The need for contemplation is nothing new, yet since the U.S. election in November 2016 and newly historic and mounting injustice, this need has new urgency. I often find myself riding a roller coaster of emotions—feeling laid low one moment and fired up the next. I swing down into anger, sadness, fear, exhaustion, regret, disgust, shame, and hurt. Then, as though on an upswing, I get inspired when in the company of committed activists and educators—when reorienting toward action, justice, and a vision of the “ought to be.”
I imagine I’m not alone in riding this emotional roller coaster, and within this context, I feel the need to write, write, write. Now, more than ever before.
Some of this writing is just for me, as a meditation practice of processing what my heart, head, and hands have to teach me. Some of this writing involves diving deeper and moving forward with ongoing pedagogical and research projects. And some of this writing is taking me into public spaces, as I have newly embraced blogging at heart-head-hands.com—a space in which I write about the everyday-ness of attempting to live a life for justice.
The blog’s name comes from a contemplative writing exercise I often use in teaching. Giving an “expanded perspective on learning,” this exercise asks simply:
- Heart: What are you feeling?
- Head: What are you thinking?
- Hands: What are you going to do?
I appreciate this exercise because it communicates the connectedness of our emotions, thoughts, and actions. It recognizes the value of embodied knowledge, which helps us notice what is present and what is absent. It helps us put into words what we implicitly know, but often have trouble naming. And it holds us accountable to our commitments as we write and speak aloud the work we’re called to do.
The day after the November election, I used this exercise with students, holding space for reflection. Some students focused on their emotions (heart), others shared commentary and claims (head), and still others related action plans (hands). I described my own embodied responses—including tight chest, aching muscles, and exhaustion—and my intended actions: “I must write, write, write! Stand tall in my truth, and speak out/up more confidently, courageously, even when afraid.”
Days later, I began blogging.
And a few days after that, I saw these words from Toni Morrison making the rounds on social media, reminding us “This is precisely the time when artists go to work”:
At times throughout my life, I’ve struggled to see myself as an artist. Yet, this is an identity I encourage students and colleagues, friends and family—truly, all of us—to claim as our own.
If we embrace this identity—artist—might we ask some new questions about our everyday work? Questions like:
- Where do we find inspiration, and how might we inspire others?
- What needs to be said now, even if it’s been said before?
- Whose voices need to be amplified, cited, credited, and made visible?
- How might we better align our everyday lives—in and out of school—with our visions of the “ought to be”?
- How do we write, research, and teach courageously with the challenges of our time?
- What contemplative practices help us build this courage—to stand TALL for justice?
As woman in a white, able-bodied, cis-gender, U.S.-born, socioeconomically secure body (and with other embodied identities, many of which index privilege), I am deeply impacted by Morrison’s call to action. Writing in 2004 after the re-election of George W. Bush, Morrison reminds us that artists have the responsibility to heal social injustice.
Responsibility comes with privilege. And responsibility means not speaking on behalf of others, but speaking up/out about injustice, shaking up/off inherited and normalized ways of seeing the world, and creating/making work that helps us envision more equitable relations.
So, as writers, what might we write toward speaking up/out? As researchers, what might we document, interpret, explain, or call out? As educators, what might we teach, contextualize, rethink, or remake with students? And, as artists, what we might create or inspire into being?
I will continue to ask these questions, as I create posts that bring together embodied experience, emotional responses, and self-care (heart); ongoing research and active reflections (head); and attempts at everyday activism, including weekly writing through my blog (hands). If you feel called to do so, I hope you’ll join me.
The Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning (AEPL) holds space for creating—for sharing activism and art. By expanding what’s possible and enlarging our ideas of teaching and learning, AEPL asks how we’ll respond to the urgent matters of our time. I hope you’ll consider sharing your work here, in the comments or as an author in AEPL’s Blog: A Virtual Gathering Space. For it is now, more than ever, “the time when artists go to work.”
-Beth Godbee, firstname.lastname@example.org