In 1983 and for a while after, the gymnastics center in Northwest Houston that I attended held sleepovers. These were fun extras, like the lock-ins a church youth group might have. But, beyond the normal kid fun of a sleepover my friends, something else happened. My coach, Mike Spiller, whom I adored and whose attention and approval I craved, sexually abused me.
And while I have many, many stories about that in my own life, THIS short post is really a LONG story about how almost 40 years later, he is still immersed in working with youth at camps and gyms. Finally, after almost 40 years, he is under investigation and is temporarily restricted from any contact with/in/via any USA Gymnastics-affiliated entity, as shown on the public database of USA Center for SafeSport.
In fact, I know I am not alone, since I am not the only complainant in the investigation.
Mike Spiller has most recently been working in Boerne, TX and the San Antonio area. He began his career at a University of Texas gymnast and then as a coach beginning in Houston, TX; since then he has worked all over Texas as well as New Mexico and outside the USA. If you remember him abusing you or someone else, or even had suspicion of such, please contact SafeSport, which you can do online with or without anonymity. Or, contact me using any of the means on this site.
Please consider sharing with every Texan, gymnast, journalist, or human being that you know!
Ironic? Now serving as Safety Monitor for a USA Swimming event.
Do you have a to-be-read list? Or shelf or pile or bags full, like my kids and I do? Are you such a cool reader kid you call it a TBR? There’s an art to the TBR, and I don’t have it. Take for example my friend and colleague Rob, who one magical year actually accomplished the impossible of actually reading all the books on his TBR shelf before buying more. Not me; it’s just piles everywhere and then I grab whatever, or I end up ordering from the library/internet anyway.
I have a TBW list. I think many of us do, whether we know it or not: these are the stories that may matter most but also can be hardest to tell. What Glennon Doyle calls your “truthiest truth.” And I don’t know about you, but these years since the pandemic began, or maybe it’s since Trump, or wait maybe it’s since… all the wrong and sad and overwhelming things ever… These years have showed me some TRUTH. And the more I know what is true, the more I have to write about it.
And it’s super scary.
What if it hurts their feelings what if they don’t believe me what if it doesn’t count what if I am wrong what if I can’t what if it’s stupid what if nobody reads it what if I’m crazy what if i regret it what if I show too much real me what if what if what if kind of scary.
Here’s the list of things To Be Written in the coming days and weeks. Hold me to it.
How Mike Spiller, my first gymnastics coach in Texas, fondled my crotch while “massaging” me in a tent of gym mats at a lock-in in the early 80s
How Mike Spiller is still active in gymnastics and other youth camp settings, to my horror and stupid surprise
How I didn’t realize what Mike Spiller did was bad at first, so starving I was for affection and approval
How I did tell what Mike Spiller did, but not right away and not firmly enough, maybe
How I lived out a life for the almost forty years since then, in all the messy and fucked up ways people live lives, but with the additional mess that Mike Spiller left behind for my head
How I work at Penn State and did not re-report Mike Spiller even when child sexual abuse was all anyone talked about
How I watched the trial of Larry Nassar and did not re-report Mike Spiller
How I recently reported Mike Spiller to USA Center for SafeSport
How it appears that I am not the only one who has something to say Mike Spiller
How now I am doing everything I can to encourage others who may have similar experiences with Texas gymnastics coach Mike Spiller to contact me
And whatever happens from there.
Thanks to the many people who have tried to love me at some point since 1982 and have recently answered questions when investigators have gotten in touch. I’m diving into the big scary TBW.
My son has a very, very cheap laptop, and I’ve been surprised how little he uses it. He likes gaming, coding, writing, making videos and podcasts, and all kinds of graphic arts, and this device was a gift for him to expand his skills, to play around in the more powerful and flexible environment of the PC as compared to his locked-down school-issued chromebook.
And yet, he’s taken it out maybe twice in six months– all the while watching video after video about things he wants to someday do on it. What’s stopping him?
Finally, last time he took it out, I sat next to him on the sofa and watched over his shoulder. Nine year old boys don’t necessarily love their moms doing this, so I had my own computer open as a decoy. I’m sure he was completely fooled! From this vantage point, I saw it. He’d be typing text, maybe into a document or, in this case, a Minecraft command line. Being a human being and a nine year old and my genetic descendant, he’d make a typo every other word or so. And just as I have done three or four times in the last line or two, he’d reach up to the backspace key to go back and change it. All typical. Until, seemingly inexplicably, his whole machine shut down. “Argh! I hate that!” he yelled, then powered it back on and waited. And waited. Then clicked on the program he had been using and waited. And waited. And waited. (I said it was a cheap PC).
About two minuted later, it happened again. Again in another five. Finally I saw what was happening: the Power button was somehow, stupidly, right next to the Backspace button. Apparently this is a thing. And has been for at least 11 years as seen on Reddit, the mothership of internet ranting. WHY?!? People have the actual job of designing computers, and they suck at it.
How perfect a metaphor for writing, though! So often we seem to power off when only a backspace is necessary. Sometimes I’ll be working on a piece of writing and, sometimes after writing many thousands of words, realize I don’t like what I am doing or that I need to change my approach. Reaching for the Backspace button, I realize I don’t yet know how to fix it, and I get so discouraged I can’t make myself work on it at all. Power off! I’ll go hide out in email, or course prep, or more likely eating chips in bed and feeling bad about not writing. It feels safer.
In fact a lot of learning can be like this, too: take for example groups I’ve led or participated in where the aim was to understand and address racism and systemic inequities. As a white educator working among other educators who are predominantly white, so often the work requires unlearning things we thought were true about ourselves and/or the systems in which we work. Backspace! Envisioning change, we find we will have to take apart things that are awfully firmly cemented, like curricula or policies. Backspace! And then racism is so everywhere, and so very baked in to the entire American educational enterprise (big, collective Backspaces) and into our own socialization as human beings and as teachers (backspaces) and the more we look at it the more those backspaces might slip and Power Off. After all, it’s hard to keep mind of one’s own power to effect change in systems that we not only work in but have also been shaped in. It’s…a lot. To say the least.
I fixed my son’s keyboard like this. I am apparently an engineering genius!
I have found that when it comes to writing, this same strategy of adding a barrier works pretty well. The more we can make it impossible to shut down, the better we’ll do. So I do things like make writing dates with friends, switch to freewriting or speech-to-text, use Focusmate, and/or promise writing to people so that it’s just harder to hit Power and quit writing.
What about the learning communities doing that hard work of subverting racist and other oppressive conditions in education and in the world? The work of making deep change, and of learning deeply, only really gets done when we choose to be there. So while covering the Power button might work on the keyboard, in a learning community part of the work is actually learning how NOT to “Power Off” even when the button is right there. We could quit any time. So many have, and many more have not even begun the work. Yet we keep on showing up, writing our ideas and intentions toward greater freedom and teaching that liberates, Backspacing when we need to while keeping the power On.
I’ve mentioned how 30 consecutive days of blogging in March renewed my desire to be writing as a way of being in my life. It’s as though I have remembered for myself all the things I so regularly structure or recommend for others: write informally. Write long and short and fast and slow. Write incompletely. Share writing. Springboard from the writing of others. Make writing social. Write to find out what you want to write. Write to discern what is true. And write the truth, what Glennon Doyle would call “the truthiest truth.” The truth that I know is true when I get really, really quiet, close my eyes, put my hand on my heart, look inside, and ask myself “what do I know right now to be true?”
As those first five days became ten, twenty, thirty, I felt I was living closer to my truth and writing more fluently from it than I had done in a long while. I learned again what I already knew: that I really do wantneed to be writing about most everything, most all the time.
Since “the 30 day challenge” has ended, now it’s simply “the challenge” every day. Apparently I am not blogging every Tuesday, though I still dream. And while I am not posting daily, I am actually writing daily if I count all the writing that “doesn’t count” in many of our minds: lists, post-its, voice memos, notes to self, jottings in a conversation, additions to my book shopping cart/TBR list, texts to my truest partners in truth-telling, sentences I write in my head as I listen to interesting podcasts.
This is the truth that I have recovered during the sabbatical period I’ve been having since January: I really love writing, and what’s more I really NEED writing. I need my head to be always writing its ideas; it leads to more and better ideas and more and better writing!
And then the deepest part: I need my heart to be always writing its own truth to itself.
Not going to lie, it felt amazing. My professional work and my own experience have taught me so much about the benefits of daily writing, but I had never been able to put it together quite so well until this March. All the benefits of writing came to me, more powerfully than ever. I noticed the world more. I noticed myself more. I felt more creative. I felt inspired to write other, more difficult things. I felt connected to the other people I was writing with and for. Right up until March 31, come what may! It was wonderful.
And then, the next day, I didn’t write. And I didn’t write the next day, or the next. And today when I opened this document with intention, it still took me two hours of farting around doing other things before I started typing.
What makes habits so hard to form? I have spent years reading, thinking, and even teaching about it (list of my favorites below!). Even in elementary school, I was making charts for myself to tick off. I’ve read the books, used the apps, listened to the podcasts, made the accountability groups. They all help. I’m getting better.
None of them has made me the kind of person who can just do all the things daily.
I made a list of the things I actually do every. single. day. without fail. It’s a short list: 1. Brush teeth 2. Use the bathroom 3. Eat food
That’s about it. Even on workdays, in the job I have held for 16 years… there’s nothing I do every single day. And how I have wanted there to be!
If I could be, I’d be the kind of person who does all kinds of things daily, with routines and habits that are nourishing and consistent and peaceful and intentional. Every day in my imaginary consistent, intentional life, I would practice the piano, do yoga, drink 70 oz. of water, take vitamins, write in my journal, make something, check my budget, meditate, tidy up before bed, floss, read a poem, work on my book, take a walk outside…. obviously I would need more than one day to do all of these daily things, daily. Also, I would be a completely different person.
The more I learn about habits, the better I get at developing them. However, it’s also true that the more I learn about myself, the more I am OK with my inconsistency. I do still want healthy habits, and I do still work on that. Yet I’m more self-compassionate about how hard it is for me, and I’m more realistic about what is truly important enough to do every single day.
On Sunday, I revised my blogging intentions from daily to each Tuesday. I began this post on Monday. I am now finishing it on Wednesday. So much for consistency, but hooray for persistence.
Love me as I am! That’s what I’m working on. ❤️
A few of my favorites on habits (and self-compassion because, for me, they’re partners):
Invited to a classroom to write with some first and third graders: “You won’t scare the kids!” Nice thought, but truly, I would were masking not still a thing. No amount of stickers or “Write On!” t-shirt or smiling enthusiasm or typewriter socks or book-print leggings or punctuation skirt or gimmick or trick or joke could make it less scary that I had both jaws broken then bolted back on with titanium had my nose grow crooked after had a screw poking through my sinus just so have a rubber band holding my front teeth together
that the doctor sliced me open between my teeth and upper lip peeled back my face removed screws and plates and gave them to me in a baggie scooted my nose back into a straight line and sewed it there for good measure
that when I woke up I ran out of local anesthetic cried for the nurses to do anything called it worse than the broken bones I’ve walked on without knowing called it worse than natural childbirth called it worse than the worst migraine (or maybe torture, though I’ve not been tortured) made the doctor come running with his big needles took four shots directly into my face looked up within three minutes saying “Ok! I’m fine now!”
that the next day I swelled up like Violet Beauregard my eyes turned purple then swelled shut bruises slid down my cheeks and chin and the doctor sent medicine that helps, but slowly And indeed, I would scare the kids!
*NOTE! I was so beautifully cared for by TriCounty Oral Facial Surgeons! The anesthetic thing that happened was NOT something they did wrong, but something my body does almost every time I have a cavity filled or any local anesthetic like lidocaine or articaine (it was just more severe than ever) . I strongly recommend Dr. Engroff for any oral surgery you may need to have!
My whole life, I’ve had a desire to somehow measure physical pain in a uniform way. Like so many other important human things, pain is on the inside of us, not the outside. Maybe sometimes we can see the cause of the pain, like a cut or a swollen foot. But the pain itself is just impulses running through nerves and brains, right?
Then there’s the problem that not only can’t we see the pain, we also can’t determine its strength relative to the pain of others. Like, what hurts more, my mosquito bite or your ant bite? I would just leave this tagged as one of life’s imponderables, but my screwed-up mind feels like it really needs to know. It needs to know because, without external evidence that someone else’s pain is actually less, some secret part of me thinks I don’t get to complain about my own.
I never said this was healthy!
Not sure if this is because I am Texan (so tough!), because I was a gymnast (don’t cry in here!), because I have spent a lot of time dissociated from my body (like a brain in a vat), or because my body does seem to have some kind of weird pain disconnect (didn’t realize that bone was broken for days!)