I read a poem by Leslie Marmon Silko in her novel, Ceremony. I was so moved I wanted to post it as is. Then, I read So you want to talk about race by Ijemoa Olou. My mind began to swirl in misuses of power, white supremacist institutions and cultural appropriation. The images below are a sequence of my story of learning how to weave. For me, it is a narrative of personal connection and respectful relationships. However, I decided that I needed to do more than post the images of the strings. Still, inspired by Silko's poem, I integrated two pages of my memoir for teachers that addresses the power of naming and the white institution of education that inspired me to learn to weave, a loom and tangible tension around my actions that I can not only notice and adjust to, but change.
These are images from the first weaving I completed without my teacher in Guatemala kneeling by my side. They consist of the first ABC building blocks she taught me and new images I attempted using a faja as a guide. Remembered voices. Written instructions. Threads.
is sitting in her room"
I met with my advisor once accepted to graduate school and back in Wisconsin. I parked in a ramp nearby and walked to his office. The dreamily recalled paths wound near the apartment I had rented my first year teaching. The constant frozen sandpaper I had scraped from my windshield when I needed to park on the street was as gray as the snow and icy sidewalks on that bleak afternoon. A stark trail stretched to the horizon, or at least to the next corner, where another cluster of university buildings opened their doors, if not always their understanding, to my plight. All the birds flown south in my flock called to me, as if to ask why I was here in Wisconsin in the winter instead of still in Guatemala. My father enjoyed telling me on our walks that past December how his brothers would carry trick ice like plates only to trip each other so the imaginary flatware would smash apart upon the ground. I walked not knowing I balanced my teacher memories the same way, as a seemingly transparent world about to shatter.
"and whatever she thinks about
"She thought of her sisters,
Nau’ts’ity’i and I’tcts’ity’i,
and together they created the Universe"
My advisor was over fifty, but an experienced and hip kind of that age who bought cutting edge kitchen utensils and biked more than he drove. That was the image I associated with Madison and academia. He was accustomed to meeting with his research, mostly international, and almost always, doctoral students. He had taken, what seemed to me, an incredibly long time to respond to my e-mails and schedule a meeting with a new student choosing graduate classes for the first time.
“Patience,” he suggested like a complaint that day. “How did you ever get along in Guatemala if you’re this anxious?” The sky turned practicum gray and Hurricane Stan slammed into me at once like the brakes that didn’t dare hit college students lingering in the crosswalk.
“Maybe you’re not cut out for this.” Then what?
and the four worlds below."
"Thought-Woman, the spider,
named things and"
Spring semester was when I had started my undergraduate teacher education. I counted the credits, estimating that the Master’s would take me between three and four semesters, but I couldn’t discern an appropriate class schedule from the graduate courses listed online. I recalled my first and last meeting with the undergraduate counselor and how exact the educational sequence coursework had been: foundation course, literacy practicum, science/social studies/math practicum and a semester of student teaching. Despite the catalogue citing certain requirements, the graduate courses seemed to be pretty much a free for all in selection that at the end of the correct number of credits I would put the title of my choosing on the diploma, for example “Teacher Education”. As a full time student that semester, I had flexibility in arranging my schedule. My advisor put me in his class, and one taught by his friend. I picked the third, mostly due to scheduling. Sadly, I knew this visit with my advisor would not be my last.
The courses my advisor selected were during the day, not during "teacher hours”. This meant I was in class with serious researchers, not teachers. I was not in class with anyone who spoke “like me”. My ex-colleagues’ comments about disconnect lingered, but I wasn’t sure if it was accurate or an excuse. It was a rough winter that year; everyone said so. At the very least, I had to believe that, since I had missed the last three living in Guatemala.
"as she named them
"She is sitting in her room"
Every aspect of my being internalized the winter, the gray walls in the student housing, my mattress, the lone object on the floor in my cubicle of a bedroom, the long city bus rides downtown to class and the gym, and the substitute teaching, the loneliest of educational experiences. My professors weren’t seemingly responsible for classroom applications unless systemic change was due next Monday. The first semester I alternated between crying over all the damage my “white” fingers had done and maintaining my teacher identity by avoiding the use of standard Powerpoint for each assignment like every other student in class.
The history of curriculum and instruction course, taught by my advisor’s friend, was especially scarring. Three hours class sessions were dominated by her impressive vocabulary and memory of research articles. I cringed. Was that what being a competent teacher meant? How was I ever supposed to be that? Was that the only way to understand what each action I chose meant? Articles referencing the educational history, including everything from book selection to classroom furniture arranged in a semicircle, caused me to bite back tears. It seemed as if each activity, fun, ‘best practice’, or otherwise was somehow rooted in a kind of oppression or means to divide and conquer under the guise of instruction.
“This is a cup,” she began in an Australian accent much easier to understand than those I remembered from the hostel in Argentina. “Cup”, that was an easy word. Maybe this would be okay. “As soon as I name this object a cup, then I imply a means to understand it. Anything that this cup, could or has been is captured in the interpretation of that name only. There is a problem with naming. I cannot know something as a general sense,” she concluded.
"thinking of a story now"
"I’m telling you the story"
I stared around the room, trying not to seethe at the recycling bins. There were Diet Pepsi cans in the garbage and Doritos bag in the paper recycling. I guessed the teachers in Santa Catarina knew some words my classmates didn’t, like the difference between “aluminum” and “paper”.
I focused on my professor’s wedding ring instead. That was nice. She had a life outside of the classroom. Everybody was reading a paragraph. A cup? I looked down. I didn’t know what the question was. Maybe there hadn’t been one. Maybe her words had sparked everyone to reread and form their own postmodern postulations. I didn’t have my dictionary with me. I couldn’t believe how many words I had to look up in the readings. It reminded me of why I hated poetry in my Spanish lit class. The only new word I could use so far was “mileux”. I must have missed a prep class somewhere. I had never been so far behind, judging from my folders and notebooks amid the laptops on the kidney shaped tables told me that much. I paged through the syllabus, worried.
"she is thinking."
Oluo, Ijeoma. (2018). So you want to talk about race. Seal Press: New York.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. (2006). Ceremony. Penguin Books: New York.