One of the advantages of a class that focuses on Identity, is that even though the participants might not interact much after the class is over, there is a built-in sense of connection because of what we publicly shared. In one of my professional development classes this summer, I had the good fortune of being in the same cohort with Fahima Ife, an insightful and engaging person, and a recent transplant to Madison who rides a really dope bike! Many of my own friends and colleagues are venturing into the unknown this week as we begin another year of teaching in the public schools. I just love how Fahima spins all those fears and anxieties by focusing on the simplicity of being positive. Enjoy her thoughtful words of experience!
“Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.” – Benjamin Hoff
In the final moments of my extended summer vacation, I reread Benjamin Hoff’s charming book The Tao of Pooh and was reminded to find positivity in all things. At the beginning of the book, the author and Pooh “travel” to China to examine a painted scroll of “The Vinegar Tasters.” In this scroll, there are three men who represent Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-tse. All men have dipped their finger into the same vat of vinegar, which represents the Essence of Life, and tasted it, but each man’s face holds a different expression. Lao-tse is the only one smiling. Even though life is not always pleasant, he still has found a reason to remain content. It was a wonderful reminder, especially since the past few months have been anxiety-ridden for me.
I was admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin a Ph.D. program in Curriculum & Instruction, so I relocated to Madison from Atlanta, GA but the transition has not been entirely without apprehension. I love living in new places, but this transition seemed to carry so many unknown variables, which bred so many unnecessary fears. In Atlanta, I was a full-time teacher earning a livable wage. In Madison I will be a full-time student with a meager stipend. For 6 years, I had made a home for myself, including a large social circle for emotional support. In Madison, I will be alone without an immediate support circle. In Atlanta, I had my usual routines and habits. In Madison, I will have to explore and discover new routines. At this point, I can see the positive aspects of my relocation, but in the beginning, these worries made me fearful and upset. I was especially saddened that I had said my goodbyes to my former students, even though my departure promised the next steps in my path as a critical and transformative educator. While so many friends celebrated my new adventure, I silently sulked and fretted over what my new life would be like.
During an especially stressful moment, brooding over my impending school schedule, I gravitated towards Benjamin Hoff’s literature and began to reconsider my transition. What I discovered first was that my entire experience in Madison so far has been extremely positive. Despite my initial trepidation regarding meeting new people, I met several people during my first few days in town, including many like-minded educators, and community activists at a Hip Hop training institute. I’ve met even more people at recent new student orientations. I imagine I’ll continue meeting inspiring people once school starts. Additionally, in a stroke of luck, I was hired for an assistantship, which means that my stipend is not so meager after-all! On top of everything, a friend explained that after doing something 21 times, it becomes a habit. I’ve decided to color my Madison experience with positive routines and locations to add many interesting excursions on this exciting journey!
This summer has probably provided the greatest learning experience that I’ve had in all of the 30 summers I have experienced so far on this planet. In reflecting on my attitude about things, I realized that it’s so easy for me to focus on the one sour aspect when 25 other things are sweet. Even though I am an educator who has tried to model optimism for my students, I brought so much initial pessimism to my own experience. It was the biggest contradiction. Reading The Tao of Pooh forced me to go inward and examine aspects of myself, which I so often like to leave hidden and untouched, and helped prepare me to begin thinking about my role as a researcher. I cannot imagine beginning any type of research without first doing this sort of exploratory and reflective work. How can I even begin to explore circumstances beyond myself, if I haven’t focused a bit on myself first? I’m glad that I slowed down, took the time to reflect on my emotional state, and learned to celebrate the good in all things. So far, my Madison journey has been sweet.
Thanks, Pooh for the reminder.