What is fear?
Fear is this snake in my stomach
A roiling, writhing mess
A measured watching and waiting
The coiled viper waiting to strike
I am exhausted and so worn
I am waiting for the clamor of bells
A hope that the house I have built
Extends beyond these four walls
This rectangular screen
Something to strike back at this pit
That is moving inside the core of me
Home is not country
Home is not built
From violently constructed borders
Home is not protected
By weapons that keep Others away
Home is people
It always has been
Home is you
Home is me
Home is us
Home is bounty
Home is abundance
Home is joy
Home is laughter and warmth
Home is all those who endure
Home is those who make it so
We create home when we extend grace
When we honor our shared Divinity
When we see each other’s possibility
I will not fear this snake
I relinquish, release, and let go
Instead of clutching fear
I hold onto you
I hold onto us
A Much Warmer Thing
I have words but I don’t know where to put them
I have silence but don’t know how to stay still
I have rage but only these smoky ruins remain
Shall I wrap them softly?
Swaddled in burnt ember?
Somewhere in the crawl space of my heart
I keep these words
I keep them quiet, I keep them safe
I fear their lighting
— a burnt match
A pathway winking into existence
To a smoldering anger undying, to worlds that I would end
with just one glance
Eternal, unvanquished, immortal
They say to women, find your voice
They say to women, find your dignity
They do not warn you
no they do not warn you
What happens when you do —
the only infinity that exists is this rage
I can no longer remember the name of the dish my mother used to prepare
— the sucking up of juices of boiled bones
What else can you call
the dripping of
down your chin
Except a kind of feral hope?
Dear Radical Math Teacher,
I see your lesson plan book
Scrawled in red, black or purple
Whichever color best fits your mental state
Fatigued eyes from too-blue screens
the deluge of emails
confusion and frustration
schedules and systems built upon the brokenness of the world
the failure to recognize each other’s humanity
Somehow, you must navigate all of this
Somehow, you must subvert all of this
Always, there is lack
Always, there is more
Always, there is comparison
Always, the message
give, give, give — until you snap in two
give, give, give — until you collapse under this weight
And remember that in times of tumult
Full of lashing winds
that protect each other
that dance and weave
in the eye of the storm
are the ones that do not break
Our interconnected roots
Whisper to us softly
I am because we are
We are because I am
A gentle reminder
A firm demand
Do not forget to take care of you
Do not forget to care for each other
This is how we win ~
There are two quotes that I keep close to my heart and revisit before I begin teaching a math lesson. I don't always say them, sometimes I recite them in my head less than perfectly, but they are always present in my actions and choices.
The first: "I have never encountered any children in any group who are not geniuses. There is no mystery on how to teach them. The first thing you do is treat them like human beings and the second thing you do is love them.” - Asa G. Hilliard III
The second: "“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.” - Paolo Freire
The first took me years to learn, to fully understand, and I confess that I am understanding what it means still in every interaction I have with a child on a learning journey.
The second is something I've felt in my marrow since I started this journey, this way of knowing and being that is in communion with younger souls and on their infinite possibilities. They are still unfurling, they are still growing and finding their own places in the sun. (and if I pause and reflect for more than a minute, so am I)
When I teach, I am in the forever nebulous terrain of learning, of wandering and wondering with my students.
Once upon a time, Robert Frost penned this poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I think about this in the context of mathematics - of pathways and pickings - that mathematics is not a well-trodden road, on which we set children to carefully and delicately follow. It is in the wildness of things we find possibilities for the most joy.
It is not a well-paved road, overseen by a monotonous guide intoning highlights in the driest of voices.
Mathematics is a finding. It is a gleaning. My job as head math witch is to show the magic of possibilities. Here - juicy berries burst delicately upon the tongue. There, look, a potential pathway.
But mostly, my job is to whisper softly "Observe. Look at the way the red cardinal flies. What do you find beautiful about it?" or to remark "Goodness, I am so proud of this glen we have stumbled across together, for we could not have found it without you."
My job is to make the mundane sacred. There is a kind of holiness in exploration and all adventures alike. The delight of a first geometric construction or the hundredth.
The joy that follows - a shared basket of stolen apricots, a ripening, a mutual endeavor. I look for ways to make this happen - but, with all things, adventures are also not always pleasant; sometimes in the thorns and thickets of our explorations, we fail to find a pathway forward. We get frustrated with one another -- what started off as a sunny excursion is full of biting horseflies, that despite our best attempts to wave them away, we cannot get rid of.
The adventure has changed now. We are in a new portal, trekking across a digital realm together. The world, which has not been safe or kind for so many already, especially for those that have been blessed by the sun's kiss on their dark skin, has become even more precarious. An axis tilted ever further to its side. We who seek balance are spinning off-kilter.
So, within this topsy-turvy landscape, some questions must be prepared for, and planned for:
These are my essential questions when I set off upon a new journey. Each and every time:
1) How do I love you as you explore? How do I demonstrate that love with kindness, with patience, with grace?
2) How do I hold my hands, so golden brown these days, as footholds upon which you clamber? To make your own way?
3) How do I show you that in failing, there is a lesson? One about yourself and the possible imaginaries of the world around you?
These are not quantifiable questions. They cannot be measured by standardized testing. They cannot be tied to funding. They cannot be visualized in sterilized graphs by those who have never set foot in an educational space.
...and yet they matter just the same.
Day 78 of shelter-in-place
We who are hurting
And are so small
Curved and hunched
100,000 and more - your breath catches
A sharp intake as the weight of
These numbers settle into your spine
10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10
The scale of it all ~
Let it be known that in the time of this disease
The first inclination of so many
Was not the firehose
Or the ax
Nor the bullet and the too short temper
It was instead to offer
Our own unique abundance to each other
To reach for soil
To sew a garden full of seed
It was in the smallest of things
We found our own holiness
The way the sky darkens before night
A scent of a flower
The careless winged cacophony in the trees
In this we find our humility
In this perhaps
we find our grace
Today is Eid - a celebration that requires fancy dress, delicious food, and glad tidings. A chance to love, to pile it on, to honor and to ask for forgiveness. And yet, I am neither fully faithful nor fully forgivable but I am trying anyway.
We who are imperfect, we who watch in grief and sadness on the infinite ways humans find to harm each other. Especially now, in the stealing of land, in the headlines mourning the collective dead, in the hunger and the loss. In the darkness of this all, I am finally coming to the center of this wound.
Religion was something that was placed upon me, like a piece of ill fitting clothing that manages to itch and scratch and bite all at the same time. It was made worse because of the Desi patriarchical expectations associated with being a Pakistani woman.
...and yet I believed anyway, I would spend hours praying to Allah (swt), for the angels on my shoulders who would hear my whispers issued at the end of prayer.
I kept trying only to find that this ill-fitting garment was not where I would find my connection with God. Perhaps religion is like a spiral, where you walk away only to be coiled back in. Where you feel the rope tug at the core of your belly, a kind of reawakening, where you find God in the flight of a cardinal’s path, it’s red wings reminding you that you and your heart are also allowed to fly.
I am re-reading the Koran for the first time in a very long time. I did not finish during Ramadan, but I will continue anyway. I am reading this with a friend, one who has also wanted to reflect and discuss this Holy Book. I pause over the Arabic, struggling to sound out some of the more complicated verses and then settle into the poetry of its flow. There is a magic to this and it is beautiful. I read the English translation, something that I was not encouraged to do as a child, and find humor and grace and patience in a book that has been misinterpreted and misused for so long.
A memory comes to me unbidden but still present in its harm - my father tells me sternly that if I did not pray the night prayer, the devil would come and urinate into my ears. Perhaps he meant this as a metaphor, I do not know. Being a scientific child, I would fall asleep with the pillow pressed to my ear and check for Devil Piss each morning. When informed of my scientific process, my father called it sinful to question his authority.
I knew then that I would have to walk away from this, from his interpretation that gave him power and made me powerless, because asking questions should never be a limiting factor for spiritual growth.
I think time does not work in the way we conceive. There are moments where we grow, and there are moments where we contract, where we yield, where we curl into something small to make the hurt sting a little less.
I think love makes time malleable. it takes multiple forms. A small learning - the best kind of love is the kind that changes over time. It strengthens, it wavers. Sometimes it sails by and yet the imprint of it remains, the scent of it indelibly etched into the core of us.
And so, many years later I am finding my own way, carving my own path spiritually and beyond. I don’t know what these questions will hold, I don’t know what truths they might re-discover but what I do know is that I will love dearly, I will love radically, I will love fiercely in the work that is required to find the child whispering to angels again. I will walk this path that seeks to learn and grow, that finds grace in kindness to self and others.
And this too will take time. And this too will be a celebration.
To the reader:
May you be blessed today and always
I have been thinking lately about hope and healing, about learning and resilience, about what it takes to get there. I’ve spent the majority of my life in love with learning and trying to share that love with others. So what better time to celebrate it than on a birthday involving perfect squares? I’m turning 36 years old next week and I’m doing a lot of reflecting during these shelter-in days.
When we were younger, my dad would take us to our favorite Chicago Public Library branch. There, we would spend hours grabbing book after book from the shelves and happily spending an afternoon there. These trips would either be culminated with a trip to Devon for a samosa or my dad’s favorite taxicab burger hole, Mr. J’s, where we would each get a fried fish sandwich and way too many fries.
Books have always been my first friends, my first loves. It’s there I learned to be an explorer, a dreamer, a poet, a mathematician, a scientist, a scholar. It’s there I pretended to be an astronaut, a wizard, a superhero, a mermaid, a princess (and sometimes a princess fairy mermaid).
For this birthday, Joe and I are going to build a little free library outside of our home in Little Village. I’m hoping to stock books there that I can share with neighborhood kids and the larger community.
I am hoping you can join me in helping me put books in the hands of kids who need them. So, I’m asking if you could send me a book or two that made a difference in your childhood, that helped you explore and learn and grow and feel.
Here are some Chicago bookstores that I would love to support for my community library:
Here are some titles that are popular amongst the middle-school/younger set that I would love to have in my library:
Venmo is: @Sara-Rezvi
profile pic is of me cuddling a baby goat. My 34th bday was spent doing goat yoga at the Garfield Park Conservatory =)
In the comment box, please tell me which book you'd like for me to purchase and I will do so from one of the independent bookstores listed above. Once it arrives, I will tag you on Twitter or Facebook in gratitude.
Or, If you’d like to send a well loved book from your personal collection or purchase a new one for donation, please DM or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for our home address.
I’m hoping that through art, through reading, through getting to know each other in the community Joe and I share, I learn and grow myself. Once everything is assembled, I plan on posting photos of what it looks like at our place!
Shout out to the #DisruptTexts community for helping me broaden my own scope of reading and for challenging me to look beyond Western canons.
What does it mean to
lose a student -
to recoil in shock
to feel knotted scar tissue
(a perpetually healing organ)
what does it mean to
lose a student -
a name in your grade-book
a folder in your bookcase
a binder carefully put together
- "Saving for Prom: A Realistic Mathematical Budget"
So proud of you -
after months of holding you
to standards you fought against -
It was turned in late, somewhat smudged
you did well.
(I knew you could do it)
what does it mean to
lose a student -
sequins and teenage angst
I remember the tuxedo
that pride -
"I'm really feelin' myself tonight, Ms. Rez!"
with those locs parted
brilliant smile more luminous than moonlight
and mirror bright dancing shoes -
What does it mean to
lose a student -
to know that the heart
that moved the blood
that moved the vessels
that pushed the muscle
to create that smile
no longer moves?
what does it mean to stand by
and watch this happen
What does it mean to lose a student?