I imagine I’m not the only blogger who plans and drafts ahead of the deadline. I have debated completely revising today’s post, which I wrote early last month. I decided I’m not going to do that. That said, in rereading what I wrote, the me of 6 weeks ago is not the me of today. First off, I had a library I biked to every morning and a routine that included chapels and senior speeches. How quotidian that was then, and how foreign that feels now. We have no clue when we are returning to school or the lasting impact COVID-19 will leave on our schools, our country, and the world. In happier news, I had totally forgotten even applying for the grant. More seriously, we’ve gone 180 degrees on mental health, from worry about kids who had scheduled 28 hours of activities, jobs, courses, and test prep into a 24 hour day to worry about those same teens sitting in their houses on screens for at least a month nonstop.
But I think the topic of the post, avoiding sprezzatura, is more important now than ever before. I am so proud to be a leader of AISL, and I have been so impressed with the ways that AISL members have stepped up to help each other and their schools over the past few weeks! THANK YOU for creating libguides, sharing resources, and asking the questions that are allowing us to successfully move our libraries virtual without much time to plan. It is obvious that you care about your students, your teachers, and the field of librarianship. I will say personally that I’m having a lot of difficulty with work-life balance, simply because I care so much and it feels good to do something. And there’s no physical reminder that I’m not at work. All the time. I wanted to share that because I sense from our continued conversations that I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed. I am really proud of the board, and especially our Tech Coordinator Claire Hazzard, for quickly pulling together the Zoom chats. I was surprised at how quickly I smiled as I tuned into the first one and saw so many faces I recognized, offering support and providing connection. We plan to continue these for at least the next week or two, or as long as members find them helpful. After a meeting yesterday, my teacher husband said, “it’s like we’re all first year teachers again.” We care a lot, we’re working really hard, and we still have a lot to learn. And we are definitely better as a result of the collaborative nature of AISL. Here’s the original post:
Hi, I’m Christina Pommer, AISL President and relentless perfectionist. (Am I writing this at 7:30pm on a Friday night as a “break” from reading student essays? Yes, yes I am.) Unfortunately, I’m also a bad perfectionist.
All of our seniors have to give a chapel speech that shares something of importance to them with the school community, and I have a running list of topics and partially-written speeches that will never be given because the message would be lost in my terror of speaking into a microphone.
In January, Gus gave one of the most meaningful and memorable speeches I’ve heard in a decade of listening to senior speeches twice a week. He was eloquent. His tone was perfect. And I learned a new vocabulary word that all high school teachers should know: sprezzatura-the art of studied carelessness. (Translation: Doing well without looking like you’ve tried.)
Here’s the gist of the speech. Despite what many high schoolers pretend, it’s important to care and it’s important to try. And he struck a balance of eloquence and humor, with a tone that didn’t alienate his classmates. It was the message I needed to hear that day.
“Now, in the very constrained world of high school, what we do with our time has very little to do with what we care about–instead mostly having to do with what parents, teachers, and colleges care about–but someday their influence will wane, and we will all be completely responsible for what we do with our lives.(Instead of looking to others) we will have to turn to ourselves and decide what we care about and then own up to that, proudly saying that “I do this because I care about doing this, and doing it well.”
“I hope that there is something each and every one of you does care about. I urge you all to care unashamedly, unreservedly, about something, about anything, just care.”
Two weeks previously, I had applied for a grant related to information literacy. It was hard to even admit I cared, that I wanted to do well, that I wanted it…or that I deserved it.
One of the pieces of the application that simultaneously intrigued and terrified me was the small print about “optional supporting materials. How cool to have the opportunity to share presentations, images, and publications. But how? There were no instructions about how to submit anything beyond the application form, essay, and letters of recommendation. I decided to incorporate these optional materials into my essay at the appropriate points, allowing readers to see examples of my actual work, much like Wikipedia readers might click on the hyperlinks of an article. Because I get so concerned about losing formatting in electronic submissions, my final task after proofreading and checking all links was to convert all documents to pdfs.
Two weeks later brings us to the morning of Gus’s speech. A freshman asked a question about a hyperlink that wouldn’t open from a pdf. Shifting immediately to panic mode, I wanted to check my own submission. Instead, using all willpower I possess to focus on the task at hand, we found the link on a general web search. Then I opened my own document and clicked on the first link. And the second. And the third. I was offered the option to highlight. To strikethrough. To add a note. But not to open any links. I returned to the Word document and the links worked as anticipated. Knowing myself, in 100 times of checking, I never would have added the step to check the pdf. It’s always the last thing I do before submissions.
I was late to chapel because I was writing the committee. Better to at least let them know that my application hadn’t submitted as I had intended. This at least stopped my own wondering about the reception. A response was waiting a few hours later.
This is the time when I tell you this was all occurring two weeks before the announcement of the winner, giving me time to write most of this post as a way of processing my disappointment, while simultaneously imagining a scenario in which the nonfunctional links didn’t matter and I was the best candidate. Please tell me I’m not alone in living in two dichotomous worlds, though at the end of those two weeks I learned for certain I didn’t win.
As with many of your schools, our school is increasingly looking at the mental health of our students; what’s stressing them out and what’s making their days happier. Since beginning conversations with the team at Challenge Success, we are discussing how to limit the bad kind of stress while teaching students to cope with eustress. Was my experience the former, or was it the latter? It was a technological learning point for me, one I won’t soon forget. Sometimes a spelling erorr in a resume can cost you an interview, a traffic snarl can keep you from arriving at an interview on time, or too many “umms” can keep you from getting the job. These are real consequences.
Which returns me to sprezzatura. It’s nice to wake up with hair that looks perfectly blown out. How convenient to be on the lacrosse team that happened to win by 10 points last night. The themes of Gatbsy just flowed from your pen, earning you an A on your ICW. It’s harder to care, and to admit to that you care, to talk about the time spent with a blowdryer, running drills, or annotating the text.
Or from Gus:
Every time somebody flexes that they aced a test without worrying about it, chalks an impressive goal up to luck and not the hours of practice they put in, or dismisses some club or extracurricular as being solely about the college app grind and not, on some level, a genuine passion, they’re employing sprezzatura . Faking carelessness like this necessarily means denying the part of yourself that really does care and losing yourself to your artificial air of nonchalance. Without caring about anything, you might avoid embarrassing yourself, you might seem cool, but you certainly won’t know any real success, feel any real satisfaction, either. If no part of your life means anything to you, your life is, in the most literal sense, meaningless.
AISL members have responded in the past with a sense of recognition when bloggers have shared their own vulnerabilities. It’s hard for me because it goes against that effortlessness that is modeled in so many corners of society. I have told students for years that the single piece of writing that stood out to me the most in four years of high school English was Joan Didion’s On Self Respect. In hindsight, I wonder both how much of it I understood and how much of my identity had already been set by age seventeen. This is my public declaration that I care about librarianship and specifically information literacy, and I put in the effort, and at the end of the day in this case it wasn’t enough. And that’s okay.