It's Wise Women Wednesday, each week I interview a woman that I believe is inspiring, living abundantly and following her passions. These are all women who live a life of abundance and bring creativity into the world.
Q. Who are you? What is your background?
A. My name is Stevie Alverson. I have been studying and working in the field of education for 11 years. I currently live in Asheville, North Carolina in a 154 year-old farm house with my young daughter and our cat, Mildred Hubble.
Q. What is your work?
A. My official title is Early Childhood Program Consultant, but even after two and a half years in my position, I have difficulty briefly summarizing my work to someone who is unfamiliar with the Early Childhood community. Therein lies my good fortune, however, because my job is anything but monotonous! I work to support early childhood classrooms—the children enrolled, the families of those children, the teachers and administrators, the stakeholders—in improving access to and supporting high quality education. Every day is different. Some days I am working with a teacher on strengthening interactions in the classroom, other days I am scheduling and creating presentations for professional development trainings and conferences.
Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now?
A. I’m still riding on the high of a project I started early in 2017, which was to encourage dialogues about race within our local early childhood community. I am very fortunate to have a job where my colleagues inspire creativity and leadership, but I had been waiting to create a project that I felt truly passionate about. In the spring, I went to our Assistant Director with an idea to have an event where we invited parents and educators to listen to a panel and learn how to begin talking with young children about race. Though it’s not new by any means, social media and the news have brought more to light exactly how much work we, as a country, have to do to unpack this deep system of institutional racism that permeates throughout the United States. I was losing sleep at night, thinking, “What can I do, in my role right this moment, to make a ripple in my community?” For about 7 months after that, I met with some truly incendiary leaders in our community who are doing brilliant work here in Asheville and beyond, and we wove together what ended up being a really incredible event. Over 100 people came to the panel discussion, and took part in really difficult (but necessary) conversations about how children experience race. I am working now to take what I learned from the event and hopefully replicate it in other parts of our region, as well as work with participants to continue the dialogues in their own homes, places of work, schools, etc.
Q. What is one thing you've done recently that's scared you and took courage, but you're glad you did?
A. It’s hard to pinpoint one particular “thing,” but I would say anything that has required me to be independent. Traveling alone, raising a child on my own, purchasing and caring for a home on my own. I’m so fortunate to have a circle of friends, family (blood and chosen), and also a network of women who inspire me (whether I know them personally or not) who have directly or indirectly encouraged me to be brave and bold. That encouragement has not always been what I thought I wanted, but has always taken a shape of what I needed. Now the newfound challenge has been to learn to be ok with relying on others—to soften, so to speak. I’m still trying to learn that balance.
Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it? If not why not what's stopping you?
A. The work I most want to be doing is leading and collaborating with other leaders to create change. By change I mean work to create a place where children can grow up to be who they are and have their basic needs met—education, shelter, healthcare—regardless of where they are from, what they look like, or how they identify. I work with care providers every day who give so much of themselves that they are depleting their own energies to make up for the negligence of our broken systems. We are living in a cycle of creating programs, tips and tricks, and patches that don’t really work. I’m not interested in patching things up, I want to come in with a sledgehammer and then rebuild it all in a better, more equitable way. I see a system where there are people in power keeping others poor, uneducated, and exhausted, and that just won’t do anymore. I want to see myself grow in my bravery and ability to question norms, stand up, lead, and right wrongs. The only thing stopping me is my own fear of losing any of my comforts and privileges, and that’s where I need to grow. I think the best way I try to counter that fear is by involving the circle of people around me to keep pushing me and holding my actions accountable to the words coming out of my mouth.
Q. What would you tell your high school or college self?
A. Bless her heart! I don’t think I could say anything to her that she would really listen to, so I would just give her a long, deep hug.
Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?
A. Be provocative. I think as creative women, we have a responsibility to find our voices and use them to advocate for marginalized populations. So, don’t hold back. No matter what the topic, no matter who the audience, say or make something that might cause jaws to drop, because that is the preceding action to inspire reflection, which in turn inspires change. Lasting change was never created by leaders tip-toing around the provocative.
I should add here, however, that this is advice I have not perfected, but am constantly learning and exercising. I just started reading an incredible book by adrienne maree brown called Emergent Strategy, and in the introduction, she writes: “I don’t want to be the owner of this, just a joyful conduit.” That is exactly how I feel about the work I do, and I think if all of your readers were to reflect on the ways in which they can use their status to provoke—and then to be a “joyful conduit” —imagine the change that would create.
Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?
A. I unapologetically require a very precious balance of introversion/reflection and what I refer to as “verbal processing.” Though a large part of my identity is that I am a mother, I am not ashamed to say that it is crucial to my creativity and work (and wellbeing, in general!) that I am able to have quiet moments in solitude: walks at the bird sanctuary or around the lake, solo time reading at the library or on my couch, and long soaks in the bath (I half-joke that I am in a relationship with my tub).
It took me a long time to realize that what I do is creative. I always thought art and creativity were strictly synonymous, and felt that because I don’t always have a tangible product, I’m not a creator. I used to do theater, dance, write, and small projects such as embroidery or bake, but my time for those activities has become more restricted now that I work and care for my daughter and our home. Now my creative energy goes full force into trying to collaborate with other professionals to reimagine a future where children attend schools that are tailored to their needs, versus pushing children through a factory model of education. Re-envisioning the future takes a great deal of creative force, it turns out!
Q. Anything else you'd like to share?
A. Thank you, to you Alisha, for creating and maintaining this blog. I am really honored to be able to be featured as a Wise Woman, particularly because I have actually been grappling with the way I feel about what that means. Though I was once saturated in a lifestyle of art, yoga, and meditation, I mostly turned away from it for several years due to the fact that I felt I was taking part in the appropriation and self–involvement that I was seeing as Asheville’s population grew and grew. (We are now among the top 10 most rapidly gentrifying cities in the United States, but we have at least twice the number of yoga studios here now than we did when I moved here years ago).
I’ve really had to review what I learned in yoga teacher training, and I found myself going back to the fourth Yama: Brahmacharya, which is a practice of dedicating energy in a focused way. For me, that means directing my energy towards reflecting on my values and beliefs and channeling that energy to show up in my everyday life. A lot of that is listening to what I need so that I can serve others. I tell my daughter all the time that I want her to do work that serves others and positively impacts the world around her. I say this instead of “do what makes you happy,” because I hope I can live as a model that serving others serves you too.
I also hope there is someone else reading your blog who has struggled with this concept of being wise as I have, and can learn from that struggle. I hope this is also a call that if you are a yoga teacher, or you lead mindfulness retreats, etc. that you will include ways to credit and serve others as part of those practices. How diverse are you with what you offer? How accessible are your offerings? How does what you do make this place better? There is a great quote I read recently, (and unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the source) “If it is inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.” I think about this a lot with my work, and what I would like to share is for others to marinate on the relationship among wise, radical, and revolutionary. Many of the women I deem (s)Heroes have managed to encompass those adjectives with a balance of grit and grace that I find inspiring.
Q. What's your favorite yoga pose?
A. Balasana (Child’s Pose). When I first started doing yoga 10 years ago, I remember trying to go all out and impress myself and others with my balance, strength, flexibility, and stamina. I’d rush through poses and think about my plans for the next day during Savasana and then I was like “Yeah! I do yoga!” I would have preferred anything over quiet and meditation because it forced me to go in and deal with some icky things I worked very hard during my conscious hours to repress. But the real work of yoga, at least for me, has been finding that stillness. The past few months I have made a new connection with meditation and therapy using Internal Family Systems and the Trauma Resiliency Model, and I’m able to return to yoga (not just asana) in a different way. Balasana now is less of an escape and more of a coming home.
Q. How do you live a life of abundance?
-deep, relaxing sleep -libraries -travel
-cooking and enjoying food -books, so many books -work that serves
-connecting with others -consuming theater, film, & music -time with myself
-connecting with myself -sex -pen pals