books + reading · goals

Educating Myself + Getting Things Done

My plan for 2020 was to have a theme for each month, and to publish blog posts related to the theme. But, as I discovered, that doesn’t really work for me at this time in my life. My blogging this year is less planned out and intentional – it’s more, What exactly is happening in this crazy 2020 world this week that I need to process through writing?

Once I let go of the possibility of sticking to a theme, it’s been interesting to be reminded of what they were. They were GREAT. And for September, the theme I chose way back in December 2019 was Education + Awareness.

The funny thing is – the reason I chose Education + Awareness as a theme was that this was an area I cared about deeply but was struggling to develop. I’ve written often about my struggle to read nonfiction books. I constantly write down titles and even check them out of the library, but I am always more likely to pick up a novel than a nonfiction book, even if I sincerely want to increase my knowledge about a specific topic.

I also knew that I wanted to increase my involvement with community activism, service, and politics. I chose September as the month for this focus because I knew I’d be motivated and energized due to the approaching election in November.

Then this spring, with the world shut down due to the pandemic and the civil uprisings calling out for racial justice, I found myself more motivated and connected than ever before. I was able to connect with my local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and through my work with them I’ve been learning, growing, and contributing to local and national movements. I’ve been text banking and writing postcards and letters to support voter registration, vote by mail, and Democratic candidates for office.

Additionally, I’ve finally been able to push through my resistance to nonfiction reading; I’ve read or listened to a bunch of the books on my list. I also realized, with the help of a friend, that books are not the only way to educate myself about a topic, which seemed reeeeal obvious once it was pointed out but often had not occurred to me in the past. For example, I’ve been trying to learn more about housing segregation, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to reading The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein in its entirety. So I’ve been listening to podcasts that feature interviews with Rothstein – i.e., getting the gist of his book without reading all 368 pages. I’ve done the same with articles; I read a few chapters of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, but then found I had to put it down to concentrate on other books. But I did some googling and found a few articles by Michelle Alexander; that helped me to educate myself on her subject (mass incarceration of Black men) without pressuring myself to finish the book right now. (Hoping to get back to it at some point, for sure.)

So, through a series of unpredictable circumstances, my original goals for September 2020 have been largely achieved already, and I’m sincerely grateful.

With the school year starting, one of my big worries is how I’ll maintain my commitments and involvements now that my day job has to fit back into my life. I have a feeling that certain things will have to take a backseat for a while, but I want to be careful and intentional about the choices I make, and I want to keep family, service, and writing at the center of my life. I’m glad to have a mantra – slow it all down – and I’ve been aware of this coming change all summer, and trying to be mindful of how much responsibility I have capacity for at each moment. 

I’m not happy about events that have occurred this year. I’m horrified by the murders of unarmed Black citizens, and I’m deeply concerned about the losses and changes we’re experiencing as a country related to the pandemic. It sometimes feels awkward to be grateful during a year like this. But I am grateful, nonetheless. I’m grateful because I feel connected and purposeful and aware. I’m grateful because I’ve made progress with my ability to educate myself, which was something that has frustrated me for a while. I feel guilty that I haven’t done more, sooner – like, why was I not phone banking four years ago, and why didn’t I find a group like SURJ sooner? Then I remember that the guilt helps no one, and I set aside and try to figure out the next right thing to do. And there’s always a next right thing to do.





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