Pop Quiz, or, Report to my employer on the last three years after a “Sabbatical.”

(Dear reader, I know there is irony in speaking of truth and then redacting parts of this post. However, my commitment to living in the truth does not extend to telling other people’s truths on the internet, and so I have hidden details pertaining to other people where I felt the need to give them the gift of privacy.)

Now, pop quiz time! See how many you can get correctly.

Quiz on Sabbatical Leave

Point value: 1.5% GSI or unspecified merit increase

Instructions: The statements below either do or do not describe Prof. Anne Whitney’s efforts and experiences in the period between her initial application for sabbatical and her return to service.

For each statement, fill the box in the left-hand column with “T” if true and “F” if false.

Prof. Whitney gave away more than 48 cubic feet of clothes.
Both of Prof. Whitney’s children changed schools.
Critical family medical history was disclosed to Prof. Whitney by her parents, including the cause of death of her sister, who died before Prof. Whitney was born and was kept a secret until Prof. Whitney was 15 or 16 years old. This history would have been relevant to several critical medical issues experienced by both Prof. Whitney and her children.
Prof. Whitney had a kidney stone embedded in her ureter, causing urine to flow in reverse.
Two out of the three members of Prof. Whitney’s household were identified as having intellectual disabilities.
Prof. Whitney led professional development for the teaching artists of the nonprofit Ridgelines Language Arts.
Prof. Whitney appeared on television discussing how childhood sexual abuse affected her psychologically from childhood to the present.
Prof. Whitney had a urinary tract stent for two months, causing pain upon any movement including walking.
All of Prof. Whitney’s research sites (schools and professional development sites) closed/canceled.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on talking with children about childhood sexual abuse.
Prof. Whitney used writing and social media action to make contact with more than ten additional victims/survivors, urging them to report the same coach for crimes occurring from the mid-1970s to the present.
Prof. Whitney had at least five panic attacks. 
Prof. Whitney had two uterine surgeries, the second of which was a total hysterectomy.
All of Prof. Whitney’s doctoral students and at least three of her master’s students completed their degrees.
Prof. Whitney’s mother explained that they had declined psychologist-recommended mental health treatment for her after sexual abuse. They gave as a reason that she had made hurtful and “unhelpful” comments about the family to the doctor. The same explanation was given three years later, when they again withdrew her from treatment immediately following an intake session.
To date, at least 17 victims of Prof. Whitney’s sexual abuser have made reports to law enforcement, alleging crimes over a period of 40 years.
After discovering that her childhood sexual abuser was still active in children’s programs, Prof. Whitney reported him to multiple authorities.
Prof. Whitney enrolled in training to teach Zumba, an exercise dance style.
Prof. Whitney had daily gastrointestinal symptoms.
A geneticist determined that Prof. Whitney and others in her family almost certainly have genetic disorders of connective tissue, bone, vascular system, or hormone function, pending confirmation by whole exome DNA sequencing.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with autism.
Prof. Whitney incurred more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for her own care alone.
Prof. Whitney had Covid-19.
Prof. Whitney had twelve or more kidney stones.
One of Prof. Whitney’s children was hospitalized for two weeks after an x-ray revealed a bone lesion encompassing almost 50% of the child’s femur.
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on high school writing instruction.
Prof. Whitney was interviewed by investigators including law enforcement, federal authorities, and multiple journalists about her experience of childhood sexual abuse. The interviews required prolonged, repeated engagement with traumatic memories and personal questions about her family relationships, sexual experiences, and mental health from 1983-2022.
Prof. Whitney initiated partnerships between Penn State teacher education students and middle school students.
Prof. Whitney borrowed money from her parents for the first time, even though she is 49 years old and an employed professional.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s colleagues died.
All of Prof. Whitney’s planned sabbatical research funding sources canceled their award cycles.
Prof. Whitney gained 25 pounds in less than 12 months.
Prof. Whitney co-led a group of Anti-Racist English Language Arts Educators in a critical reading group. These teachers teach high school English in two schools that partner with the university.
Prof. Whitney has both physical custody of and full financial responsibility for her two children, making her officially a “single mom.”
Prof. Whitney accumulated a pile of clean yet un-put-away laundry so big that she could not open her closet or walk unobstructed from the bedroom door to the bathroom. It was so anxiety-provoking that she ultimately asked friends and even hired teenagers to fold and stow it. 
Prof. Whitney published two books, two book chapters, and multiple articles.
Prof. Whitney had a bladder resection surgery.
Prof. Whitney missed deadlines for several important academic conferences.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses for Prof. Whitney’s children totaled more than $15,000 in an 18-month period.
Prof. Whitney’s parents explained that they had taken no action following Prof. Whitney’s experience of sexual abuse in 1983 because Prof. Whitney had said she didn’t want to.
Prof. Whitney’s childhood sexual abuser was arrested almost 40 years after he assaulted Prof. Whitney, charged with multiple counts of indecency with a minor.
Prof. Whitney divorced her spouse after sixteen years and two children.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s books came out in the same month.
Prof. Whitney canceled presentations at several important academic conferences.
Prof. Whitney read more than 150 books, 19 of them memoirs.
Prof. Whitney took up kayaking.
Prof. Whitney played a feisty bard gnome in Dungeons and Dragons.
Prof. Whitney visited HersheyPark three times. The SuperDuperLooper was closed every time.
Prof. Whitney’s children required treatment from healthcare practitioners outside the university insurance network. Of the four specialties needed, three of them are not practiced by any physician in a 90-mile radius of State College. The fourth specialty required waiting lists of six months or more at all practices within a 120-mile radius.
Prof. Whitney learned to make pottery using both handbuilding and throwing techniques.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on the professional development of summer camp staff.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with ADHD.
Prof. Whitney had untreatable uterine disease.
Prof. Whitney experienced the prolonged escalation and consequences of a global pandemic (along with most Earth inhabitants).
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on writing practices for spiritual reflection.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on school literacy experiences of a student with autism spectrum disorder and high intellectual function.
Prof. Whitney joined with hundreds of teacher-writers in a joint writing effort in March of 2021 and 2022.
Prof. Whitney led two new workshops using writing and collage as modalities for reflection and (re)composition.
Prof. Whitney served as a writing partner for women serving prison sentences in Oklahoma, via the nonprofit Poetic Justice.
Prof. Whitney sold approximately 35% of a house, bought a house, and moved into it within a 30-day period.
Prof. Whitney spent whole days and weeks at a time completely unable to think or write.
Prof. Whitney’s children both accelerated in school in two or more subjects.
Prof. Whitney survived.
Prof. Whitney is writing again.

ANSWER KEY: 

No “answers” when it’s my own life I’m living. Whatever answers I have been taught about what should be, or what makes sense, or what a good or healthy or capable person would do– turns out they aren’t really what living is about, at least not if I’m aiming to live my life and not just get through it. I’m learning that, for me at least, reaching for “the answers” is like earnestly, naively trying to answer a trick question. I’ll just end up both wrong and ashamed of having fallen for it.

All I can authentically reach toward is truth. As my therapist Leslie asked me almost weekly for twelve years: What do I know right now to be true? If I look inward, if I listen to what Glennon Doyle calls my “truthiest truth,” what does the deepest me need me to know?

ANSWER KEY #2:

All of the statements are true. It’s been kind of a shitshow. Nadia Bolz Weber tells about a turning point in her own life as “having my heart of stone ripped out of my chest, and replaced again with something warm and beating, like an emotional heart transplant” (I linked to her Substack, but the best place to start with NBW is her memoir Pastrix). I had turned my own heart to stone, in hope that it would stop hurting. Maybe I even stoned myself, like they might a whore in the Bible or another outcast. This is me in January 2023, standing in a puddle of molten rock, melted lies, left with hot feet and a lot of lava around… but alive. A living human with a warm and beating heart.

A story about telling my story

When I decided in spring 2022 to make sure that the man who had sexually abused me in 1983 had actually been officially reported to law enforcement, I did so for my own peace of mind if nothing else. I had no real sense of the places it would lead. Now Mike Spiller, a gymnastics coach who sexually abused me and who is accused by many others, has been arrested, and Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle has written this loving and precisely researched story. With more to come.

Here’s a quote from the top of the full story, as it’s most personal to me:

Anne Elrod Whitney had only recently joined a girls gymnastics team at Rowland’s Northwest when she was invited to attend a team sleepover at the gym’s building in northwest Houston. It was 1983. She was 10.

What should have been a safe, fun-filled event in a familiar space instead became corrupted. 

The sleepover had the atmosphere of a school lock-in with loosely organized games, sleeping bags splayed across the floor and pizza ordered in for dinner. Kids played on the gym equipment normally reserved for rigorous instruction. Some people propped blue vinyl gym mats up against the wall to construct lean-to forts. 

At some point Whitney found herself alone in one of the forts with Mike Spiller, who she knew as a charismatic man and one of the gym’s primary coaches, out of sight between the mats and the wall. 

There, she says, Spiller snuggled with her on top of sleeping bags and began massaging her thighs and hip while commenting on her muscles. Then Spiller put his hand inside Whitney’s underwear and massaged the outside of her vagina. 

“I actually, at that time, didn’t know anything bad had happened,” says Whitney, who is now 49 and resides in Pennsylvania. “I think I liked to be somebody’s favorite, you know? And I know now, that’s the thing that happens to a lot of kids where, you know, there’s (seeking) approval in a relationship, and even affection, from somebody that you care about.” 

Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 18 of this year, Spiller turned himself in after police in Boerne, Texas, put out a warrant for his arrest. He was booked into the Kendall County jail, where he remains on a bond of $150,000, on a charge of indecency with a child.

Read it in one of these forms:

Full investigation (for Chronicle subscribers, 99 cent paywall): https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/texas-gymnastics-coach-arrest-sexual-abuse-17618101.php

Free version of need-to-know info: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Mike-Spiller-gymnastics-coach-sexual-abuse-Texas-17618279.php

Timeline of the allegations: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Gymnastics-coach-timeline-17618424.php

I’m not the first to say we’re made of stories. In fact, I have sometimes heard that kind of statement and thought, “blah, I’m sure that’s true, but how trite!” And on a slightly more articulate (but equally grumpy) day, I might have thought, “Stories are meaningful and good, BUT stories don’t get someone more money or medicine or a job or a loving advocate when hard times come. Or at least, they don’t work anywhere NEARLY as well as actual materials, resources, and actions do.

And yet. AND YET! Time after time, in my own life and in so many lives and spaces and communities, I keep seeing how it is true. Stories make shape out of the messy and incomprehensible flow of experiences and ideas. Stories make lives, they make communities, and they make selves.

It’s a beautiful idea and one that I’ve built a life’s work around. Even when I haven’t been aware of it, this idea about the meaning and power available in acts of in storying, storytelling, revising, etc. has threaded through all of my work in writing, research, teaching, teacher education, parenting, and faith.

We don’t make all the components of these stories. We don’t get to pick where and when we are born. Whether our ancestors or our current selves were or are oppressed and/or oppressing. What our bodies look like and the histories of how are bodies are seen in the places we find ourselves. The movements of populations, celestial bodies, revolutions. Diseases. So little is under our control.

And yet. We are always making and remaking the stories from which and into which these components flow. We string together events and feelings and wonderings and all the other bits and pieces into narratives. And as we grow, as we acquire additional story elements, or as our vision changes, we get to change the stories.

What a gift of power.