The trouble with goals is that you’re constantly working toward what you used to want. ~Sarah Manguso from 300 Arguments
I keep this notebook of the memoir I’m working on, and it has sat collecting dust for the past two months because I haven’t really felt like working on this Big Project of mine. I worry sometimes everything I’ve done in the last year will sit too long. Like a tea bag that steeps too long and makes the hot water sour. If I don’t complete this thing, all the time I’ve spent will have been useless. Pointless. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. The jobby job brings quite a bit to the daily word count practice of writing, and I’ve participated in 74 days thus far of The Isolation Journals (I’m frequently one or two days behind, but I always catch up). I also record the passing of the day’s thoughts, such as they are, in my personal journal. So, if you’re keeping count, I’m writing in three physical journals right now. But this notebook has sat on the corner of a table next to my desk collecting dust. I wiped a layer of pollen off of it this morning. Whatever goals I had of where I would be now have disappeared. What I thought I’d have done; I’ve let go. Where I thought I would be is nowhere to be found.
I have, however, kept one promise and met one deadline with others. I have also kept and met one deadline with myself. I selected “The Kind of People Who Leave Dirt on the Floor” as my chapter for the anthology with my little writing group. I promised this group I would select a piece I wanted to work on more while meeting an aggressive deadline. Funny, now that I’ve worked in Start-Up-Land, what other people see as “aggressive” or “not a lot of time” or “a quick turn around” is actually quite a luxury. I don’t say a word about that, however, nobody cares. I take the time and get on with it.
When I got the file of my chapter from the editor, she had completely changed everything but three sentences. Maybe ten words out of three thousand were still in tact. Ten years ago, I would have collapsed into a self-loathing pile of flesh on the floor crying my eyes out with a file like this. Just the optics alone of so much red would have destroyed me. I made a promise to myself this time around I would write the best thing I could with everything these people taught me over the past year. I also made a promise to go with whatever the editor saw in my writing. Whether I liked it or not. A hard commitment for me.
Before I could even process how much she changed, altered, and rearranged, I clicked “Accept Changes” on every page. Deleted one sentence. Read her thoughtful comments about why she altered what she did. After about fifteen minutes or so of accepting all the changes, I reread my story and I liked it a lot more. It’s way better now. I chose this chapter because it’s the one I want to read aloud when we’re all finally together to celebrate this anthology. It’s the chapter that helped me see how I want to write about something else once this book is complete. It was the holy-fucking-shit-THIS-is-the-thing moment if you’re a writer. The fog clears and you see the next book in the distance. It’s like a one ton bell clangs. It’s a whisper to a scream. We are we are ever helpless…wait…that’s a song.
Okay, where was I? My book chapter. Of my unpublished book. Right. Here.
I don’t know this editor that well at all, but I like what she saw and created by rearranging my work into the story she wanted to read.
Today I returned to another chapter, and this is one makes me laugh. I’m using a letter form, but it’s something else when I post it here outside of the memoir. I think it’s a lie to say memoirs are true accounts of what happened. Memory, time, and all the challenges of who we are from hour to hour make creating a true record challenging. I’m comfortable with the essay, as a form, so I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps these are a collections of essays. For now, let this one be a blog post until it bleeds into something else. Becomes something else.
This experience with this editor made me think about how watercolor paints work. If you have ever seen the paint applied to water on paper, the color spreads and swirls seeming like it has a mind of its own. I have to admit, I love that about the paint, and as I’ve started to learn more about this style of painting, it’s surprised me that it’s the one aspect people dislike. You can’t control the watercolor paint. The ratio of pigment to water along with the pressure of the brush makes it really unpredictable. Hard to control. Impossible to predict. You can push and pull the paint in the water–and this is what I find quite lovely. You can guide the paint, but it’s really hard to know what it will look like until it dries. The way the paint runs or fades becomes part of the end product. I love that the finished product often looks like it’s a draft. A sketch.
I’ve painted the editorial process, and what I’ve learned, with broad strokes (hee hee). My mistake a decade ago was I wanted my words to stay the same and I couldn’t see an editor’s criticism for what it was; a push and pull to guide the story someplace else. I was too broken of a person to see my writing as separate from who I was. Who I was becoming. I don’t know, but I wasn’t open to the process like I am now. Maybe I’m less invested in the whole of being a writer and now I just write. Liberating.
This past week, a book arrived in the mail and I completely forgot what made want this book in the first place. Apparently I ordered a book from a bookstore that had it in stock, and it took so long to arrive I forgot why I wanted it. Who suggested it to me. Where I found it. I opened up the package, and I sat down and starting reading, and I read the whole thing in one sitting. The hours of that afternoon completely shifted into something else.
Here’s the quote that kept me:
Dutch dikes (dijiks) are arranged in threes–watchers, sleepers, and dreamers, named thus by their proximity of water. (same author and title from my epigraph above).
There’s something here with the connection of water, words, and watercolor paint, but if I don’t publish this post, I’ll keep trying to control it.
A quick note: Chapter 3 was written before well before the pandemic. Before the protests. Before I deleted my Facebook account, stepped way back from Twitter, and scaled down how much I’m engaging with Instagram. Understand that I can’t write a letter to my younger self–because I’m–we’re–still living through all of this.
All this, all of this love we’re talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory.” ~Raymond Carver
I love Raymond Carver, and I’ve reused (plagiarized?) this title so many times because I wish I had created it. This post in my drafts for over a year, so I’m going to release it as a break from my writerly drama. I’ve taken a break from the teachings and the learnings writerly bloggy for a few reasons. Whenever I reflect on the state of adjunct labor, I always hear from somebody who wants to let me know that being adjunct isn’t all that bad because ____________. Or I get asked about why I wrote X Thing about Quit Lit.
For some reason, almost a year ago I started this post after I had a conversation with a grant leader who sparked me to write about Initiative Fatigue. I went back to my teacher journals because I’ve been on the hunt for old ideas I can reuse. And I found this post. This thread. These ideas. This was all written before the pandemic, but I think some of what I’m saying still applies. I don’t feel like revising it yet, so I’ll let these ideas land here.
If I was a real researcher, I’d write something to the tune of exploring how and why faculty feel exhausted by administrative initiatives. In the great web of higher education policy, the spider in the center is always spinning towards the election cycle. Politicians love to appeal to the electorate about education (who doesn’t want to save the children?). Policy writers get funded to create projects, local leaders are told to enact said policies, administrators get their marching orders from the executive level, department leaders are given a mission, and faculty are usually given the news at convocation speeches or Welcome Week or All Faculty Addresses.
And so it goes.
When I was adjunct, I never went to Welcome Week because I wasn’t paid to be there. I couldn’t justify putting the cost of gas on the credit card I was living on until I got paid. I did, however, always attend the departmental meetings because I was paid, and I genuinely liked a lot of my colleagues. The best ones made me feel part of the the department, and they were/are really interesting people who read great books. After we shared what we read in these meetings, we got to The News of What Was To Be The New Thing For That Year. In all of the departments where I worked, I noticed that most of the folks who took the Department Chair position did so the way you play catch the hot potato. They’d juggle the position for a few years, and then bounce that potato onto the next person. The extra stipend, I suppose, wasn’t as easy as moonlighting a few extra sections. Students are always easier to deal with than your peers.
Over the last four and half years, I have had the privilege of interacting with a lot of the same types of teacherly and administrative people. Just at scale. So, let me pause here and explain what I mean by “at scale.” What I do for a living sometimes gives me an opportunity to talk to people in four or five states, some days, before 10am. I always feel like it’s up to me to know what’s going on at their schools, their states, and their classrooms. My inner researcher–the very same one who gave up on a doctorate and has stopped caring about academic publishing–loves this work. I sometimes forget to eat (and I love food) because I’m so into reading about The Education News. Endlessly fascinating. So interesting. Sometimes so depressing. Sometimes so joyful. All in the same day.
So today I want to write a bit of advice for my Fac Dev Peeps to reflect a bit. The people who support the supporters of faculty and students. It’s such a hard job. Know this. I know this. When I’m able to do my best work these days, I’m hoping to co-create courses, assignments, and things that faculty will love. I’m hoping to improve courses where students will learn. I wrote this post back in August of 2019, and if I try to contextualize in the era we’re living now, I’ll never post it. So. Here goes.
In my old teacher journal from 2007, I wrote the following:
If I could beg one thing of everyone who is working in the space of “customizing/curating” course content for an online or hybrid course, I’d ask that you pause and ask yourself one question.
If you were a student, would you know where to get started in this course?
Here’s what I was musing about, but didn’t really know at the time. I wanted online/hybrid/blended teachers to look beyond the “Start Here” information or where to read the announcement and all the quality that matters shizz. No. Pause for a minute and really look. Would you know what you should do first?
If you snark “it’s in the syllabus” please stop reading my blog and sign up for a course on empathy. Maybe reconsider your profession. K. Thx. Bye.
Here’s another question I wrote in 2017:
If you help create “master” courses as a starting point to check all of the boxes of accreditation, what’s the worst–and I mean the worst–possible scenario where shit can go all wrong for students? In other words, what’s the worst thing that can happen when somebody “personalizes” or “customizes” a course? Where will students get lost?
Here’s a question that I wrote in the first draft of this blog post in 2019:
Do you ever offer any asynchronous professional development for faculty? Have your faculty had any experience as being online students themselves?
Okay, let me pause here and acknowledge that I was a maniac bitch during my second masters degree program where I was an online/hybrid student. I loved one of my teachers hopelessly and the other one was a pompous asshole who tried to adjunct-splain me all the time. Both teachers in that program were so incredibly disorganized. I spent a lot time helping my peers figure out what was going on. Because, you see, I knew all the tricks of half-assing an online course. If there was a way to half-ass it, I had already figured it out. Sometimes this skill of mine is praised as efficiency, innovation, or very productive. I don’t know, maybe it’s just being willing to put something out there that isn’t perfect. Like this post.
So okay. I’ve asked those questions. The same question, really, just a decade a part. Now let’s return to Initiative Fatigue.
What is it, and why should we care?
Let me start with why we should all care.
They have no idea about initiatives. They don’t care about policy. They don’t really understand how the most expensive investment of their lives really works.
Here’s another Truth we need to sit with and one that people don’t like to admit: Faculty do not like being told what to do.
By and large, the people who become educators like being in control of the situation (the class) and they like the autonomy of being their own boss (the teacher). This isn’t to say that every faculty member is like Zack de la Roca everyday telling administrators, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” It is, however, important to note that most faculty I know, and the teacher that I used to be, loves being in charge of the class. They love, and this is hard to admit but central to the core of the teacher ego–they love being the smartest person in the room who can teach people.
And most of them, do not like change. Unless they are the ones driving said change.
The real revolution in all things Open, by the way, will happen with the next generation of faculty. I hold that faith. Most of what’s being pitched right now doesn’t work. These new teachers will figure it out.
For some faculty, you’ll have to rip that Big Pub textbook from their cold dead hands. Long-time readers will not be surprised to hear me say that I’m mostly interested in online and hybrid learning spaces. As a learner, I love the verb seminar and I’ll it eat up a good lecture like chips and salsa after a hard bike ride. As a teacher, I love the potential of the digital space.
Here’s some quick backstory. History. Why I care about this space.
The day that I realized that a second-shift factory worker was able to take my class and earn college credit, my mind exploded like that emoji we all use now.
He joked in his student introduction post, “I’ve been wanting to go back to school forever, but they don’t offer English 101 at 3am when I’m done with work. I dropped out of college to work full-time when the love of my life got pregnant with our first son. I’m hoping to be done with this degree before my own kids go to college.” He posted a photo of him hugging two kids who looked like they were middle school.
I thought of my own dad, who worked “third trick” for years–that’s old union talk for the middle-of-the-night shift. He slept while I was in school, and he left for work when I was coming home. He came to my sporting events on his lunch break during the weekends in his work uniform.
I never met that online student in real life, and I don’t know if he graduated, but that discussion post changed everything for me. His kids are college-age now, that much I know. I imagine he’s able to help his kids with shitty online classes because he lived through my early online course.
So. Initiative Fatigue. That’s what I said I’d talk about, right? Right.
This is condition in higher education when things have to change and faculty are not motivated by change for change sake. They see whatever is happening as just another initiative. It’s usually something set up by an ambitious administrator who wants to move up the ladder of leadership. Here’s the fundamental flaw that most administrators don’t see in their crystal ball.
There are usually faculty are already doing The New Thing.
Let me take a stab here at the Co-Requisite model, and I’d love to hear from readers who are actually involved in this initiative. Tell me if I’m wrong. Teach me what is right. I think this is the model for all introductory courses and the Covid era has sped up that trajectory.
Let’s take English 101, for instance, since I taught a bazillion of those sections. When I got my roster each term, I got a list of the student placement scores. I could trace those numbers down a column and see who struggled on that standardized test. I could see the list of students who had to take developmental courses just to get to English 101. Their first composition course where they would earn credit.
Have you ever taken one of those tests, by the way? You should. I took one in order to take a french class at a community college because it was cheaper to take the placement test than it was to mail the thirty-inch stack of paper college transcripts that I collected during my 20s. Seriously.
When I sat down to take that test, I was so nervous. What if I didn’t place into English 101? Meanwhile, I had three piles of English 102 essays to grade in my bag on the floor next to my testing station. I had ten job applications out to be a textbook reviewer.
By taking that test, I got feel the nervousness that students experience when so much is on the line. Midway through the test, I was like, oh, my. This is horrific.
If they had forced me to take a math placement test when I entered college, for the record, I would have never graduated from college. This I know for sure. If you would have told me twenty-five years ago that I’d work along-side data scientists and some of the most innovative math programmers on the planet, I would have asked what bottle of whiskey you finished that morning. Back to placement tests. Right.
Talk to a student who has paid for two-years of college classes and has earned zero college credit in developmental courses, and you’ll have all the empathy you need for the Co-Req Model initiatives. Talk to an adult who is paying interest on loans for those two years of classes while trying to figure out how to save for their children’s education, and you’ll see why administrative and policy folks are trying to figure out something new. Again. Again. Again.
Initiative Fatigue. Maybe I could offer some advice for the Fac Dev Peeps in the middle of this work. Talk to your faculty. Shut the office door. Or have a private online meeting. You don’t have to use Zoom, there are other platforms that work great. Use your personal phone. Grab a coffee and listen to them. Chances are they are already doing something that will fulfill your requirement to prove momentum towards your initiative. Try to communicate that up the chain of command. And this I know, is so hard.
Advice for the Covid era: Talk to your teachers who went from web-enhanced to online in March. They’ve got the keys to the kingdom to teach your faculty what to do. Spotlight those faculty–they are honest about missing the classroom but they also understand how adjust from face-to-face to whatever it is we’re doing now.
I’m sometimes asked if I miss being an administrator.
Here’s the thing.
I loved writing All Faculty emails. Many people in leadership advised me to not write them because a few bad apples would Reply All to shame you with their complaints. And it’s true, there were times I couldn’t believe how mean people were (like, fuck, it wasn’t my fault that LMS shit was buggy. It was my job to tell you about that shitty platform that you agreed to use in class FFS). The real saving grace was my husband was also an adjunct in that All Faculty thread, so he’d see those emails and respond at home with “Fuck that Mother Fucker! I googled that Fucko’s dissertation topic. I wouldn’t wipe our dog’s ass with the paper it was printed on. Fuck that Bunghole…”
So, you know, that helped. If you think the language I use on this blog makes your eyelashes curl, just get my Mister in a lather. The forked tongue of a that kid from working class Boston will make you blush.
When a faculty member Replied All, it was a way of complaining publicly about technology, my inexperience with leadership, or something else entirely that they felt like they couldn’t control. The best ones came to my office or called me, but those mean emails stung.
So what did I do?
I wrote an email response that I never sent. They usually started with some salutation like, “Look. Bitch. You’ve got it all wrong.” Or “Dear Uber-Mensch, I’m sorry it’s been a long time since you’ve gotten laid.” Something along those lines. Just to make myself laugh.
Those emails made me feel better. But it is hard. Oh my god is it hard. I recently got two emails with my volunteer work that were so mean in spirit that it took me weeks to get over. People still send mean words through email. Over Twitter. Through DMs. I might even get a few because of this post.
I try to remember that people have other things going on, and you never really what’s going on with people.
You never really know why people act the way that they do. I think the Buddhists have the right advice: You can’t control what others do, you can only control your reaction.
Another memory from the teacher journal.
Related but not related.
Six or so years into my teaching career, for instance, I had a former student contact me that she liked have coffee with me. When I saw her name in my inbox, I was for sure it was another complaint or something awful. She had led a small campaign to get me fired because of my “liberal ideologies” during the Bush years. This woman seethed with hatred for me, and I could feel it radiating off of her in my class. Twice a week for four hours I had to stand in front of people who hated me for a paycheck.
I lost my cool one day on a student, her buddy, who was complaining about “dead-beat single-moms who weren’t taking care of their kids.” I interrupted him to ask if they all got pregnant by immaculate conception, and he said, “of course not! That only happened with our Lord and Savior’s mom.” He looked around the room like, “Duh. Ain’t she dumb?” Ah, the wunderkinds of Rush Limbaugh. Good times.
I paused. “So then why are the women the only ones responsible for these children? Where are the fathers?”
The students went all Jerry Springer on that guy–they laughed and ooohed and aaahhed. This student use this example of me being unfair and ridiculing her fellow student as part of her campaign about why I was a bad teacher. She was right, I did abuse my power. I played that kid right into the set up to destroy his argument.
And for the record, he earned an A in my class. I fundamentally disagreed with everything he wrote about, but he wrote well and improved as a writer. He was a mouthy asshole who I’m sure is making American great again, but he did the work. I made a lot of mistakes as a teacher, but I was fair and balanced with my assessments.
This woman who reappeared in my life asking to have coffee with me also taught me a lot. I honestly never wanted to see her again, and that quarter of teaching was one of the hardest of my life. But I was curious out what she wanted so I met with her.
When we sat down to drink our coffee, she shared that she wanted to tell me that she was sorry for being drunk in my class. I took two sips of my coffee as she spilled out a story about how she was a recovering alcoholic and I was one of the people she needed to make amends with because she was not in her right mind.
She apologized for the things she said to the classmates, the dean, and to me. She said she has no recollection of that class because she drank to black out everyday. She asked if I remembered her friend, whom I nicknamed in my mind Mini-Limbaugh. Sure. Sure. I remember him.
She shared that he told her that I reminded him of his ex-wife who left him for a Ralph Nader volunteer. You know, the seat-belts-Green-Party guy, right? He was really mean to you, and I had a crush on him so I was jealous of you. I hope you can forgive me. I hated you because so many of the students liked you. Because you looked like his ex-wife. You just seemed like everything had come so easy to you. I put the hate I had for myself onto you. I see that now. Can you forgive me for what I did? I’m so glad they didn’t fire you.
Sure. Sure, I said. I was shocked silent.
I forgive you. What you’re doing, apologizing to everyone, I imagine, isn’t easy. I don’t remember you being drunk at all, I said.
I’m losing the thread here.
I’ve gone too far into this memory of what is hard about teaching. What is harder about being an administrator. What causes me fatigue.
I’ve lost the thread.
I want to get this post out of my drafts now because I wrote it well before All Of This–what we’re living through now. These are anecdotes I hope to use some other day in another context when I write about teaching. The next book. Oy.
I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a chapter that I’m submitting to an anthology, and I’m so nervous about what the editors will say. I’m not sure if there is a story arc. I’m not sure it’s any good. I’m not sure about anything right now, but I loved editing this post this morning and thinking about these things. A start for the next book even though I haven’t finished This Book. So it goes. Here it is. The start.
We all carry trace fossil’s within us–the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on the envelope, the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often it has worked it own groove in both air and mind: these two are trace fossils too. from Underland, by Robert MacFarlane
This past week, I checked out MacFarlane’s book from the library. I mean, not the actual library, but from the Libby App supported by my local library system, and it’s one of those books I want to read one chapter at a time because there is so much to think about. He’s taking me to places where I can’t travel right now, while also teaching me new things about the connection of the subterranean, and in a broad strokes, The Natural as Supernatural. I picked this book up soon after I read Into The Wild again, a book I decided I should read because John Krakauer does such a fantastic job of describing wild places and the super natural. I wanted to see if I would change my mind about McCandless, and his story, though truth be told, I don’t remember much from when I first read it. Other than I know I’ve met a dreamer or ten like him. I found the book to be just as much about Krakauer as it was about his subject, and just as much about an America that no longer exists. He was also responding to the people who took the time to write him about the flaws in the article he published prior to the book, and he explores his own near-death escapes.
I laughed out loud when Krakauer describe Thoreau as “prissy” but I noted that he had several quotes from the Transcendentalist throughout the book. This one, in particular, I loved:
The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow I have clutched.
The prissy dig reflects the disappointment a lot of us have when we learn that at Walden, Thoreau had people who delivered him food, and he really had kind of a dandy Air B-n-B package deal not far from civilization. Unlike McCandless, who tragically starved to death, Thoreau lived like a writer-in-residence. What I loved about reading Into the Wild, this time around, is I appreciated Krakauer’s depiction of the people he met during his research. That’s what makes the book so good. It’s a snapshot of America that I think has disappeared. Like you can’t be a bearded broke hippie sneaking your canoe across the border of Mexico and get back into America without a passport these days. You can’t disappear without some real foresight of discarding your cell phone and ATM card. Surveillance cameras would find you. In a lot of ways, when I first read his story, I was really angry at how wasteful this middle-class kid was who had an excellent college degree (he graduated from Emory) and a nest egg of an unfathomable amount of money to me that he donated or burned. In 1994, I rarely had more than a few hundred dollars at a time, so I thought he was dumbass with a death wish.
What I appreciated about Krakauer’s book now that I’m a woman of a certain age, is the story of his quest to live freely or to embody what I think the French mean when they say “que sera-sera” (what will be will be). Into the Wild, in my second reading, is about a young man’s search for another way of life. I find it really fascinating he made the trip into the Alaskan bush without a map, without a lot of things that really made him quite stupid and careless, but also really brave. Think what you will about how that kid died, but I’m a bit fascinated by his quest. I can totally empathize with an East Coast kid who had no idea how big rivers in the West can get late in the summer when you’ve only seen rivers recede in the heat of summer time. Krakauer uses McCandless’ story to examine the questions of a youthful spirit and that was so hard for me to see when I was younger. In my darkest moments (and I’ve had a few lately), that’s The Search that I think I’m writing about in my book.
Quick update on the book: I’m revisiting a few chapters, and I’ll get back to posting a chapter this week. Krakauer inspired me, along with a few other writing prompts, to get back to writing more descriptions of the woods. Call it the prissy Thoreau in me who is sheltering-in-place.
Today I’m socially distancing from everything, and then I’m going to pick up working again tomorrow. I need a break. It’s now almost two months since I’ve left the 15 miles radius of my house (I’ve ridden my bike to Lake Samish and back), and just to record how I am doing, I’ll share that I had two pretty dark weeks of not sleeping more than three hours at a time, crying at weird times, and days of despair from about March 11 to the end of the month. Then on the last day of the month, I discovered Leslie Jordan’s post that went viral (we need a new word this, right), and I laughed so hard, I cried. I know a guy who yelled at his mama just like Leslie (southern drawl and all), and I lost my shit laughing. I have to admit, I miss being around people who use “y’all” when referring to the singular. Leslie’s Insta helped me that day. April, so far, has been much better.
I’m not saying I’m better. I’m not saying I’m okay. I’m not saying I’m not okay. I don’t know what I am, but I have been able to show up for (most of) the people who have needed me throughout the past few weeks. I feel ten tons of gratitude that I have a job. I’ve gotten a pretty solid grasp on the work I’m doing, and I feel like I’m contributing to the vision I’ve been hired to help build. And then at the end of the week on Fridays, I tell my husband that it’s my “longer run day,” and I bust out crying at the end of every mile. That’s like five or six miles, my watch beeps to alert me it’s the end of a mile, and I bend over to catch my breath and I cry. New workout routine! I wipe my face on my shirt since you shouldn’t touch your face, and I start running again.
I’m on Week Four of this cycle. During this time, I’ve PR’ed and improved my time per mile, so this is a wonderful surprise. When I walk in the door puffy eyed, the Mister thinks it’s exhaustion or he’s just not saying anything. And let’s be clear. I have a love-hate-mostly-hate relationship with running. It’s something I do to stay in shape, and I like it once I hit the second mile. It’s easier. And with this I’ll-have-good-cry-at-the-end-of-each-mile, I can roll into the weekend, and I do other things like write and read Brah-fest books like Into the Wild.
True Confessions: I’m sad to not be mountain biking right now. I’m honoring the “No Gnar” to not take the chance of being injured and needing an EMT who can be used elsewhere by the sick. I usually follow the “No Gnar” rule, just to be clear, but I’m also using this as an excuse to not see all of the logging that’s been done. Bellingham, a few years back, rejoiced that we’ll still have access to Galbraith when the mountain sold, but they have logged it so extensively–it depresses me. I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why they’ve done more logging than they originally promised, but it’s all bullshit to me. I believe the PR logger folks told the community what they wanted to hear, and then they logged the fuck out of the mountain anyways. People rejoice about the new views to see the bay as the silver lining, and that’s wonderful for their Insta. Good for you. The loamy goodness that makes that mountain magic is almost gone. You need big trees for that kind of hero dirt, and really within five or so years, all of the trails close to town will be blown out dust bumps with manicured trails like SST that folks who love “the gnar” seem to think is mountain biking. They’ll make nice gap jump photo shoots for the bike magazines, but the riding will suck ass. But I hear you little Brah and people who want flow trails (yawn): Ok Boomer.
There are other mountains to climb nearby via gravel roads, but I just don’t trust my focus on the bike right now. I’m also not road riding either. Hence my Grouchy McGrouchstein here. Last week, I went out for the 30 mile loop, and one-third of the cars that passed me smelled like weed, the other third were driving unbelievably fast, and the other third smelled like weed and they were driving fast. Road riding does not feel safe, so I’ll have to wait another two weeks or so until the weather gets warmer so that I can go out early early early to beat the Weed Smokers and the Too Fast Too Furious. They don’t typically ride at first light, so I’ll hit the Gandalf Hour, as I like to call it. Until then, I’m running.
Okay, so what is the point of this post? Right.
I wanted to talk about online learning. Teaching that involves the internet to meet either in real time or not at all. Synchronous or asynchronous–as we say in the Biz–which are words we need to lose because they do not make any sense to students. Here’s what I’m wary of (among other things, but let’s focus on one). I don’t like the use of the phrase “Best Practices.” I’m sure others have written about this, so this probably nothing new. I look into this later, so don’t @ me. While talking to a teacher last week that I’ve never met in-person but we’ve worked together a lot online, I snarked out my most cohesive thought for these uncertain times, if you will. I said, “Best Practices Are The Worst.” (A Memoir).
We had a good laugh. My colleague wrote it down in our notes. I jotted it down in my work journal, and I wrote a bit more about it later.
Here’s what I wrote:
Best practices assume that you’ve had time to practice.
When teachers are new to online and/or technologies, it’s hard to adopt the pedagogical idea behind the tech at first. When people tell you about a best practice for them, they’ve had a lot of time to test it out. Use it. Revise it. 5R it, if you know that language. They can make it look it easy because they’ve had time to think about it and do the thing. For instance, everyone talks about discussion boards as “a best practice” for student engagement (oy!), and let me tell you, I thought the same thing until I had to do a discussion board as a student. I had been assigning and grading discussions for years as a teacher, because it was a best practice.
It was a much different experience as a student. I hated it with one teacher and loved it with another. One teacher, a good one, engaged with our ideas and spent a fair amount of time curating our questions and adding her own thoughts. There were eight of us in the class. Graduate level students. Engagement was high. Motivations were clearly stated from the beginning by the teacher and the students.
The other teacher, the one I really disliked, never engaged with us at all. In fact, I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t even reading what we wrote. I started writing questions to him in my posts, and he never answered them. Goshgolly, that guy was lazy as hell. There were 20 of us in the class. The discussion board counted “as participation” and he provided no rubric or way of measuring our level of participation (even though the class was about Assessment. I shit you not). Every week he had a different requirement. Post once, respond twice. Post twice, respond five times the next week. Post once when the spring vernal equinox moon rises, and respond seven and half times when the Leo rises into the second house of Virgo. Don’t @ me about astrology, just roll with my point. Most discussion board assignments are bullshit. Busy work. Something that mirrors “attendance” but betrays the true potential of asynchronous collaboration.
Anyways, these two Best Practices changed the way I used discussion boards in my class from there. But can I tell you for sure whether I think discussion boards are a best practice? As the French say, Ça depend.
After I reflected on my experience as a student, I thought a bit more about “Best Practices,” you know, as a phrase. As A Thing.
What are the best practices of teaching online? Nobody really knows. Really smart people are doing research and trying to sort it all out, but we really don’t know. We’re working on it. Truly. I work on it everyday. I think I’ve got some good ideas that may help people that I’d call a Best Practice until we learn that it sucks or that nobody is using it. Lately, I’ve been thinking about PowerPoint slides as “teaching manuals.” Like, what if we use the notes in PowerPoint slides to sneak in tips on teaching strategies? I never used PowerPoints as a teacher, but I love writing them from already existing materials. I love the idea of a new scared teacher reading my one-two sentences of advice and thinking it’s a good idea she can make better. We’ll see.
We’re certainly not prepared for this moment. For These Uncertain Times. That phrase is like we’re living in a fucking Jane Austen novel instead of a nightmare bred of late capitalism and greed.
We’re not really sure about a lot of things right now. I’m not really sure of a lot of things right now.
I spend a fair amount of time preparing materials for online teaching, hybrid, and face-to-face for disciplines I don’t teach. It’s truly extraordinary. I feel so lucky.
If we gain one thing from this moment, I hope it’s this.
People are seeing things they used to be able to ignore. Folks with tenure feel precarity. Folks are reading emails from their technologists and asking them for help. How much time it takes to move a class online. To teach a class. To homeschool a child.
People seem to see abstract concepts like Time. Labor. The Poor.
Will anything change as a result of what we’re learning now?
Ça Depend. I have to have to hope that we will learn. That’s my personal best practice. That’s my best idea. To learn. To practice.
For now, I’ll leave you with another quote from MacFarlane, that word wizard:
Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lost, and that which we love and wish to save.
This week I spent my morning writing time working on the second chapter of my book, “On and Off The Trail.” I’ve decided to ditch Medium after learning there is a paywall, and I’m not actually down with (wait for it) the medium. The paywall doesn’t offend me insomuch as the whole experience of the app, the repetition of the articles that I see once I’ve read a few articles, and the formulaic algorithm of showing me the same authors. It feels a bit like a hipster’s coffee shop: aesthetically pleasing but devoid of real character with sub-par coffee and horrible service.
I’m also happy to pay to support platforms because I know nothing is free in this world we live in today. Even if my novel-like-collection-of-essays was freely available, somebody somewhere would have to pay for the medium with which I share my work. If you don’t know that or if you don’t quite understand this, and you still have a paycheck in today’s economy, I would suggest spending some of that shelter-in-place time reading up on what it takes to sustain something that is freely available.
I can sum up it up for you in one question. I can trace it back to the primary question you need to ask: Who supports the supporters?
Today I’m going to use a bit of the paycheck I’m so fucking lucky to have right now to support WordPress and create a new domain for a book that I’m not sure I’ll ever publish. Sure, you might say, you can always self-publish. True. So true. I’m just not in love with the idea of sacrificing the trees to print the paper of a self-published book. I like the idea of a bookstore with employees who make a nice little life selling books. Maybe someday. And why bother with an eBook when I have this space?
Ah, yes, I hear some of you saying, “Doesn’t what you do for a living make the book obsolete?” This is my favorite accusation, by the way. It exposes all ye who fear the digital space.
No, it doesn’t.
I believe in books. I love books. In fact, I wish people read more books, so that maybe we’d have a president who is a book nerd and not a fucked up reality television star. I’d love it if people gave up an hour of watching The Idiot Box to read. What I don’t believe in is a greedy market that doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether students are actually learning or not because of ridiculous words like “tradition” and “big publisher” and “departmental decision” and “district-wide votes.” Even the phrase “academic freedom” is deeply troubling to me these days.
Quick quiz. Ready? Let’s play is it 2012 or 2020. Ready?
In 2012/2020 it is a common practice for a faculty member to not log-in to an online class more than once a week.
In 2012/2020 you can find a faculty member who uses a publisher’s platform to automate all the grading of their assessments.
In 2012/2020, a faculty member may not log-in to a class until Week 3 of an eight week class and will not get fired. In fact, she’ll get hired back the following term.
How did you do? Answer all three 2020 because you’re empathetic that faculty are really struggling right now with life and its woes because of This World? Good for you. Truly lovely. I applaud you for seeing the good in the world. You’re amazing.
But you’re wrong.
This is was my common experience in 2012 when I was an LMS Admin. These are the things I wish I could unlearn about education. If you think this current moment is the start of problems with education, then I invite you to spend a bit of that time of yours reading.
And still be empathetic towards the good faculty of 2020. I’ve cited the practice of a minority who should not be employed as teachers. There are so many–so many–who are doing amazing work in horrible times.
One of these teachers said to me this week: My job feels like it has doubled.
I have a well-deep reservoir of anger for people who are continuing to parse words like “remote” and “online” and “distance” and “correspondence” when everyone should be using that energy to figure out how best to help these students. This generation of students where a global pandemic and economic collapse has disrupted their lives. Their dreams. Their everyday lives.
Now is not the time for semantic debates, my dear ones. You’ll have time to write those papers another time. I hope. Take note of the unemployment rates and be thankful. Feel free to laugh here, but I am truly working on not being so snarky.
Now is the time is to sort how you can make sure that students see the value in lifelong education. Lifelong learning is really ma jam, y’all. With a college education. In a structured learning environment in a world that lacks very little structure right now. Whatever it takes.
This is the cultural moment to see education as a very simple survival tactic–a way of seeing learning as hope. A way of seeing education as caring. Kindness.
Whether it’s remote, on paper, by phone, at a distance, by correspondence, by television, or by any means necessary. I have to see hope in this moment.
Deep breath. I don’t want to talk about this today, and I am trying to practice patience and kindness towards people in crisis, but y’all, if you didn’t already know that education is in crisis, you better fucking ask somebody.
In the meantime, read my book!
Why not? [steps off soapbox, waves arm like a magician, flashes a smile, invokes marketing voice]
This week I also finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and I have to admit, she’s not really my cup of tea, but I find her work fascinating because she has pissed off so many women and scored herself one of the most badass football players–athletes–in modern history–as her partner. I think this is her best book yet, and I feel such empathy and sadness for people who are not getting celebrate new books, concerts, arts, and all the magical things of society right now.
I have to admit that I really like her conversational style of writing, and her fuck-you-I-don’t-care-if-you-like-this attitude. Her writing about sobriety resonates with me at times up until the point she starts to talk about motherhood.
Here’s a quote from her that I love and it made me laugh so hard this week.
She’s on Oprah’s couch, at the the alter of Harpo Industries that can make you a best-seller for the rest of your life, and she’s being asked about something that she wrote that she no longer believes. A lie that she told herself to survive. A position that she has left behind because she realized she was wrong and got smarter. I respect that in a person. I love when people live with mistakes, admit, and talk about what they learned. It’s brave. When Oprah asked her to go into detail about something she wrote and no longer believes, she said something I wish I had made up.
I especially respect somebody who has the quick with to say:
“I think this sort of thing is why Jesus only wrote in sand” (p.92).
Ten months ago, I wrote this pretentious somewhat overwrought blurb for the book that I was going to write. Ten months later, I have a draft with some reasonable heft, and nine chapters. So here goes.
The first assignment of this little writing group I joined was to write an author bio and the blurb for our book. The author bio wasn’t that hard because I’ve had to do that from time to time for the jobby job.
Author Bio, yo.
Alyson Indrunas is an Executive Director at Lumen Learning, an educational technology company based in Portland, Oregon. She holds an M.A. in English Studies and an M.Ed. from Western Washington University. Her scholarly interests are in educational technology, professional development, open education, instructional design, and leadership. When she’s not traveling to speak about affordable courseware, she volunteers to inspire girls and women to get into mountain bike and cyclocross racing. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Okay, none of that shizz has really change except for the travel part. I mean, before we started using phrases like “social distancing” and “vectors” on a daily basis, I had already stopped travelling for a living. In fact, before the economy broke and life as we know it, I was going to celebrate the joy of not travelling for work for the first time in over a decade. Everything else is the same. Although the bike advocacy is also paused. And I don’t really live in Bellingham since I don’t leave my ski chalet because I’m sheltering in place. But you know what I mean.
What about the blurb? Hee hee. So cute. Here it is!
Using the framework of a backpacker’s Ten Essentials, Alyson Indrunas explores the inner-landscape of self-discovery in this coming-of-age memoir. She discovered back-packing and hiking as a young adult, and found herself on the trail. Readers who are interested in the joys of backpacking will learn from her life’s mistakes on and off the trail. Using the advice of the Mountaineer’s Ten Essentials, she crafts a story about being a self-contained unit on the trail while trying to live without a map. Written for both avid backpackers and memoir fans alike, Don’t Tell Your Grandmother You’re Living In The Woods: A Memoir guides readers cairn-by-cairn through one woman’s self-discovery of finding her purpose.
Okay, so the only thing that’s different is the title. I’m not sure what the title is, but it’s not the one I made up in my blurbage. The assignment was to also address where your book might sell and who your audience might be, and let me tell you, I am just not sure.
I don’t want to start another blog, and I don’t want to post it here. I joined Medium for some MOOC-like thing awhile back, so I decided to fire it back up. Why not? It’s kind of a weird (wait for it) medium because almost every article starts with a number or the word How. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. How I Learn To Love The Bomb, etc. Ten Ways To Ask Yourself: Am I An Alcoholic? How To Be More Productive On A Dog Walk. That kind of thing. (LOL!) But I do love the cleanness of it. I changed the ol’ mugshot and the author bio, and it’s on. Woohoo!
So check it out if you like. Let me know what you think. What sucks? What did I miss? Where are the holes in the story? What left you wanting more? What did you like?
I’m sure there are edits–both conceptual and technical–that I still need to make, and I’m not 100% sure if there is an arc with the appropriate tension, but I loved writing this story. I loved revising it. Everything about the process, I loved. Including clicking publish here.
I’ll publish Chapter 2 next Saturday. Or as time feels right now, five years from today.
I wish you health and happiness, readers. Stay home and get creative. It helps.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no room for fear, we speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. ~Toni Morrison
For some reason, I’m feeling incredibly motivated to write ALL THE THINGS. I’ve been working on a tiny project at work that I’m going to finish today, and this weekend I’m going to return to my book. I haven’t had the headspace to return to those words since I watched The Orange Halfwit snark about my governor. Feels like 100 years ago, but it was really just three weeks.
I’m not hopping on the braggy train that I’m so productive here, but I do see this writing of mine as a coping mechanism. I’m having a hard time focusing just like everyone else, and I’ve never felt so exhausted.
Last night during a volunteer meeting, I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. I’m pretty sure I sounded bitchier than I intended, and I know for sure, I looked terrible on the screen. I excused myself early because all I wanted to do was go to sleep, and you know, it was like 7:50pm. We got the things done that I needed to participate in, but I realize now more than ever, I’m at capacity. I need to shed a few things in my personal life to make the space for my work (as in my job that I’m so grateful for), my writing, and my little family. I don’t want to leave anyone hanging, but I’ve been walking–no slack-lining–with a very full glass trying to keep all the liquid from spilling over for quite some time. This feeling of being at capacity–I simply can’t do it anymore.
This phrase we hear so much right now. When I looked it up, this was the definition I needed:
When we combine this word with the preposition “at”–we’re given a location. A place. When you combine the two, you’re at a location of an individual’s mental or physical ability. At capacity. I’m at capacity. And I have been this way for quite some time.
So I’m going to dial it back. At least for the next three days or until I can control what is happening in my life. So much is unknown. Uncertain. Undecided.
At capacity is still a location yet to be seen.
Here are a few solutions that I’m going to work with today and this weekend. First, I’m going to take Queen Toni M’s advice in the epigraph above. Note that she says civilizations in the plural sense. There are many civilizations to heal right now, but I can only work on this little one right now, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write, I’m going to finish a baby blanket for a friend, and I’m going to write a little publishing plan for my book. I’m going support my Mister with his little project of creating the Perfect Pain Cave (our indoor cycling studio) and his guitar lessons.
I might change my mind, but this morning, while it’s quiet, here’s my plan.
I’m going to publish a chapter of my book each Saturday. I’ll invite folks to comment, I’ll block trolls, and I’ll give myself a little goal to share what I have so far. My little backpacker book is in the developmental edit phase as they say in the business of crafting words. Technically, I need somebody else to help me, but I also feel this need to publish it in some way. So that’s what I’m gonna do. Each Sunday-Friday, I’ll edit it. Saturday morning, I’ll polish and click publish by noon.
When This is all said and done, I’ll try to the book proposal route, but for now, this is the capacity that I have for this book. This is the capacity that I have for these words. I need to click publish and move on to my next book.
Wanna hear a sentence I wrote in 2009 that clangs like a one-ton bell for me, right now? Wanna hear the thing I’m ready to return to? What I feel like I have the capacity for after all these years. What I want to write about next?
The culture depends on the sensitivity of a few, because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first. ~Glennon Doyle
Yesterday I spent some energy trying to help a few people because I’m still employed. The inner-service worker in me who likes to tip well feels the pain of many right now. I ordered books from a bookstore and the owner of the store delivered them to my house. I paid for housecleaning that I’ll never use from a writer friend who has suddenly lost her income while people shelter in place. People are living with the reality of no longer being considered “an essential service.” Her tears of gratitude were almost too much for me to bare. I ordered lunch from a restaurant and told them to donate the food to somebody or keep the money. My company’s leadership has been so generous to us that I feel compelled to share what I can.
After work yesterday, my dog scratched at the garage door while I tried a new yoga app, who is offering their courses for free. A gesture by many businesses that will win my business forever if I like the product. Target tho? You’re dead to me. I mean, didn’t we watch the captains of industry tell us they were united with their customers? Such bullshit as they all took turns shaking hands. No words.
Back to my pupper. My little guy woke up from a nap and couldn’t find me. As I tried to do Warrior pose (shit, I’ve lost some flexibility, very alarming), I could hear him sniffing at the door, so I walked over and let him in. He likes my yoga mat, so he laid down on it. Dog down. So I paused the class and I laid on the floor with my little elderly dog. I laid there petting him. We breathed together.
Also during the work hours yesterday, I waved from my office window at my elderly neighbor as she walked to get her mail. My friends sent me funny things from the internet, and my coworkers continued to slay me with their thoughts and Interwebz funnies. I helped write a letter to my mayor and the city council. I stared out the window at a trail I no longer feel is safe to walk because it’s not six feet wide. I learned that somebody I know has a father who has tested positive. I exchanged hilarious jokes with my nurse friend whom I have recently reconnected with after almost a year of not talking. We were once fierce friends. Sisters.
These days are strange yet oddly the same for me. I’m lucky and grateful.
Life indeed goes on even when things are terrifying, unknown, and constantly changing. My Mister reminded me that we’re not built to be in constant fight-or-flight, so it’s no wonder I’m so tired. That I don’t feel that great. And I have to work on forgiving the people who went to bars, the beach, and to the safe illusion that this is life and spring break as usual. That there are assholes in the world who thought a “Corona Party” was a good idea. My anger at them does me no good. My rage at the monstrously inept president who cares more about the stock market and his Twitter statistics than human lives does me no good. My frustration with educators who want to split hairs about whether we are teaching “online” or “remote” or “whatever academic term here” feels meaningless. But they’re academics, and that’s what academics like to do. They name and define things. So I’ve limited my Twitter exposure to twenty minutes a day. It’s helping.
We’re in a crisis moment. This is a crisis where everyone retreats to what is comfortable and safe to take a break from the fight-or-flight. All you can do is your best.
So I’ll do the same here. I’ll give a bit more advice about working from home. A few of you shared that it was helpful to you.
So here goes.
One Hot Tip of Something to Avoid: Don’t fall into “I’ll Just Do X Real Quick” in between meetings. Believe me, it can be so tempting to do dishes, laundry, cut the grass, whatever in between work meetings and deadlines. It can feel good to multi-task, but really what you’re doing is taxing your work brain more than you need to right now. The thing is, you can’t do those things “real quick” and they eat up time in your day. Save those for the after-work-hours. Your before work hours are booked, right? I talked about this in my last post. Again, for those of you with children, I don’t have advice, but I do know many people are struggling with this new reality of the workplace.
One Hot Tip of Something Nice: Put something on your desk that makes you happy. I bought this little Buddha during a time when I leading faculty through an LMS transition which is like a vacation compared to this new reality we’re living. Good times! I stared at this Buddha when faculty called with their Strong Opinions About Canvas and during acute times of their stress. I like this fat little Buddha. And that’s a tiny purple flower from my yard that the deer didn’t eat. Those bastards. And that Ikea light just hits a nice glow at the corner of my desk.
Create a little work nest shrine.
Question: “How do you separate the end of the workday when you’re at home all day? How do you stop working?”
Most people have a commute that services this space, and that time which provides a buffer between your work life and home life. That space is suddenly gone. And for many of you who are also faced with homeschooling your children while your spouse is at home as well, that space has evaporated and collapsed. I may not have good advice for parents here, but I can address the worker in you. And may all the gods–old and new–bless you.
Here’s how you end the day: Create a ritual.
Something you do at the end of each day to signify that you’re ending work and you’re transitioning to your home life. Which is like every hour these days, but if you’ve gotten dressed for work you can make the transition from hard pants to soft pants as my friend Andrea likes to say. (That always makes me laugh, by the way). Maybe you’re treating yourself by working in soft pants all day, so that’s cool, but do change something you’re wearing. Mr. Rogers had it right. You need a small way to tell your body: Work is done.
Write a short note to yourself: Write what you accomplished, what you need to do tomorrow, and write a list of things you want to accomplish this week. Everyday.
Check your calendar for the next day while you do this, so you can be realistic. One of my colleagues shared that she uses a little white board to make a list. Some people use post-it notes. I use a work journal and I write by hand. There are more digital tools that you can shake a stick at, so you do you, but find something and do it everyday. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes and it shouldn’t feel like work. And you should feel completely okay if you don’t meet any of those goals. This is small-scale change management. Very local.
Move Your Body: Go for a walk, exercise, move. Put some music on and dance. I like to play this song when it’s time to feed my dog. Maybe take a pause and watch this lovely moment of beautiful men in beautiful places. Why not? My dog knows this song means food and treats! Fuck yes!
It might be super tempting to hop into happy hour or start making dinner, but I recommend moving your body in some way first. Then do happy hour and the dinner. Do yoga with your cat. Walk your dog. Try a meditation class. Do something. Clean your bathtub. Run the vacuum. Something for at least 30 minutes. A friend of mine introduced her son to some 90s hiphop and recorded him dancing and then shared it on Instagram. Legend. Be silly with somebody you love. You have to move your body to process all the feelings that are just too much right now. This I know because I failed at this last week.
When To Call It: Many of you have been on a strict 8-5 schedule for years, and you’re now entering into the world of Flex-time, which I’ve had most of my career. Welcome! It’s amazing, on the one hand, because you can be flexible (see what I did) with how you spend your hours. It’s awful, on the other hand, because you can work all the time. All the time.
And believe me, I know this space. I am the Queen of Work All The Time Land. Especially in moments of trauma, work can be a solace. These are not normal times, so don’t fall into this comfort zone of being productive. Take a moment to connect with a friend. Call them. Post fun photos of times that were merrier in your life. Do something creative.
But you have to call it. You have to call it, friend. You have to call it.
Do you know this reference?
If not, you need to watch No Country for Old Men. And there you go, you have a movie recommendation for tonight too. Ah, but if you want a real treat, read the book first.
Let me leave you with a bit of Cormac McCarthy genius:
“I think sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all.“
Today is my husband’s 50th birthday, and like many of you, we are mourning our big plans. He’s not a let’s-have-a-big-party-kind-of-guy, but we do like small gatherings of people. We like restaurants and coffee shops. We love libraries and bookstores. I had purchased tickets to go see Supercross at Qwest Field in Seattle because he loves dirt bikes, and I love the pure spectacle of hanging out with people who are so different from me. We always play a game to find the drunkest girl and guy at Supercross. We play “Who’s not gonna make it to see the 450 Main?” It’s a blast. I usually find my winner in the ladies bathroom during the last chance qualifier.
I love singing the national anthem and singing “God Bless America” with people I have nothing in common with once a year. I know all the words to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and the first Supercross where I belted out those lyrics, my Mister looked at me like I had turned into a new person, “How the actual fuck do you know that song?” he asked.
I lived in Georgia for nine years, y’all! I replied in my Southern Girl accent.
I was going to celebrate Seattle, a city I love, because I like to see the good in things. I love a good time. I can hold contradictions. I can hold complicated truths. I can forgive most horrifying things, but this president of mine, I will never forgive. And all the monsters who cling to the evil. And all of the people who are not taking this seriously.
But. Not. This. Now.
One more thing about Supercross.
I once went to Supercross race after an educational leadership workshop where we talked about “Body Wisdom,” authentic assessments, and embodied knowledge. I made a strategic plan to scale faculty professional development system-wide that would be openly-licensed. Two hours later I was howling with the Monster Girls wearing leather mini-skirts aiming flame throwers at the crowd. Wooohoooo!
But let’s pause from all this. My cup of rage, anxiety, and sadness overfloweths, so let me sip from a little flute of bubbly happiness. Fizzy pop style since I broke up with champagne.
A big birthday is here. For my best friend!
What am I going to do while we shelter-in-place?
I’m going to bake him a cake, put on my wedding dress, and I’m going to read him this list below. I’m going to do my hair (for the first time in two weeks), put on jewelry, and get a little fucking fancy with some bracelets that I don’t wear that often. Put on some bitching shoes because that’s make The Gurl. And I’m going make his fucking special day happy, bitches.
A friend of mine who just celebrated her anniversary and the Persian New Year put on her wedding dress and made a cake for her husband in Morocco. Inspiration and connection that I witnessed via Instagram. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday a few years ago by going on a trip to Morocco and landed a musician love, and he has a smile that makes me think I’d love him. I hope to dance with Idris someday.
I’m going to share the fifty things I love about my Mister because it made me laugh to type this up.
And maybe you need a laugh.
These little bits of humor feel a bit like violins on the Titanic, but I need to find the life rafts. I need hope.
So I’m going to laugh. And I am going to write. And I’m going to have fun wearing that special little black dress.
1. I love that you read books that are way more complicated than the ones I read these days, and that you know more about modern day Feminisms than I do because it all exhausts me. I gave up on Theory with a capital T years ago, and I love it when you say, “What would Baudrillard say?”
2. I love the way you say, at least once a day, everyday, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” when I ask if you want a coffee or more mustard on your sandwich or if you have laundry that I can add to my load or if you want to go on a dog walk (before this).
4. I love that you have written most of my best sentences and titles, and that you always see my success as our success.
5. I love that you helped me see that I really needed to stop drinking by telling me that you loved me and that you were worried about my health. You were so patient with me for so long, friend. [We’ll cheers a glass of fizzy water here].
6. I love how you always one up me with dirty jokes. Always. Your back of the house restaurant humor always slays me. To this day. There have been many times you’ve had to explain some things which makes you laugh harder.
7. I love how you’ll relay all the horrors of America from the things you read online, in academic journals, and blogs. And that you never know most of the Interwebz humor that I swim in each day. I’m the meme-by-the-moment-laptop living with the slow-contemplative-typewriter.
8. I love all your stories of being a young punk rocker where one of your friends spray painted “Eat The Rich” on the Memorial Bridge that spans the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You asked me to marry you in the park just below this bridge because you knew it would always be there. That place. Prescott Park. Nobody is going to tear it down to build a Starbucks.
Your memoir of that era is something we’ll all need After This. After This. And I want you to write it. I can’t be the only person who knows the story of you talking to a detention officer about your “Suicidal Tendencies.” Other people need to hear how you went to your room, got an album, and tried to show the Reagan Era Tough Love Talker, that it was just a band. Just a band. You were drawing the logo of the band not crying for help.
9. I love how your taste in music is on point, and how you always make fun of mine. And I love our stereo in our dream van. It’s what we’ve always dreamed and loud as fuck. Maybe we can go to the driveway later and sit in it for awhile. Hot date!
10. I love how you handled our trip to see our parents this spring. It was not an easy trip for you to see your family, and en route to see mine, you got to witness my fear of cockroaches as we sat along the Savannah River. Holyshit, you said, you were right. I felt seen at that moment, as the kiddies say. Cockroaches are big part of why I live in northern climates.
11. I love that we debated over the lyrics of “London Calling” for hours while camping off the grid, and two days later, when I had forgotten all about it, you did research and pointed out that we were both right. You cited where in the song you were right, and where I had it right.
12. I love how you handled the DNFs that cost you the CX series overall this past season. Really bad luck, man. Just shitty luck. You’re so unlucky in some ways, but really lucky with finding a great woman, amirite? [I’ll say hashtag-humble-brag and he won’t know what the hell I’m talking about here.]
13. I love how you say dirty inside jokes or heckle the crap out of me while I’m racing cyclocross. More than a few women, who don’t me or you, have said, “What was that guy’s deal?” To which, I have to reply, “Oh, him? That’s my husband.” The race where you cheered at me by yelling “Go Sporty Nuts” was most confusing for a few women. That was a quote that sent us over the edge where we had to stop the movie because we were laughing so hard. Mediocre movie with a brilliant quote.
14. I love how you taught me to mountain bike. Like really mountain bike. Not the double-track, gravel road to single track stuff I knew before you. You’ve probably spent two full months of your life standing and waiting for me to catch up to you. Hours.
15. I love that you encouraged me to race and find lady friends who ride bikes. I was super-intimated by those women, and you kept saying, “Every woman I’ve ever know who rides wants to meet more women who rip.” Yes. You were right. So right. Yes.
16. I love that you were totally down with me as a prospect for the future when I was driving a car with a steak knife as the turn signal handle on my steering wheel. The handle had broken off, and I didn’t have a screw driver or money to fix it, so I used a steak knife that I bought at the Goodwill. It worked! You saw me driving that piece of shit car, and you were like, “Her. Yep. That’s the one.”
17. You didn’t laugh at me when I asked you what kind of bike you were riding on one of our first dates. “Cyclocross,” you said, and you explained how it was different than a road bike. One month later, we drove to Gregg’s Bike Shop in Greenlake to purchase my first road bike.
18. You thought it was a great idea to hide the fact that I was living with you from your landlord to save us $100 a month to pay for that road bike.
20. I love how you adore dirt bikes, dirt bike racing, and that entire culture. At the race in Washougal, WA when some dude gave me beer for hiking up Horsepower Hill, you were like “Hell yeah! That’s my woman!” when most men might have been jealous and weird.
21. I love how you’ve taught me words like “Fucko” and “Fuckstick” and “Fuckenay” and “Wicked Pissah.” And that you always remind me that you aren’t a Mainer because you weren’t born there. I’m so glad we were born on the same side of tracks, but whoa, your story was so much harder than mine. So much harder.
22. I love how you consistently point out that I don’t know the difference between tires and wheels. When I say, who really gives a shit, you say, “Words mean things.”
22. I love how forgiving you were when my former boss didn’t hire you back as an adjunct when I quit my administrator job. You were an online teacher, for fuck’s sake, and she didn’t even ask you if you wanted/needed to work from Vermont. She just let you go. Without an email. Nothing. Ah, higher education, but I won’t pick that scab right now. I love you for the way you handled it. I would not have been so gracious.
23. I love how you’re always game to go out to restaurants where “somebody else can cook our food and wash our dishes.” Let’s go! (I wish.) And you always pay the tip in cash in solidarity.
24. I love how you always moan like Homer Simpson when certain foods appear on TV and movies. At home. Never at the theatre.
25. I love how you just finished your dissertation. All these years. You’re almost there. Just one more draft? So much is unknown there, but you can look that 18 year old version of yourself and say that you did it. A week before everything fell apart with the world and life as we know it, you had the focus.
26. I love that you always gun it for the holeshot with style and grace. Snappy muscles. Twitch pedal effort for that first turn. It terrifies me every time, but it’s awesome when you get it.
27. I love you for always asking if “I’m upset about the assholes on Twitter again.” And how you never quite seem to understand but you remind me that I’m getting shit done while they write about it. It helps.
28. I love how you aren’t much of a phone talker, but when I travelled for work and I got homesick, I’d call and ask, “What are you up to?” and you’d say, “Well me and The Cheese (our dog) are Bro-ing down before the hookers get here with the cocaine. Gonna be a long night.”
29. I love how pleased you are with yourself when you post something political on Instagram. It’s your art.
30. I love that you once came home from teaching, and reported that a student asked you this question about your weekend of snowboarding at Mt. Baker: “Did you totally charge the gnar, Mr. Barr?” That Snowbetty gave us a phrase that we’ve used for over a decade.
31. I love that you taught me to snowboard at Whistler. That we both love Beautiful British Columbia.
32. I love that you have said, more than a few times, while we were snowboarding, “I didn’t expect that cliff to be such a drop. I was in the air longer than I anticipated.” You know totally normal.
33. I love that you call me Brah.
34. I love that you call my parents B & B and that my mom writes that on cards now.
35. I love how you can remind me to dial back my forked tongue and pessimism by purring “Duuuuuude” while simultaneously making your eyes huge. Very effective targeted feedback, as we say at my gig.
36. I love how you remind me at least quarterly that “ever since I found educational technology my commitment to the cinema has been questionable at best.” I’ll commit to more movie watching now.
37. I love how you bond with one of my best friends about The Manson Family. And truly, “No sense makes sense” now. And that we agree that Jeremy Davies made the most convincing menacing Charlie for the screen.
38. I love how when I’ve struggled with my job, you’ve been quick to say, “The life of an Instructional Designer is always intense.” And then we usually divert into talking about the Repo Man. I never get sick of it. I’m sad you’re allergic to shrimp, so you know, we can’t eat a plate shrimp together.
39 I love that you call our dog Brah too.
40. I love how you consistently make fun of me when I read fantasy books by asking me if “there is a working class wizard in it.” You are one of the few people that I know who is not a Harry Potter fan.
41. I love how you deal with the shit I hate to do in our household, and when I say thank you, it’s always an opportunity to remind me that I would’ve half-assed it anyway, so you might as well have done it right. Very true.
42. I love how you spend hours. I mean hours upon hours working on bikes. I have lost count how many bikes you’ve built over the years, and it’s really your yoga. A bike mechanic is about to become an essential skill. Truly fucking extraordinary times these days.
43. I love how you you yell “Weak!” when I don’t ride something. When we’re mountain biking there is usually some random person has said to me on various mountains, “I can’t believe how fast he rode that.”
44. I love that when I finally met some of your childhood friends they confirmed your stories. Stephan, in particular, looked me in the eye and said, “Scott was just fearless in a way. He just rode shit that the rest of us thought was crazy.”
45. To quote Jay Z, you wuz who you wuz bfore you got here. My favorite example of remixing, this Danger Mouse. And I loved the day we discovered this record on Capital Hill in Seattle. 100 years ago, it’ seems.
Okay, the last five are just for us.
And I hope these stories made you laugh. I put some links if you didn’t get my references. Some are generational. Some are region-specific. Some may be inappropriate, but damn, that was fun to write. I recommend you do the same. I mean, maybe not the part about rocking your wedding dress, but taking the time to tell somebody why you love them. People are facing extraordinary stress and pressures.
I wish something special for you at your house, and please, stay the fuck home. Even if your dots are as big as the dots where I live, stay home until we know more. Start organizing locally if that’s a skillset. I’ve put some helpful links in my Twitter Bio, but I’m leaving Twitter for a bit. I’m also deleting my Facebook account, so connect with me on other channels. I’m easy to find.
I want to celebrate 51 with a group of friends. And don’t worry, he won’t see this before I read it. He doesn’t read my blog or most of what I put out there.
He told somebody once, “I live pretty close to the first draft.”
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. ~Maya Angelou (emphasis mine)
Yesterday I shared some tips on working remotely with a friend who is about to lead a team for the first time where everyone is sheltering in place. Libraryfolk without their house of books. Without their help desk. Without their students. My heart is breaking in so many ways for them, and my bestie was one of the last people on her campus at the fancy R1 down the street from where I live. Girl, when this is said and done, we’re going to hike all the miles. Do all the things. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of the people I know.
You know those big red dots you’re seeing on the news of the PNW? That’s south of where I live. Where people I love live. The other big red dot covers a state that I love with all my heart (I’m always ya girl, New York). And the giant state south of me, you know, one of the largest economies in the world? Everyone has been told to stay home. Millions of people.
Yet, I have loved ones in other states who don’t believe this is a problem beyond these red dots. I’ve seen social media posts of friends much younger than me on spring break in Florida. I have people in my life who are not taking this seriously. I can hear the train going by a park in my town, Boulevard Park, and the conductor is laying on the horn hourly in ways that indicate people are near the tracks by the beach. I live in a college town, and it’s been sunny and beautiful. I hear that stressed horn warning people of the train, a sound I usually love.
People are not taking this seriously until they have to it seems. The news, to quote Perry Farrell, is just another show. GenX AF, over here. If you’re missing some live music, speaking of Jane’s, give this live version of “Jane Says” a loud listen. According to the stats on this one, 6.6 million have listen to this. One million are mine.
Okay. Where was I? Shit it’s hard to focus. Right. I promised my friend I’d send some resources, so I’m going to lay them here before I get started on my work. Things I said I’d finish first thing.
Tips For Remote Work As The World Changes
None of this might be relevant by the time I hit publish. Perhaps this will all change in a week. But for now. Here’s some advice.
Start Your Day Selfishly: Don’t start your day with checking email and the news. If you used to sip your coffee and scan your inbox and the newspaper before your commute, you have to stop that. You have to create a new routine. You have to give yourself one hour of peace before you face the day. This might mean you have to get up before your kids. I don’t have children, so my advice may sound tone deaf to those of you with littles. Just showing what I know here. I’m using this time to write and drink coffee. It helps. You now have extra time in your day because you’re not commuting in the fucking horror-show of Seattle traffic. Use that time for yourself. Knit. Pet your dog. Listen to music and dance. Do not try to be productive. You’re going to have all day for that. Be thankful you have a job.
Get dressed in relatively-business-casual attire. It helps to not stay in your jams jams all day. On a snow day, this is perfect to do, but this is different. Wear a favorite sweater. Do your hair if that makes you feel better. Be comfortable but fuck all the dress codes. Nobody is going to remember what you looked like this week on the other side of this. They’ll remember that you showed up for others. To work.
Make a little work nest. Take the time to claim a space where you will work. If you live in a small space like I do, that can be hard, but put yourself near a window, the fireplace, or a corner where you feel happy. Ergonomics are going to be hard for a while, but just find that place. I bought my dog a second bed to encourage him to sleep near me, and every morning I tell him it’s time to go upstairs to work, work, work (said like Rhianna). He’s my therapy dog all day long and, if he could talk, he could help you scale affordable courseware like a boss.
Make a list of important things. I keep a work journal and everyday I write what I hope I will accomplish that day. It’s a joke most days, but it helps me prioritize and then I check my calendar. I just bought some colorful pens, and I sometimes doodle when I need a break.
Check in with your priority people. Maybe this is your boss or direct reports. Scan your email for messages from them (ignore everyone else). Answer them. Accept that things are going to change quickly. The higher up the ladder of leadership you are, the more you’re seeing changes that need to happen. We all are.
Heads Down. This is a phrase that my workfolk use when they need to concentrate. And let me tell you, that’s been hard to do. It does help to do something normal like your work tasks, so schedule that time and stick to it. Don’t answer emails or texts and give yourself an hour to focus. Try. It will help. Let people know, if you need to, that “you’re heads down.” Put it on your calendar. It works.
Remote Collaboration. Sometimes it’s better to just pick up the phone and call somebody, but try to give folks a heads up that you’re going to call. They might need to prepare to talk. They might need to ask a spouse to watch the kids.
Use Google Docs when you can, and just know that everything you’ve been planning has changed. Mourn this. I’ve been working on a project to help teachers “flip the classroom” and I loved this project. It was going rock so hard when me and my team got this shizz together. We were just about to light it up, and now there are no classrooms to flip. I’ve had several moments of despair about all of the things I’ve been looking forward to. You’re not alone. My work team? We’re helping where we can. We’re helping where we can.
Snacky McSnackerson. Don’t eat at your work nest. Schedule time to eat. Whatever your schedule was at work, keep that at home. Give yourself some routine that feels normal. Maybe you took lunch every Monday-Friday at noon. Do that. I have lunch at the same time everyday (before all this) and I used to walk my dog with my husband. We’re facing shelter-in-place, so we’re adjusting too. I’m avoiding our normal walking trails because it isn’t six feet wide. I’ve walked these trails for years, and I’m sorting out what this all means. But take the time to eat. Take care of yourselves.
Take Breaks. Seriously. You have to. On a normal remote workday, I take a break by checking Twitter or reading blogs. I usually try to post something during those breaks just to make a connection. Don’t have any social media open while you’re heads down. If you find the Terror Scroll of Twitter/FB too much, then don’t open it. I’ve only broken this code to listen to our governor in the last 48 hours.
Connect With Co-Workers: I usually try to connect with two folks at work on a normal day just to say what’s up. I send cat vids to two of the leaders in my company usually twice a week. Or some meme that makes us laugh. This is acceptable because think of how much you connect with people in real life. Many of you have seen one another everyday Monday-Friday for more than a decade. So this is hard. I still miss people I used to work with some days. Give people this space. Compassion is our greatest currency.
Email Drafts: I write emails and then I give myself a break to make sure it’s what I really want to say. In normal times, I work with really smart people so I like to make sure I’m not a horror-show of broken thoughts and ideas. Review the email, send it, and feel good that you accomplished something. The eFlood was hard before all this. Remember to scan your inbox for important people. Delete the list-servs that aren’t talking about this emergency.
Remote Meetings: JFC, the talk of Zoom. It’s a disaster, but it’s all we’ve got. Have an agenda and put somebody in charge of running the agenda. Do not expect anything from anyone right now in the synchronous space. People with children at home are especially struggling to create boundaries.
Here’s a hot tip for those of you in academia: If the meeting agenda is done in 20 minutes end the meeting hour. Seriously. You can do this now. This is your chance to rewrite traditions. You don’t have to use the entire hour. Really! The only person in your organization who can approve going over the hour is your CEO/President type person. Everybody else needs to acknowledge the time and stick to it. When I made the giant leap from a massive system–the SBCTC–to a small start-up this was the biggest shock of my life. Use those additional 40 minutes to get shit done. Or stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Sing to your dog. Whatever you need.
Share Something Joyful: My coworkers, may all the gods bless them, have me laugh really hard in these dark times.
Okay, my personal hour of writing time is up. I usually read for 30 minutes and write for 30, but I can’t seem to read right now. I’m not even sure how I’m writing.
Know this, dear one, you have to hold space for the people in your life. One of my heroes, Mary Burgess, said this yesterday, and her team is sharing tips on how they’re working remote. BC Campus, your generosity gives me life in normal times. Friends, I adore you.
To Conclude: This is not business as usual. I listened to a short talk by Liz Gilbert, and before you roll your eyes at all the eating, praying, and loving about her writing, give this talk a chance if you are feeling frightened. Anxious. Scared. Terrified.
You’re not alone. This blog post is a version of her letters to fear.
It helped me last night when I broke down because I feel the rug, the floor, and the ground coming out from underneath my feet, and she said those words in my ear. She reminded me I am the product of survivors. I needed those words. Maybe you do too.
And now like Maya Angelou says in the poem above, I rise. I rise. I rise. To meet my promises of “first thing.” I rise.
These ideas are half-baked, from the heart, and written from the perspective of a former teacher. My context is higher-education, mainly community colleges and regional publics, but there are some tips, I hope that apply to all educators.
Number One: Congratulations! You just earned a certificate, no let’s call it a masters degree, in Crisis Management. Your professional development for 2020? Done! And it’s only March. Look at you! You’re an expert in contingency planning, strategic communications, and emergency management. Put that on your CV under SKILLS. If you want a certificate, I’ll make one for you and send it to in the mail. Want an endorsement on LinkedIn? I’m your girl. Think that should be a badge somewhere? I’ll have to sew you one because I haven’t seen a space where digital badges mean anything to anyone other than tech people. But really, cheers to you! I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it’s from a bestie who has been on the front lines (and I hate war-speak) at the big R1 down the street from me. I’m so worried about you, girl, but I love this idea. Like we could go Oprah-style with this. You get certificate! And you get an endorsement! Everybody gets a masters degree!
Here’s the credential: Crisis Management, Expert, Higher Education in 2020.
Number Two: Life is coming at us quick. To use a cliché. You are probably the most exhausted that you’ve ever been. And all you can do is your best. It’s been a “roller coaster” is the phrase I hear over and over again. I’m with you. I can’t sleep. I’ve cried everyday for almost three weeks. I had some personal shit go down before All This, and I really struggle with things I can’t solve. Really struggle. I like to find the workaround. The answers. The easiest way. And these past few weeks, I’ve been faced with problems I can’t solve. All I can do is my best. All I can do is my best.
I’ve said this repeatedly to myself, so I’ll say it to you, dear one.
All you can do is your best.
Number Three: It’s okay to mourn the temporary loss of the modality you love. The students you no longer see. The classroom you no longer have. The best medium you might have with your students right now is email or phone, and I think the best you can do is tell those students why you love to teach your course.
Don’t worry about All The Other Things, just tell your students why love to teach them.
Encourage them to tell you what they liked learning.
If they complain, thank them for sharing. They are most likely going through a lot so you might face a rate your professor type rating in your inbox. Don’t take it personally. You’re doing the best you can. Tell them you care about them. Tell them that being a college student is hard. And it’s harder now.
Number Four: Everything that I did well as a teacher completely died when I switched from being a face-to-face teacher to an online teacher. Everything. I once did a webinar on My Decade of Mistakes, and I said in 2015, “Everything I did well was killed by the online environment.” (It’s on the YouTubes if you want to listen. It might be dated, but I remember loving that presentation).
Let me explain because I eventually fell in love with the digital space, but it wasn’t easy.
And it certainly would not have happened over spring break.
As a teacher, I love to tell jokes, facilitate a debate, and tell stories. Loved it. I could read a room full of students and switch my approach based on their furrowed eyebrows and body language. I scrapped more lesson plans than I could count to “meet students where they were” (as we say). I had my students do presentations to teach one another. Group work. All of that was hard to mimic–impossible at first–in an online class. It took me years to figure it out, and I still miss face-to-face teaching to this day, but I believe in different modalities and their potential for some students.
All you can do is your best.
What you are about to do does not have a playbook, a quick start guide, a one-pager, a pamphlet, or any clear directions on what to do. So let me repeat. We can curate all the best advice (and I’ve done that) but really, all you can do is your best.
I work with general education teachers, so I have some solutions for you if you are interested, but I want you to know that this switching of modalities–this pivot–this–we’re going to call it today–will be hard. But you’re smart. You have so much to offer. You know this is unprecedented, and hey, you just got a fancy new degree in Crisis Management, so you’re killing it. I might be able to make it easier on you. All my channels are open to you.
Number Five: Take care of yourself. It’s been deeply troubling to me that none of my peers in higher education have heard this from their leadership. I’m not blaming anyone here, these are hard times in higher education. Every executive person in my organization has said this to their teams. I’m so fortunate, so let me say this to you.
Take care of yourself.
If you have kids, be there for them just as much as you want to be there for your students. Tell your students that you are homeschooling three children while your spouse tries to figure out how to work remotely for the first time.
Here’s an announcement you can have (CC BY 4.0). Customize it for your life:
Dear students, I want you to know that I care about you, and we’re all going to get through this together. I’ll be working with my children from 8:00am-12:00pm today, and I’ll respond to your questions and emails from 1:00pm-5:00pm. Please help one another right now by responding to one another, and I appreciate your understanding and patience with me learning new technologies. You’re all doing amazing.
Did you note I scheduled you a break? Take it. Stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Talk to your dog. Color with your children, and make sure your spouse takes a break too. If you are alone, and I know there are many of you, respond to me. Find a network. Call somebody you love. Forgive yourself for not achieving typical levels of productivity.
“Productivity” is what we make it right now.
Okay, I need to go to work now. The jobby job awaits. And I’ll close with one more thing. A reminder, dear educator/staff/admin/hourly-employee/adjunct who cares about students: