What are you going to do about that? My Gram's question.

Decode emojis. Eat waffles. Do scholarship

Decode Emojis

It’s been a weekend of doing writing work at home, to give shape to a scholarly essay I will propose as the project for a Fall 2022 academic leave. In short, the project will focus on bringing together completed research, decades of teaching notes, and new archival research on Septima Clark and Raymond Williams as adult educators. The culminating task will be “writing up” that essay addressing the philosophies and practices that I’ve woven together under the broad naming “Multicultural Inclusive Learning and Teaching” – aka MILT.

The writing work in doing this weekend’s initial drafting of the leave proposal? For me that’s a mix of generative writing in a small paper-bound journal using a favorite brand of marker, annotating new and old readings with a mechanical pencil, and reaching out to a friend or two via a keyboard to try out an idea, report progress, or chat a bit in order to walk away from ideas that need leaving behind for now.

Saturday’s walking away took shape in Messenger, and included this two-part update to my writing fool friend:

I’ve moved from journaling (didn’t realise how pissed I am re series of work bosses tamping down my MILT work, and my doing the work anyway)…

…to 600 pages of curriculum plans by radical adult educators- squee!

Their response came as emojis, one for each part, each a shorthand that I usually decode quickly:

❤️ 🩹 🤗 – “Yay to tending to those old hurts.”

💜🧩🎁 ? – The question mark threw me – the pages of reading were certainly helping me piece together a story about being called to the work of building MILT principles and practices from a base of civil rights curriculum and social justice based pedagogies.

So, why question this as a gift – 🎁? Turns out the reading was not what my writing fool friend was questioning, which I learned in sharing my confusion. Turns out the responses didn’t align in order with the updates I’d typed into Messenger. The gift emoji plus question mark was about my first statement in the update:

Uncertain if you trust puzzle piece before you, where your heart is at, and questioning if it will turn out to be an unexpected gift. The experience you were expressing, frustration about work bosses, likely didn’t feel like a gift then, but like the puzzle piece analogy – sometimes shitty things turn out to be a gift

Aha! That. The on-going tamping down doesn’t seem to be the gift. My on-going response has provided a series of gifts thanks to Gram’s ever-present query:

What are you going to do about that?

What am I going to do about a particular conundrum, complex question, new context, unexpected challenge? What am I going to do about work place bosses who ask me to tame my “too radical” approach to inclusive teaching, and learning?

In 2005 the answer was to invite students into remaking my version of a core course so that we overtly infused inclusion and access, and to speak and write about that approach for scholarship of teaching publications. In 2010 it was to apply for a sabbatical to go to UK places where I could push forward in the company of people who welcomed new teaching, learning, inclusion thinking, and to publish about or present on MILT wherever possible that year. From 2015 it was to collaboratively reinvent an inperson MILT seminar with a former student, opting for an online, openly participatory audience. In 2018 it was to turn that collaborative work into presentations and publications for international audiences. In Fall 2022 it will be to write an autoethnographic study forced on the development of a MILT approach. MILT likely now pivoting to Multicultural Intersectional Learning and Teaching.

Was the push back from workplace bosses a gift? Not so much a gift as a springboard for revisiting Gram’s question – the original gift:

Perhaps the gift is recognising anew that the growing up with “What are you *going to do* about that?” from Gram is a persistent gift, as is never wanting to hear come out of my mouth or heart or actions the 1990 tone shift to resignation that I heard in Gram’s voice when she directed that question to herself.

Eat Waffles

I first heard that shift from emphatic resolve

What are you going to do about that?

– to whispered resignation

What can I do about that?

on my last visit to Gram’s house, about half-a-year before her death, and also more than 10 years into her eldest son’s persistent fear-based control of her daily life, and careful curation of a gaslit narrative to shape neighbors’ and doctors’ views of extended family.

Before he left us to ourselves so that he could do a bit of fishing that day, Red set out a list of rules I was to follow if I wanted to be invited back to spend time with Gram: Don’t take her for a walk in the garden. Don’t cook, just eat what I’ve left in the fridge. Don’t believe everything she says.

Bah! We went outside once we figured he’d had enough time to drive away from town and not turn around to check on us. We sat on the front porch and I listened to her heart’s stories while we looked at photo albums she instructed me to pulled from the bottom drawer of the sturdy living room secretary. (Oops, another thing I was instructed to not do. “Don’t see it’ll do any good to stir up those memories.” Bah.) And I listened to her heart’s grief as she turned to the difficult questions: Why didn’t we call? Why didn’t we write to her? Did we get her letters? We did call. We did write letters. We didn’t get her letters. Red saw to all of that.

When it was time to eat, I examined what had been left for us. Whatever was there, it didn’t spark joy for either of us.

“If you could have anything, what would you want for lunch, Gram?”

“Waffles.” Ah, yes, the weekday supper treat when it was just Gram, Grumpy, and me – and sometimes my great-uncle Dave, but only if there would also be ham, sausage links, or bacon on the plate.

And then the hesitation, “He won’t like it if we don’t eat his food.” I could make that disappear, I offered. “He won’t like us making a mess.” I could also make any mess disappear.

A twinkle, a smile, and not waffling on making waffles. Such joy in the making and eating. During those couple of hours the kitchen regained its homely spirit. Well, up to the clean up:

“If there are crumbs or scratches in the crevices he’ll know what we had for supper. He’ll be angry.”  And Gram would be the immediate target on that discovery.

Only one solution, really – and that was to gently, firmly brush out crevice-sticking crumb evidence. And only one thing I could find for that: Red’s newly purchased paint brushes for a spruce up project. Even the brush look untouched as I finished: 😂 😇 💖 🙏 🌟 🤯 🦄

And so I’ve made waffles while drafting this little essay, in thankfulness for the original question and intonation, and for the gift of her question in shaping my life and, especially, my teaching practices. And also for teaching me that an afternoon of writing work needs to include refraining from waffling and to dive into the making.

Today’s waffles? Whole wheat, buttermilk, wild rice, and dried cherries, with maple syrup gifted from my writing fool friend.

Do Scholarship

In the reading, generative writing, friendly push of questions decoded, and waffle making, I recognized that I was waffling – mainly in the sense of not making up my mind about the focus for a Fall 2022 academic leave project. But, to be honest, I was also doing a bit of waffling in the mode of Brit-speak: rambling on in the generative work. To be even more honest, that rambling saunter had everything to do with an earlier documenting of my “diversity, inclusion, equity, social justice career path” (whew!) for a colleague’s research project. Finding that diagram in my generative writing file was a sharp reminder that I would have to address the tamping down process the path reflects back at me in order to write something sparkling, clear, meaningful, and mattering rather than nattering. That, or begin to use – and hear – that whispering resignation “What are you going to do about that?” tone shift in my own voice. Nope. Never.

Do Scholarship. What that might entail will take a bit of rambling this next weekend, with emphatic resolve for this first roving through the acts and actors of tamping down.

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