Equity is an on-going struggle. The late August Wilson taught us that it will take generations to correct, adjust, overcome the severe problems that led to this particular moment an epic fight to live creative and equitable lives with courage.
He would often end his speeches: “The time is now; the struggle continues.” It was a wonderful refrain, an echo, a challenge, a way of looking at past/present/future as a connected series of moments that had the potential to produce real change in real lives. On the stage, August created ritual situations that seemed so real and yet their uncanny and awe-inspiring characters, plots, and themes always seemed to have one foot in this world and one in another spiritual and emotional dimension.
With this in mind, we need to take momentum and clear “victories” as an opportunity to figure out what worked and how to replicate success. But, in order to do this assessment, we need to also remember that our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health is a vital component to overcoming some pretty awful working conditions.
I always failed at this; struggled, tried, and failed more times than I’d like to remember. But, the clear moment of success were almost always found in “stolen moments.” For example, in the last couple of academic year, I decided that I would not work on my courses two hours before teaching. I would do other things; prep the night before or over the weekend. Sometimes I would even workshop from the syllabus and the experience I brought to the subject rather than over-plan a seminar or knock out a great lecture. I’d listen to music in my car; I’d read a novel I’d been trying to get to for years. I would do some of my own writing.
My strongest memories center on doing nothing. Just sitting in my car. Walking around a shopping center. Hanging out at some of the consignment or second hand and antique shops. Maybe get lunch and sit quietly by myself. Or, crazy idea, team up with some students or colleagues and enjoy each other’s company. Anything to battle the temptation to feed the over-extension or increased demands of students and administrators.
I wasn’t getting paid; so I wasn’t going to work. I would work at my own pace over the weekend or in the morning hours. I would fold my work into my research or publishing or producing projects. Not only did I experience increased integration of classroom content and professional development, I also found myself calmer, happier, and, crazy idea, better able to work with twenty or more intellectually and culturally different non-traditional learners.
Like I said, some days, some weeks, some semesters, it was nearly impossible to follow this rule. The struggle to maintain so many different relationships was easier when I was “deliberate” and “focused” on not allowing the chaos into my immediate teaching life. I also got into the habit of answering emails after 7pm rather than across the work day. It’s amazing to watch a student or administrator solve their own problems and then receive support or redirection from me rather than expect me to provide 24/365 customer service. No thanks.
August also taught us to stand on our own two feet, no matter the cost, no matter the pain. His plays not only inspired me as a teacher, writer, actor, director, thinker (when I’m not distracted by those endless emails); plays like JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE and FENCES and GEM OF THE OCEAN offered my students insights into oftentimes broken lives creating new lives, families, communities, histories under conditions that make our collective struggles look like preschool nap time.
Perspective is good; connecting with fellow travelers, especially those most struggling, is deeply inspiring. A “check” we all need to wake up every now and then (or in my case, constantly) to the fact that we are in this battle for equity not just for ourselves but for those who come next and, of course, as homage to those who inspired us by cutting through the dense jungle of fear, anxiety, tentativeness, and regret.
So, when you next find yourself buckling under the weight of all you are asked to do in any given teaching day; when you find yourself nauseous walking away from yet another meeting about the meeting where we will plan the meeting to discuss in a non-binding way the question of contact hours — pick up a book, listen to some tunes, laugh with your students, connect with a colleague and support each other. Or as I am prone to tell my boys when they bicker or fight: “Do something else; anything else. Just not what you’re doing right now.”
it’s my own translation of August’s wisdom; it’s my way of keepin’ on keepin’ on.