On Reading and Finding Stability

I have a confession to make. I have only read three novels in the past year.

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A further confession: two of them, I read because they were the summer reading selections for the middle and high schools in Waltham, where I lead the library team.

Besides these, I have also read a smathering of nonfiction — a few books on the development of baby bodies and brains, given my recent foray into motherhood, and a few pedagogical texts on digital writing or connected education. Some articles here and there on coding and robotics in education, a few about library makerspaces, and of course a million Internet articles on parenting (which I should definitely stop reading, because nobody has any real answers on that particular topic). I do read. But lately, I do not read as I have read in the past.

As an English teacher, I counted the books I read, and so did some of my students. They always read more than me, but I used to easily make it through 50 or more novels or young adult novels a year, working hard to keep up with the most recent titles, because conversations about books promised to permeate my classroom if I modeled the love of reading I hoped to foster in my students.

But this year, three sad little works of (excellent) fiction.

Now, for the second topic implied in my title, and bear with me — I promise it comes together in a moment. Stability. I am entering my second year in my current position as an administrator of #allthingstechnology in Waltham, Massachusetts. In the ten years of my career (wait, what? ten already?), I have done a lot of moving around. This is my third state and my fourth school district. Somewhere in there, I attended two institutions of higher education. I have never stayed. Not because I didn’t want to — many of the shifts were required, taking place after a graduation ceremony… a marriage… But now, with a new little girl and a stable position in a school district I love, I plan to stay. I seek stability, permanence of a kind, and an opportunity to embed myself in a community in a way I have not yet been able to in my adult life.

The word stability, however, implies qualities like sameness, consistency, and security. To be stable in a place is to be rooted there, to have some sense of what comes next based on what came before, to know the ins-and-outs. Entering only year two, stability is something I have not yet found. My day-to-day is a tumultuous hurricane of baby bottles, meetings, troubleshooting, and general mayhem. My role at work offers little routine, each day looking markedly different from the last (this is what I love about it). I am still learning how to lead, how to be an administrator, how to manage budgets and navigate systems, and while I certainly feel more confident at the start of this year than last September, the confidence is with an ever-diligent eye to the many things I have yet to learn, understand, and integrate into my practice.

However, glimmers of “stability,” whatever that might look like, shine through; I have a home and, for the first time in my life, I plan on staying indefinitely. I know members of my community, and can (finally) navigate most of the region without the aid of a GPS. At work, I know the names and faces of teachers, students, and administrators at each of our ten schools. I am growing new initiatives based on lessons learned last year. The foundation is being laid, for my work and for the entire district, for much — and sustained — stability.

So why do I struggle to feel this “stability?” The days, lately, have been rough, for reasons I find difficult to qualify; too many new initiatives, too many tasks on the home and work lists, too few hours in the day, too much demand on my body and mind as I try to both be true to my most important work — being a mom — and to the work-work, about which I am so passionate. A whole lot of too much, most of it self-inflicted, and not enough slowing down for introspection. Not enough of those things that have always been sources of stability and foundation-laying in my life. Like books.

In my work with school librarians, I am reminded how much stability a room full of books can offer. Many students in our district do not come to school from entirely stable environments. Some of them have just moved here from South America, some from nearby cities, some speaking English, some speaking Spanish, Haitian, Chinese, Portuguese, any of fifty other languages. Sometimes, they have been torn from their parents or extended family support networks. As educators, we of course hope these students find something akin to stability in our schools, and sometimes — indeed, often — they find it in our libraries, visiting daily, seeking another book to lose themselves in once they have left our buildings.

And why wouldn’t a room full of books provide a sense of “stability?” In books lie the stories of those whose lives, like ours or not, echo the sentiments and struggles of humanity. In books — and here, I’m speaking specifically of fiction texts — we find characters who remind us of ourselves or of those in our lives. We find situations we can relate to our own challenges and triumphs. Growing up, my life featured far more stability than I see for some of our students, but we moved frequently and my parents divorced when I was 12, rocking my world and rendering what once felt foundational quite unstable. I turned to books for not only comfort and escape, but for help understanding phenomena that my adolescent mind struggled to understand.

Somewhere in my shift from being an English teacher, a scholar of literature and language, a writer first and foremost, and a reader to my core, to being a mom and an administrator of systems, servers, apps, and devices, I forgot how stable I was once made by the simple act of reading. I was recently reminded of this while reading book that I had disseminated to the teachers in one of my projects entitled What Connected Educators Do DifferentlyAt the end of the book, the authors remind us of the importance “Knowing When to Unplug.” They note that in addition to fostering dynamic networks, connected educators know when to balance “being connected” with “disconnecting,” and that these individuals do a few common things… among them, reading. Also, exercising. Often, meditating, or otherwise reflecting during solitary time.

Solitary time? I have none. Exercise, I manage… sometimes. Reading, I seem to have lost along the way, without even noticing. I find this stymying, considering how fundamental to both my personal and professional self reading, and reading widely, has always been.

Of the three books pictured above, I have read two of them within the past two months in moments stolen before I close my eyes for the day, or when the baby goes down for a nap on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. I’m starting a new book tonight, one that I purchasedScreen Shot 2016-09-05 at 3.33.18 PM seven years ago from a used bookstore on Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, Indiana — in three cities, this book has done little but gather dust on the to-be-read shelf.

 

As I enter year two of my new role and year three in New England, I am promising myself that I will find more stability in those practices that once grounded me — in reading, in unplugging, and in rooms. full. of books.