of each and every person who died in one Alexander county of North Carolina between 1945 and 1950.  I didn’t take notes but I did bookmark interesting names and shout out things like “this poor guy --- the saw mill” to my kids who are experts at both ignoring me and appearing  to be encouragingly supportive.


 What I found didn’t surprise me. Most deaths were disease related, and the only gunshot deaths were suicides by men in their 60s and a toddler shot by her 6 year old brother. 




I was not pleased with seeing a 24 year old woman die of natural causes and bookmarked the page to research it later. 

There is something quietly soothing in reading every record then moving to the next file.


Because I am not looking for anything in particular, I notice more. 

Middle names excite me.

 Missouri Arkansas. Now that's a name. 

I always want to know who was the informant at the death, and where the body went after the funeral.  Every now and then I pull up an obituary or look for a newspaper article but most of the time I just keep reading the primary sources as they were written and filed.


One of my favorite things to do is read Wills (and yes, my brother told me to get a new hobby but also have you tried reading Wills?), especially those written and/or probated before the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery.  


When Wills are filed for Probate they are usually copied into the counties book of wills, which means that all the wills of everyone who died in a certain year can literally be read like a book from cover to cover if you are good at reading cursive and also open to French and Spanish, because about 30% of the Wills I read that were written before 1860 were not written in English.  We can discuss this later. 

What matters is that many states made those books of wills available to ancestry to digitalize and code and that’s how I access them.


The other day I was reading Wills filed in Orleans Parrish in the 1860s, shocked by how wealthy some people were, throwing around legacies of thousands of dollars and leaving lists of addresses of all their properties to be disposed of.  I make a point to look for mention of “slave” or “negro” (they were used interchangeably in Wills, let’s unpack that later) and also if there is some context to the discussion.


For example, I have read Wills where the person mentions that their kids will divide equally all their property including real estate, cattle and slaves. 


I have read Wills where the enslaved people are doled out by name (beloved Betsy goes to XXXX) and others where the decedent allows their children to each pick 2 and then sell the rest and split the profit. 


Nothing I’d seen before prepared me for what I found in Alfred A. Williams’ will, which I found in Orleans Parrish Will Book #13, page 99.

The will before Mr. Williams’ was in French, so I just passed on it and want everyone to remember I didn’t read all the wills, just the English ones, and even though Louisiana became a state (I often read the event described as “Louisiana was granted statehood” which is a whole other way of seeing the relationship, right?) in 1812, about 1 in 5  wills I’ve come across filed in the 1840s-1860s were in French or Spanish.


I feel that you’ve heard me on this point of how connected and multilingual the cities of the  Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Basin were in the 19th century and I can move on.


In his 1858 pre-Civil War testament, Alfred A. Williams leaves cash to his brother and brother-in-law, and wants a trust created for his minor children and administered so that when each of them reaches 21 they get all the funds accruing since his death. He then inserts something I’ve seen before and because I didn’t go to law school I get to name things and I call it the jerk clause.


He says that if his kids oppose the will then their shares will go to his brothers and sisters.


 Like how does someone get into a future fight with their kids that happens after their death?

What’s it like to be that controlling?

 Does it work? Because as I see it he’s going to die in 1863 and most of the wealth his family had when will was signed in 1858 will be on it’s way to be gone with the wind.   

The next several paragraphs are assigning who he wants to administer his property until the kids all turn 21, and how that person should be compensated. Yawn. I see this being written in a smoky room over rum, fat bellies and promises. Once you tell someone you’re leaving them stuff, things have to be different between you guys.


 I try to be neutral but it’s hard to like this guy, swinging his wealth around.


Then I found the portion of his will where he mentioned slaves, and I feel like I have uncovered the devil, and puppeteer who implied choice and freedom in a situation when the opposite was true.

(Continued in next post)*****


How High Can Rocks Fly: Part 3: How fast can dead snails run?

(From December 2017) 
I will forever remember finding a particular envelope the week after Christmas while sorting through odds and ends and putting away decorations and writing syllabi.

I thought the paper envelope was filled with some sort  of fragrance beads, so I got a glass bowl, opened the envelope and shook them out. A bunch of yellow beads fell out, accompanied by about 50 tiny assorted seashells mixed in with tiny beads.

 I spent the better part of the afternoon admiring each one of them and then placing them in to a spiral pattern in the bowl.  I loved each of them.

The seashells tell a story about creatures effortlessly – almost helplessly -- creating beautifully perfect geometric art that they leave as their gift. 

These creatures did not have the choices of  being kind and helpful – or did they? Am I underestimating them? -- but still they found a way to be generous.

 I suddenly want to know more about the communities of whatever these are but oh wait. I am dumbstruck. Entirely.

  I am a grown human being and I do not know what to call the creature that lived and died and created seashells.

Are they snails? I’m thinking snails are land things. 

Snails are like Gary on Spongebob.  Wait, is Spongebob really under the sea? Is Gary a native underwater sea snail  or is he from above the water like Sandy the Squirrel and does that explain why Gary meows?  I want to look this up but stay on track.

The creatures that made these seashells can’t be “snails” and I’m stumped but motivated to get through this and find the right word so I can finish writing this and finally grade.

 I think of typing in “What died to become a seashell?”  or “How are seashells made?”  but I think google would laugh at me. 

Of course I know how seashells are made.

They are made by math, by the golden spiral and by the Pythagorean swirly square root thing.

Each sea shell is  made by a divine creature that instinctively grew at exactly the right speed; they could not go faster or slower, they could not grow into a shape any different than the one they were intended to become.  

I can’t imagine they were aware of their shells, but then I can also imagine an entire show based on snails having shell envy and some snails getting plastic shell surgery to look more like a conch. 

I finally did search “how are seashells made” and have an answer that is boring and ugh.  The smug top sentence for any big search should be disregarded. 
 Then I switched to google image search and got this treasure for you. You’re welcome.

At least now I have an answer.

A variety of sea creatures leave their shells.  They have all sorts of names. Mollusks and clams and oysters and guess what?  As the narrator I get to make choices and for this story we are going to call them sea snails, and leave their names a mystery that died when their entire family-village perished in whatever catastrophic event that caused all these shells to be seeking refuge halfway around the world from their home.

How do I know they are from far away? The tag on the bag of shells read “Made in the Philippines.” Of course I read it, I look for hints and clues everywhere, all the time.

It did not mention whether the contents were food or could be given to children – do they care if anyone is harmed? -- but I bless their hearts anyway, because that’s the right thing to do.

The Philippines are pretty far away from Tallahassee, an unimaginable distance to be covered by any snail, much less a dead one.

That’s right. I now realize my question is really “How fast can a dead snail run?” and the answer has been answered by every single one of these shells.

 It moved as quickly as it needed to in order to go where it was intended to go, and the universe did the rest of the work.


*On exam day I will have enough rocks and stones so that each of you can pick two shells and two stones; one of each to keep, and one of each to give away. 

How High Can Rocks Fly: Part 2: Do not give rocks to children.

(From December 2017) 

I have to answer the question I don’t know how to ask before I can write something I want to give my students before they take their final exams. 

 For years now, ever since at least 2010 when we lost two people in one class, I have given my students lucky rocks at the end of the semester as tangible evidence of my gratitude for our time together and my good wishes for their future.

 We usually begin Final Exam day with stories and rocks (and for a bit there was a picture thing and once or twice I wore my Harry Potter-looking Ph.D. stuff), but that always left out the student who tiptoed in 3 minutes late, or the students who were so genuinely wrapped up in memorizing the parts of the Treaty of Paris (1898) they were unable to listen.  I don't blame them.

I would not want any student to feel left out, so this year I will give them something to read (this).

One of the reasons I love rocks is they remind me that I have a choice in what I keep and what I leave behind.   

I hope that you all take pieces of this class with you, the good parts, the parts that meant something to you.

 If there were times in the semester when you felt frustrated at me or disappointed in yourself, I hope you choose to put that rock down.

One of the things that makes us human is our ability to question things and to invent stories.  Rocks cannot tell you about the 1968 election and connect it to both the Nixon Doctrine and Watergate. 

No matter how hard they try, rocks can’t tell stories.  Rocks have other uses.

Do rocks worry about being useful? Successful? Important?  Lost? 

Would worrying help the rocks get to where they are destined to go?  

Can rocks fly?  Did this rock come from outer space?  Was it part of a meteor once? 

I do not know. 

I did read once that humans are made of stardust. Stardust pulsing though our veins, connecting us to things that have been and will become. Perfectly amazing. 

I don’t know how high these rocks can fly, but your rock has flown from where it was and then will end up exactly where it is intended to be, at exactly the speed it needed to go.

There. Question answered.

Now something else.  When I bought the rocks there was tag on the bag with was a notice smaller than a fortune cookie that read, “Not for children under 14. Not for food.”

I shook my head.

Who needs to be told that????

What horrible person would be giving rocks to kids? Or think rocks are food?  

Still, there must be a reason for them to have taken the resources to have printed and affixed those particular rules to these rather rock-like rocks. 

I choose to practice radical acceptance, so I’m going to practice believing that those two rules are crucial.  

Rule #1: Do not give rocks to children.

Whoa. YES! Best rule ever. Brilliant. Profound, even.
If you give a child a rock, they might cry.   They were hoping for maybe candy or your Netflix password or to use your wireless headphones. 

You can’t always tell if someone is a child or not based on their age, but you will definitely know if a person is ready to believe rocks are magic and that you are offering them treasure.   

If they don’t want your treasure, leave them to the universe to learn what they need to learn on their wisdom path today.

Rule #2: Rocks are not for food.  

Yeah. Right! Anyone who has heard the fable about stone soup knows that rocks can be the key ingredient in making a community feast. 

I am aware that more than one hundred students are  waiting for me to finish writing this and post exam grades, so for expediency sake, here is a recap of the story à

Our service projects this semester have been our stone soup.  Each student has chosen to use their talents to contribute to a greater mission resulting in something bigger and more awesome than we each could have made on our own.

But OK. Still.  I had agreed to agreeing to the two rules and I’m breaking my rule to follow the rules.

 Good thing I don’t have an editor to answer to. Good thing I don’t have to worry about getting a grade on this essay.  

Rocks are not for food. This is probably the stupidest rule ever.  

If we are at the point where people are eating so many rocks that there are rock shortages and rock overdoses lets reconvene and figure out what bad choices lead our society down that to that path.  Was it Yalta? Was it Perestroika? Can it be connected in any way to blaming Mexico for forcing us to join WW1?

Wait, I am still not agreeing.

Radical acceptance might be against my nature, so I have to practice harder than other people. Here we go.

Do not eat rocks. Be careful what you ingest, be careful that it isn’t toxic or harmful.  Practice kindness to yourself, you are treasure.

 Do not feed rocks to people. Do not feed anything harmful to other people. They, also, are treasure.

 Wish for yourself health and protection; offer the same wish for everyone else.   

Now I see it.

The people who bagged these rocks took the time to wish their rocks would do no harm.
Bless their hearts.

I’m almost ready to finish this story and grade that stack of exams that looms next to me on my desk, but not until I answer the question I’m still figuring out how to ask.

(there are only 3 parts, then I really really have to grade.....)