Photos & A Thousand Words

I’ve been noodling on whether or not to post this, and I’m waking up this morning to the feeling that this post is nothing compared to the everyday challenges I faced as a writing teacher. I’ve been going through old files this week, and I’m reflecting on how much of the students’ lives you see through their writing. I’m often haunted by students from my past that I know didn’t make it because of the harsh realities that most community college students face–so much depends upon which side of the tracks you born on.

Let me tell you a story about a photo.

On the morning that I took the photo that Amanda Coolidge used in her recent keynote, I was sitting in a coffee shop trying to build myself up with the confidence for the day. I had just paid a visit to my parents—people who sacrificed everything to make my life better–it’s always so hard to say goodbye. I was thinking about how they have a difficult time explaining what I do, and to be honest, I struggle to describe this work to people outside of higher education. The jargon of higher education isn’t always easy when you are a first-generation college graduate. Our story is hard to share. 

The day before I took this photo I spent 8 hours in a vendor hall right across a publisher doing focus groups. In the vendor hall, employees of other companies used the language and the research of my colleagues, and they gave Starbucks card after Starbucks card to faculty who shared their opinions about their new pricing structure. Their new day one access. Their new concern for students who could not afford their textbooks.  

Another company a row over was doing similar work, using the same dialogue, and they were angering faculty. It was one of those conferences where they have a passport for a raffle, and every twenty or so minutes, somebody would come up to me with strong opinions using the phrase “You People.” Everyone feels better after they say this phrase. It’s my job to stand there and listen to the outrage. I wasn’t the only table who heard these comments. You People. You People.

Prior to this work I do, I never went to the vendor hall as a faulty member, except, that is, for the “free drinks and food” (paid for by the companies who sponsored the conference, mind you). I avoided eye contact with the sales people, and I never in a million years would have shared my opinions and outrage. I saw them as people who needed to pay their bills. Just like me. Just like me when I was a bartender, a cocktail waitress, cashier, or an adjunct. Just like me in a capitalistic society where nothing is free. I thought it more polite to be quiet, and nibble on my cheese and crackers and talk with my friends. I thought it more effective to organize and do work that undermines their business model. I thought it more effective to help students and faculty the best way that I could. Sharing my strong opinions with them felt like talking into the wind. You People. You People.

That day, the day of the chalkboard photo, it was my job to be in the vendor hall, and I was honestly thrilled to talk with most faculty and administrators. I get to meet a lot of cool people even if this isn’t my favorite venue to do so. In that space, however, I represent the work so many wonderful people who truly care about students. People who care about adjuncts. Teaching. Learning. During the vendor hall gigs, I will gladly sup on a good sauce of spicy campus politics with you. Dish it up! I’m listening. I’ll take an extra side of faculty rage at administrators (and vice versa), please. Give me a dessert of innovative policy topped with administrative creativity, and I’m in heaven. Share a side of adjunct woes, and data-driven work that helps their labor conditions? I’m in love. I’m all ears. Tell me how the shit gets done to help students and teachers, and I’m yours (academic terminology emphasis, mine).

In the best case scenario, this work is pure joy. In the worst case scenario, it’s like bartending, and you are stuck behind the table and have to serve everyone and listen to everything. You People. You People.

That photo that Amanda remixed was taken on a day where I roamed the streets after work searching for part of my youth that no longer exists. Atlanta, like most cities, has been revised and remixed into a more sanitized version of what it once was. Whole neighborhoods were displaced for the 1996 Olympics. Many spots around the downtown area that I remember as a teenager are gone.

What I remember as “home” does not exist. Although truthfully, I never felt like I belonged there, and towards the end of my teenage years I counted the minutes until I could leave that city. It never felt like home to me.

The only place that looked familiar was underground. Five Points Marta Station.
attribution

Quick digression: Have you see those last twenty minutes of “The Deuce” where Vincent walks the streets of modern day Times Square? That’s perhaps one of the most brilliant twenty minutes of the prestige shows on HBO, by the way (paraphrasing my Mister). I got weepy when Paul, the bartender/bath house owner, who asks the best question of the show summarizing the challenges of gentrification: Where will The People live? (Looking at you, Seattle).

Where was I? Oh, right. Feeling seen, as it’s popular to say these days. And Amanda’s amazing keynote. Like Amanda, I’ve struggled to belong. Still. Always. Her story, albeit incredibly different than my own, resonated with me. The Where I’m From Question isn’t easy. Explaining What I Do For A Living can be even harder.

In the talk where I co-presented at this same conference, I said, for some of you, I represent the villain in this work, and I know I will never win you over, and that’s fine. A few years ago, a wise sage shared with me that this work is A Big Tent, and I didn’t quite know what that meant then because I only knew my work, my people, my community. I was pretty naive, honestly. I’ve learned a lot since then. This work, I have learned, is indeed A Big Tent, and I think there is room for a lot of ideas. You may not—and that’s fine too— I’ll adopt the quote that helped me that last week in October from my colleague: You do you, Boo. 

I wanted to present on this topic because I was asked by a dear friend whom I respect and love dearly to join her. Some of my best conversations about teaching are with her! When she shared that she didn’t want to do this talk alone, I wanted to support that vulnerability. That’s what we do in my corner of the tent, mind you, we support one another when we’re vulnerable. And let me tell you, I have felt more vulnerable in 2019 than any year of my life (a story for another time). I felt honored that somebody I respect asked me to present with her—back in April, mind you. I felt like I could support her ideas and share my mistakes. Wholeheartedly. Authentically. And I could learn some new ideas to build on some old ideas.

I presented not to people who knew any of the insider baseball or to those who openly criticize the work that I do. I was there to reach people who are new to this so that they could learn from my mistakes. Just as I have learned from others. 

I don’t remember all of what I said, and as people kept trying to walk into the door, and I looked around at several people in the room who are my heroes, research citations in old papers, friends, collaborators, colleagues, strangers, my boss. I overshared. I said things I wished I hadn’t. I kept a smile on my face. I felt joy listening to my friend talk about this really good idea. This really good idea. For You People. For me. For Everyone. 

What did I hope to get across? I wanted to share that this work is not sustained by rage and anger though it was the flint that started the fire for me. I’ve learned over time that it cannot sustain the passion for my work. I need a short list of things. Hope. Positivity. Joy. Kindness. Heroes are people. Villains are people. Victims are people. I highly recommend that you read the article, that is, if you are one of the lucky few with access to this database. I had to read a shared copy because I do not have access to these journal databases.

A few people on Twitter—that pretty hate machine—shared that they need that anger in response to what was shared about my talk. And I get that. I’ll stand by that bonfire as your guest from to time to time. I get it.

What are the origins of my anger? In the talk, I admitted my deep class resentments (why was I born on this side of the tracks and not you?), my shame of debt we carry for our educations (how else could we have done it?), and the horror of burning out as an adjunct teacher (I loved teaching but those labor conditions crushed my soul). 

The spectre of the imposter syndrome rose up next to me about the doctorate that I thought I’d have by now while standing in front of people who have that D and R in front of their names.  

All of those feelings came from a deep dark place that I’m trying to forget. Trying to forgive. Trying to accept. Trying. 

I used to lift my fist to the heavens shouting “may the bridges we burn light the way” and I loved snarking and sassing my way to some sort of leadership style. Those wishful fires dim the more I learn from faculty who feel deeply frustrated by their current choices. Their current work conditions. Their current state of teaching. The current state of learning.

I shared that one leader advised me that we do this work “one coffin at a time” and I loved that quote for many years. Loved it. Some people in the room knew exactly who said this to me and laughed. Others looked horrified. Others learned a new quote that they will take back to their corner of the tent. 

Almost ten years later, those people (You People) are still alive. Those that retired have come back as adjuncts. The coffins are empty. This work has not grown in those places. But I’m hopeful.

Rage and anger? The flint that started the fire for me. Truly. Those flames dim over time as I walked from workshops with teachers who love their students but have to use materials and outcomes mandated by the accreditation process. On the way to my rental car, I pass by community college students who are clearly living out their cars. The rage and anger does not disappear, it’s just not the emotion that can sustain my work. For me. 

Rage and anger is not how I can start my day. Everyday. As I try to consult with administrators who believe in The Commons yet receive 3% of their budget from the state. As I try to help a leader who has left this work to facilitate a food pantries for students. As I try to help a lead who is no longer supported by her institution to do this work.  

Over time, as I have had the privilege to visit over a 100 colleges and attend many conferences in 18 states to speak about this work, I have found that I can’t walk into a room full of curious people and tell people to “burn it all down” because that doesn’t work. I have the privilege of getting on a plane and going someplace else. Whereas the people I work with have to stay there. They need solutions, ideas, support, and empathy.  

I have since openly-licensed the photo I took because I meant to do it before her talk, and I forgot. It’s done now. Ready for the reuse.

This is the story I wanted to tell you about a photo.

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The Red Pencil

“Always allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind” ~Maria Popova

In a creative writing class, a teacher once told us a story about Raymond Carver who was a legend for reading his published works with a red pencil in his hand. He’d revise his published hard-bound work in front of a live audience.

The words, she said, are never perfect.

Instead of feeling inspired by that anecdote, I remember feeling endless despair. I put my hands to my head and caught the scent of the bleached bar rag from the waitress shift I had just completed. I wondered if I was making a colossal mistake with my life. I remember trying to stop myself from crying because my teacher was this incredible strong feminist. My self-debt glowed like a heat lamp in my chest. Tears gathered, but I could not look weak in front a teacher I was trying to impress. Those women did not cry.

The idea that you’d never be happy with what you wrote—that a great wordsmith and master of scenes like Carver was never pleased–was not what I needed to hear as a student. Fuck, I thought, how will I ever be happy with what I’m producing? I reread sentences of his that I loved from “Cathedral” searching for areas of that he may have deemed worthy of improvement.

Carver wrote these lines with a red pencil in hand:

In those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God.

You’ve got to work with your mistakes until they look intended. Understand? 

I’m doomed, I thought. We didn’t have that mind-blowing-up-emoji back then, and I could have used it because I was out of words.

Years later, I reread my journal from that era, and I now see something completely different when I imagine him at the lectern with a red pencil in hand reading to a live audience. Carver had it all figured out really, but I wasn’t ready for that image of a professional writer never being satisfied.

Back then, my self-made misery as a young person eventually contributed to what I thought I could be and what I could do. What I wanted to do. To be. 

My teacher was laying down some real wisdom about writing, and I picked up something completely different than what she intended at the time.

And now I’m ready for that message. I pick up that red pencil (although it’s mostly in the digital form) every day.

The words, I know, are never perfect.

P.S. If you attended my preso with my dear friend, Quill West, I want to express gratitude for your willingness to listen to us share our mistakes and thoughts. I will write about this another time, but for now, I need to post my October blog so that I make my self-imposed deadline of monthly bloggy during 2020.

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Striving

“The real risk is not changing. I have to feel like I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.” ~John Coltrane

Last weekend my bike team put on our second annual all women and girls mountain bike race, and I overheard a woman say to her friend, I’ll strive to do better next year.

She smiled, hugged it out with her friend, and rung the cowbell that we gave participants as their finishing medals. She had no idea that I was in earshot, that I am the captain of the team (lucky me), and that I had one of the biggest meltdowns in recent history five months ago with the thought of putting on this race.

I woke up one morning in early June, and I just lost it. I felt really overwhelmed by everything I had going on at the time. My plate felt so full I had a hard time prioritizing my time. I felt like that spinning rainbow circle on your computer screen.

Work-wise I was going through another phase where we hired people to do the work that I enjoyed doing, and I took up residence in Panic Town that I was going to be discovered as a complete useless hack. It’s amazing to help hire people who are way more skilled than you, for the record, and really one of these days, I think I will write about the ups and downs and JoyfulTerror ™ of being part of a growing organization. In short, you have to learn how survive hour to hour. Get used to feeling like a yo-yo. Make yourself useful day by day to whomever may need you. Pretend like you have it all together with most people. Melt down on people you trust. Ignore all feelings that you suck at everything. Thanks for reading the first draft of my TedTalk.

Personal-life-wise: I had said yes to too many things. Gawddammit. Again. How many times do I have to learn this? The volunteer work that I had signed up for felt like I was letting people down all the time, and nothing was going smoothly. I felt like I was a disaster at everything. That Yo-Yo feeling at work that I mentioned above? My personal life felt like a bunch of tangled strings.

Writerly-wise: I just wanted to be left the fuck alone to write. And read. And then write some more. I could feel this story coming together in my mind and I had no time to chase it. No time to think about it because of the Yo-Yo and the Tangled Strings. This lack of time and focus was making me grouchy AF.

That morning when I admitted that I had to focus more on the Yo-Yo so I had to cut some Tangled Strings, I drafted an email to the team stating that I couldn’t help put on this race, and really if it were up to me, I would cancel our plans. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. I typed that email from a super dark place.

Within minutes, maybe even seconds, women on my team responded with phrases like “I can do” and “I can help” and “I’d love to” and “Sign me up for.” As I watched those emails roll in, I realized I should have just asked for help rather than saying that I had to bag out. Saying that I couldn’t do something was easier than asking for help.

Did you catch that?

How many times have I abandoned the hard work of dealing with difficulty because it’s easier to walk away than it is to ask for help? Asking for help means you’re weak. Asking for help means you’re not good enough. Asking for help means you don’t know what you’re doing.

When I overheard that woman say, I’ll strive to do better next year, I felt ten thousand rainbows in my heart. Hearing that declaration also filled me with shame when I thought about how I almost walked away from helping put on this amazing event. I let the rainbows chase away the shame.

I’ll strive to do better next year.

Thank goodness for all of those team mates of mine who said “I can do” and “I can help” and “I’d love to” and “Sign me up for.” That’s really the spirit of teamwork and collaboration. What being a team is all about. Why I volunteer for this hobby job.

What that racer felt is what we’re trying to build with our mission statement. We want more women to race. That racer’s mind was already on next year! What she’ll strive to do. Who she’ll strive to be. Everyone on my bike team believes that racing with other women builds the confidence that we all need in a culture where it is very hard to maintain that feeling. You need those “I can do this” moments to keep your chin up with confidence so you can get through The Yo-Yo Times and The Times of all Tangled Strings.

Racing, I believe, has a spot for every type of woman. You want to be serious a killer who trains year-round? You’re in. You want to wear glitter, dress up in a costume, and compete for the most whiskey shots consumed during the race? You’re in. You want to be solid mid-pack and have fun with your friends? You’re in. You want to race with your daughter? You’re both in.

We can all strive. Together.

Here’s the thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about asking for help and what that means to all the teaching and learning. As I was scrolling through the stream of things on the interwebs, this list of Coltrane quotes came through, and I chose the one for my epigraph because it sums up the rut I was in a few months ago. He captures the real spirit of how I hope to live my life:

It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of strive is 1] to devote serious effort or energy and 2] to struggle in opposition. It’s interesting to me that this word has a history from the French verb estriver meaning “to quarrel” and some synonyms listed are attempt, try, and essay. Sometimes I quarrel with myself as I attempt to try to write an essay.

 I will strive to do better next year.

That statement has inspired me so much. It’s had me glowing for days. I’m so honored that my team helped make this race happen. Want one more favorite story?

One of the junior girls waited for all of her friends to catch up to her on one of the hill climbs. You know, it was a race, and you don’t technically wait for anyone. She didn’t want to ride the rest of the trails without her friends. I thought about how rare it must be to just ride with your little gurlfrens with no adults. It must be rad! How much I love that story. We don’t deserve little girls, this world.

Photo Credit: Kari Bodnarchuk Wright

Speaking of striving–I’m up to almost 20,000 words with my book, and I’m still in awe that I’m doing it. Like I’m really writing a book. It might suck times to Sunday, but I’m doing it. One of my readers told me she thought it was working, and so what did I do to celebrate? Completely panicked and started writing something else. I’ve decided to enter a local call for writing, and focus on a short piece. Just to clear my brain from the positive feedback. The submission calls for 1500 words, so the 5,541 words that I wrote might need some, uh, editing.

This publication accepted my work in 2012, so I might get rejected to make room for a new writer. We’ll see. I love the spirit of community reads program and the events that go along with it. I also loved the book–To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivy–and inhaled it in a weekend. I picked it up first because of her name–Éowyn–she has the name of the character with my second favorite quote in Lord of the Rings: “I am no man!”

Quick Trip To Dork Town:

My all-time favorite Tolkien quote is when Galadriel says:

And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Fucking badass, man. Little Frodo almost greased his shorts when she busted out that feminist edict, right? So great. Elfin feminist rage? Me fucking too, yo.

Okay, I’m clearly losing it. Where was I? Right. Trying to get my monthly post done while trying to make some point. Let me just end it here with another beautiful set of words from The Love Supreme wizard.

One positive thought produces millions of positive vibrations.

Yes.

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As A Writer

This week has been incredibly interesting for me, as a writer. For years, I have to admit, I’ve made fun of the phase “as a writer” because it always sounds so over-the-top. So touchy-feeling. So confident. It’s like giving yourself a title when it’s really up to others to name you. As a writer. You sound a little pretentious. A little like you might stick your little pinky up as you sip your tea. A bit like you take yourself a bit too seriously. If you’ve ever started a sentence with the clause, “Reading this as a writer,” I probably tuned out the rest of what you said in that sentence.

But I’m learning these days that maybe I have it all wrong. As a writer.

I’m learning to think of myself this way, and this week I hit a word count of over 11,000 words on one idea.

Words are becoming my friend instead this avenue of self-despair and pure self-sabotage. These 11,000 words are nothing new. Writing that much isn’t that hard. Give me a rainy morning and fuckton of coffee and watch me go. But these 11,000 words are magic because they are about one focused idea that is all somewhat organized into a story. For the first time, I have a stack of papers that actually has some heft that feels a lot like the makings of a book. About one idea. As a writer.

Two of my favorite bloggers, Kate Bowles and David Wiley, also posted bloggy blogs this week, and I’m still mulling over their finer points. In an ideal world, I’d add to the conversation that they both have started, but in order for me to stay on track with my hobby job project, I want to express my gratitude that they’re putting words out there for me to read. The right words at the right time means so much, that connection of story and thoughts. That’s what keeps me in the blog space. What I still return to Twitter for. Why I scroll through Instagram.

Kate summarized for me in her last post as a reader, the beautiful hard personal question of “Why write?”

Indeed.

I always admire the way that Kate can braid together three threads while presenting another question to consider. A true teacher. As a writer. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I prefer not to.” What those words mean after a day of writing for work. How there are sometimes no words left. As a writer.

And Wiley’s bloggy blog is a history lesson about what is possible and how we get there in blog-essay form. What a word artist. What a teacher. Some days I feel that if Montaigne were alive in the blog era he’d essay it up to answer the question: Que sais-je? As a writer.

Both bloggers are not only teaching, they are writing what they know with an audience. The audience of self. And others who may read. And that’s everything to me.

As a writer.

This past weekend I went to my very first writing retreat with about 12 other people, and I completely dug being a student for a weekend. It was our first meeting after almost three months of purely online interaction. And I’m floating from such a lovely weekend, and extra special love to my friend Tami for cooking me mother fucking delicious dinners, letting me sleep in my van in your driveway, and for the extra time writing on your deck. Magical weekend. As a writer.

During the retreat there was a lot of information about other people’s stories, the physical way that writing helps people work through trauma. And I had an epiphany about “the market” of the type of book I’m trying to write (not that I’ll ever sell it, but whatevs). Here’s why I’ve been filled with despair about this story I want to tell (for years), and how much I’ve struggled with the title “writer” (for years).

Much of what I want to write about will never appeal to a mass market. Here’s why I don’t think I fit into the Oprah-ication of the Memoir Zeitgeist. Quick list.

1] I’ve never had sex with anyone that I didn’t want to.

2] I’ve never been a drug addict,

and 3] my family’s Good People.

Sounds like a fucking country song. You know, life’s kinda worked out for me. I’m not that wounded, and I’m incredibly lucky compared to others. And I suppose I write in that spirit that Monsieur Montaigne intended, only I’d add the work “fuck.” Que sais-je, faaaawwwwk?

Trying to tell a story in the written form requires a lot patience and practice. I said most of these chapters in bars over the years. Or I’ve confessed standing around campfires. But I’m committed to doing this. To writing this book.

I really like the nine-month writing program that I’ve joined (come hell or high water) and I adore the people who are involved, and by golly their stories and motivations are really a joy to hear.  I had the privilege of people really examining my story piece by piece this weekend, and listening to hot mess of words in the mouths of others was so productive to me. I listened to the video of what I said (with mild horror) and how others summarized it this morning, and I loved it. Every minute.

Here’s the thing.

What I struggle with, as a writer, is the genre of confessional memoir. Memoirs are marketed for their drama, trauma, and sad as fuck denouement. I mean, who doesn’t love the last words of person who struggled and lost with suicide. You sick bitches! Who doesn’t a story about how love blows everyone apart? Pass the popcorn! Who doesn’t love a story about somebody’s life falling apart? On pre-order from the bookstore! Who doesn’t love a redemption story about how one recovers from [enter shitty thing that humans do to another here]? Sign me up.

My denouement isn’t that earth shattering. I would like to teach people something. Maybe make them laugh. With me. At me. I don’t care. As a writer.

You know, my little bildungsroman of a young woman compared to the stories of true sadness and horror just doesn’t fit the zeitgeist, man. Fuck it. I’m still going to write it. C’est denouement be damned.

The added writing retreat bonus was I got a peek at how one of these retreats work. Would love love love to teach something like that, y’all. Holyhotdamn. The whole experience reminded of when I taught Saturday classes that met from 9:00-3:20pm. Those were long days of composition classes where the students did online work during the week and then we met face-to-face. The class was specifically for career adults who worked weird shifts, and every single one of my students wanted to be there. Very rare experience as a community college teacher, mind you. I loved that class. That summer the college grounds crew hired a herd of goats to eat up the blackberries on the hillside. My class and I were on Goat Watch all summer. It was awesome.

Also time in a workshop setting without a computer lab was fascinating to me. It’s been ages since I was in a learning environment without a computer, and it was odd to write so much by hand. Analog. I missed my magic machine. Typed like a banshee once I was back to it.

I was asked to repeat “I Stood For” as a writer and I said the following. It was a little touchy-feely, but it was a retreat after all. Totally got with the program.

Here’s how the scribe heard me, and she wrote these words in my journal:

  • I’m telling a story that I’ve wanted to tell
  • A woman who learns about backpacking, so it’s about being a woman, but for anyone
  • Humor
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Teaching others from these mistakes
  • Brave
  • Trying to relate to her through story
  • Taking time to write
  • Taking time to connect with others
  • Trying to do something I’ve always wanted to do
  • Trying to be the writer I’ve always wanted to be
  • Life as a writer
  • Life
  • Time as a writer

So that’s what I’m working on. Why, I don’t know, but it’s something I love doing. Scoping out the entire journey of my narrator is really fun—the narrator is already a bit unreliable there, eh? She has a terrible memory, drank a bit too much at times, and forgets names. Flawed. Imperfect. Becoming.

As Flaubert says about his narrator in Madame Bovary so shall I:

C’est moi. 

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Silence

Let me give you a poem in these last hours of July:

The silence that lies in the grass

on the the underside of each blade

and in the blue space between the stones.

These sweet words of space and color are from Rolf Jacobsen, a poet quoted in a book that I read this month in the backcountry, titled Silence In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge.

Lovely, right?

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Now and Next

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. ~Rick Hanson

Here it is. Month six of my once-a-month-bloggy-goal this year. I must admit that I’m kind of phoning this one in because I’m really exhausted and homesick. The month ends tomorrow, and I need a day without the laptop and the phone so this will be what is. Forgive half-baked thoughts and typos. I’ve been in west Texas for three days, and as much as I love the work I’m doing, I feel so out of place in that part of the country. I miss my dog. My bikes. My walking trails. My snarky husband. Temperatures where human beings can be outside without dying of exposure and extreme dehydration.

So. What to write about during my two-hour layover in the DFW? An airport that somehow consistently smells like a cocktail of cheap perfume, hangover skin, and Panda Express. Give me the honest smells of body odor and Bacardi breath you get at LaGuardia any day.

Most of what I’m writing about in my personal journal I’m not ready to share yet, and it’s Saturday so I want to give the jobby job journal thoughts a rest. I keep two journals, and somebody shared with me that they thought this was a great idea. It’s more to carry when you travel, but I find it helpful to separate my thoughts and to-do lists. It’s something I’ve done for about six or seven years, and it works in times of acute stress. I write them both by hand.

My brain is most tired, and I’m facing 12 or 13 hours of travel today. Who wants to read about that?

I will share that I adore a VPI that I met yesterday! She smiled when I shared the first online teaching advice I received was to “put all of my handouts online.” A story I’ve told many times as I talk about how we have improved with OL/HY designed teaching. While I was presenting, I thought, “Oh fuck, I’ve offended her. Did I sound too dismissive? Crap. Crap. Crap.” I gotta watch it here in the land of big big bucks invested in all the quality that matters. I always fail to explain that I’m not dissing the certification and the canned processes of professional development–I’m thankful for any attempt to improve shitty OL/HY classes. The silver lining of those certifications gray when I see how much it costs to get that stamp of approval on your OL/HY class when students have no idea what the fuck it all means. How much money a select few of reviewers make with a process that can be done in half the time. How nobody measures whether anyone changes anything about their courses as a result of those trainings. And if they did change something, what works? What doesn’t? How do other teachers learn about it? Why invest in anyfuckingthing that doesn’t directly help students? Hold on, Ranty McRanterson. Keep the Saturday Bloggy spirit light.

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah. Finding a Sister Fren VPI! We bonded over remembering WebCT! That’s it. Plain and simple. I can always reminisce about what was the best idea at the time, and I find the history (and its criticisms) of educational technology fascinating. I think she expected me to diss it all down and brag all about the possible shiney future techy ideas, and you know, that ain’t my style. I like to talk about what works and how we can make things better without burning it all down. Leaders who lived through the early days of online learning are where it’s at. They get it. We also bonded over a nursing department that still relies on CDs for their students to complete the state-license exam. The mother of fuck, right? Glad to know that the cutting-edge technology needed to save my life requires a boom box compact disc player in order to study. Where is a 19 year old finding a CD player these days? Christ. The one education where you can hop-skip from being poor to the middle-class in just a few years—mostly for women–is totally owned from the study guides to the state-licensure by the Giant Pubby Grubbers. And I’m dying to know if there is major underground market of pirated materials. There has to be.

Oh. Okay. I should really get to a point. Merci mon amour, je t’aime if you’re still with me.

Two weeks ago, I was the lead contact on my bike team’s mountain bike clinic, and I learned a really hard lesson. I can’t be the lead and participate as a sweep and be good at both. I think I pulled it off—meaning I fooled other people into thinking I was a-oky-dokey when I was dying inside. The whole experience left me so drained emotionally that I haven’t been able to process anything from the weekend. Then I jumped into an intense two weeks of work, blah blah so tired blah blah so grouchy blah blah STFU, Indrunas.

Let me describe the the sweetest moment of the clinic weekend. For me.

For those of you who have never participated in a bike clinic like this, let me humblebrag it and say we put on the best weekend for women and girls, and I wish I could do it every weekend all summer. I’m so in awe of all the women on my team who just busted out all of the work. We have created something amazing. So special. There was a point where I looked around at all of the women and girls riding bikes in the field and all the pieces of my life clicked with sparkly joy. Like lake water shimmering in the sun.

We try to keep a seven-student-to-one coach ratio in the groups, and there is always a Sweep with each group, or a person who rides at the back to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind. Sweeps also demo moves and help the coach whatever she needs. The past two years I’ve been a sweep for the beginners, and this year I was super-sonic nervous to be paired up with the intermediate group. My coach, Anne Galyean, is a former professional racer and we were tasked with a group who has some experience mountain biking. And let me tell you, I loved my group! They were all so sweet, and I saw all of them make great strides over the two days we shared on bikes listening to the badassery of Anne. Ladies, I floated for days when I thought of our time together.

And for me, I love love love listening to people who can teach. I’ve learned that any cocky yahoo can present on talking points, but a true teacher/coach inspires people. Makes people feel like they can do something. Makes people feel like you’re making a true connection. Makes people feel like they can do that thing too. Makes people feel like they are something different from when you first got together. Magic.

I tried to share what I could but I really wanted to let Anne run the show. She is a great coach, and what I loved about her style on the bike is how easy she makes it look. The bike and the body become one instantly when she clicks into the pedals–the hours and hours she’s spent in the saddle is the exact grace we’re all aiming for when we take a clinic like this.

The best part of our clinic is the group of coaches that we bring together. I love them all so much, and I can’t wait to bring them back next year.

Here’s the thing.

Anne did this awesome little drill on the trail to teach us about reading lines on the trail, or where you will steer your bike on a trail. Something that’s really hard to teach because it usually happens at speed, and it’s hard to describe what you’re doing.

She told us that she had a pocket full quarters and she was going to drop them on the trail. She wanted us to ride slowly, scan the trail, and count the quarters for about fifty yards or so. My group of seven rode off, and when I followed them I didn’t see any quarters. I rode up, stopped, and stared at everyone.

Anne asked, “Did anyone see the quarters?”

We all shook our heads no. Rather than getting all “Got ya! Tricked ya into learnin’ something. Haha!” she launched into explaining how we scanned the trail carefully, and that sometimes that’s what you have to do to make sure you are ready to react to what’s next on the trail.

She called that “Now” and then she demonstrated what “Next” looked like.

She over-exaggerated with her eyes to look ahead and then down while saying “Now” and “Next.” It was exactly what that group needed, and I loved seeing it click for them. What a great way to empower your students when they are learning something hard. Just pause and teach them something easy so they feel good about what they’re learning overall. You can see roots ahead now, and maybe you have to prepare for the switchback next. Now. Next.

As she rode ahead, she kept repeating “Now” and “Next.” As we rode throughout the day, she’d point out how we use that sighting skill. “Now” and “Next” I’d hear her say as I watched seven women try to pedal and keep up and apply all that they were learning.

She broke down the “Look Where You Want To Go” advice that you hear in cycling, snowboarding, and skiing. I’ve never heard anyone explain the two steps that actually get you there. You look at what you’re riding now in order to see what’s next while you’re looking where you want to go. Nicely done, Anne. Simple. Genius.

So I’ve been thinking about the Nows and Nexts with all the teaching and learnings.

Which brings me to a great podcast that I listened to this week! I’m a little late to podcast craze. I’m not a big fan of books on tape— I’ll be honest I don’t really consider that reading. How sad that you don’t sit and see the words that the writers bleed on the page, I think. How contrived the voices are who read the books, I think. Give me the words. Always. Or make a really great movie—otherwise, I got zero love for books on tape. And thus, I’ve put the podcasts into Ho-Hum Audio category.

What’s brought to the podcaster-y is my new devotion to working out regularly. Training, I guess you could say. I’m running on treadmills at hotels. I’m pedaling on our new Bike Robot (what I’ve named our new computerized bike trainer). I’m walking longer distances. I need something for those hours to keep my brain from spiraling into a black hole of despair about the Nows and the Unknown Nexts. A book that I read advised a certain podcast, and I gave it a shot during one of my runs. Turns out, I kinda dug it. When I can’t really sort what music I want to listen to, these podcasts are filling that space in my head. Who knew?

This week I decided to listen to the Teach Better podcast featuring my Tweep/Hero/Fren Kevin Gannon. Full disclosure, I met Kevin in person in 2015 at the New Faculty Developer Institute where I died a million deaths of the imposter syndrome when I saw that he and Lee Skallerup Bessette were there as students and yours truly was a “faculty” member. Lee wrote an awesome summary of that experience if you want to check it out. I’ve been a religious follower of Kevin’s on Twitter–whether it’s for photos of his dogs or when he’s sparring with fascist buckets of shit. Most of Twitter sparks very little joy for me these days. I’ve stopped following a great many hashtags that I used to love. That’s a story for another day.

Back to the podcast-y thoughts! As I was trying to keep my Bike Robot pedal watts above 175 (why is that so hard?), I listened to the hosts and Kevin rap about teaching. I found myself wanting to add ideas, and I laughed out loud when they talked about Monty Python and their favorite teachers. I felt like I was hanging out with my Teacher Brahs.

What stuck with me was when they (I’m not sure who said what—three dudes with deep voices are hard to parse. That’s the challenge of the podcast for me—it’s hard to tell who said what unless it’s like two distinct voices like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West). I do think it was Kevin who mentioned that we—meaning teachers—were the students at the front of the room hanging on every word of the teacher and we are now  faced with the challenge of teaching the students who sat behind us in the classroom.

Yes. Most interesting.

Yes. For those of us in charge of teaching people who are not early adopters of certain teaching practices, we’re faced with trying to reach teachers who never ever come to the teaching and learning center. And they could give a fuck about changing what they do in the classroom.

Yes. Most interesting.

What I took from that bit of the conversation was the challenge that every teacher faces when he/she learns that most students don’t care about your discipline. They are there for the credit. How do you make them care? How do you help them learn?

The day that I realized that my Comp II course was the last and final English course that my students would ever have to take again, and that they really didn’t care about a course that I loved, changed everything for me. I had to find another path to keep myself happy and interested because I was teaching just another gateway course. Course after course after course. I was one stop on the degree conveyor belt, and those students didn’t really care about Now—if I may bring that coaching language back around–they only cared about Next. I was the same way when I was a student. Truly.

Kevin did mention one thing—I know it was his voice—and that’s the importance of having a beginner’s mindset. He was quoting Zen Buddhism there, and I dug that thought. That’s the key to any good teaching experience. You have to remember what it was like to be a beginner. When Next stresses you out because you get really lost trying to find the Now. You can’t even look where you want to go because it’s just not clear.

I’ll leave you here with the definition of Shoshin. Something the most humble teachers I respect practice. My hopefulness in the Now and Next defined:

Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

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Three Dark Nights of The Soul

“…people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things.” ~Joan Didion “On Self-Respect

I’m traveling to my fifth state in seven days, and I’m currently sitting in an airport waiting for a my second delayed flight. Not my best space for contemplative writing, but I need to publish a blog post so I can hit my (sad) goal of publishing digital words once a month. Thank you in advance if you stuck this one out with me.

Technically it’s a new month, but the last two weeks have felt like one long day so I can do whatever I want. Self, you met your May deadline. Just a day late.

I want to write about creativity in order to share some ideas of what I’ve been reading. In my free time (also known as when I can’t sleep or when I’m trying to avoid people in public places like airports), I’ve been taking an online class on project management. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken an online class, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read up on project management, so I thought I’d log-on to an affordable self-paced OL course. Why not? I got through a few of online modules. Felt like I was accomplishing something. Felt like I was advancing my skills that pay the bills.

Then I got a little bored of the recorded lectures and the readings weren’t that interesting and then I started questioning whether the content truly supported the learning outcomes and then found myself rewriting the verbs in the learning outcomes. Shit was going south with my learning, in other words. My Inner-Perfectionist was like, “You must finish what you started or you’re a failure.” Then my Inner-Spicoli-Like-Brah was like “Fuck that noise, man, I’m out. I’d rather look at bike pics on Insta. Danger is my business.”

I quit the class.

Instead I started reading a book that was recommended reading in the class. See how I’ve grown! I skipped the Required Reading and went straight to what sounded interesting. I checked out the eBook from my public library and I inhaled it during a flight and then wrote a ton of things I’ll never share anywhere. It was magic. That class that I didn’t finish? Totally worth it. Thanks to that book, I’m now behind on every project I’m involved with. Totally worth it.

Here is the best graphic to describe where I am right now with two hobby job projects in my life:

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 3.42.28 PM

from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

So first of all, I laughed out loud really hard on my flight when I saw this, and I scared some snoring dude awake. Sorry, Stranger! You scored by sitting next to a Cray-zay-Lay-day who laughs into her Kindle. Lucky you!

“The Dark Night of The Soul” is where I tend to live on a daily basis with a lot of creative endeavors, but I put on a happy face for other people in my life. This diagram of a project is everything to me right now. Everything. And let’s face it, it’s really funny, right? It makes me sad that I didn’t think of it. So good.

But you know, given who I am, and how I think, I had to use of the magic of the interwebz to research this phrase a bit. I discovered an attribution to Hazrat Inayat Khan, who said, “There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.”

Shit. Way to sum up the last couple of weeks.

And then it all took me down a delightful rabbit hole of reading about spirituality, metaphysics, and all the hot and heavy words about the Meaning of Life from some choice yogis. I’m not going to recap all of that jazz here, but thanks to some algorithm I got a lot of targeted ads for rose quartz crystal lamps and meditation pillows and sexy yoga tops and and matching bedspread sets from big box stores that honor the light in me and my disposable income. Namaste.

Okay, I’m not going to write about the heavy questions of life, I want to talk about creativity. Specifically writing.

I think there are three categories of the Dark Night. For me. As a writer.

The first Dark Night of the Soul occurs when I get myself into something that I know I don’t have the energy for, yet I force myself to do it because I don’t like to let people down that I care about. This is the self-inflicted suffering of overbooking myself or (over)committing to things I know I don’t have time for, and thankfully the older I get, the more I’m okay with saying no. I start a lot of conversations in my volunteer work with “I love that idea and somebody needs to do it; it’s just not something that I can do right now. Can you volunteer the time?”

These kind of dark nights take away time from when I can read and write, and thus I’m not the best person I can be. I know this.

The second Dark Night of the Soul is the result of things I can’t control. Shit just rolls down the pike of life and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My reaction to these things, however, makes all the difference. (See, I pay attention in yoga class).

This is also a skill that I learned as a waitress, and one that I’ve carried into my career. Sometimes you have to get through the shift and do the shit that needs to be done. What’s the point of bitching about it?

This Dark Night leaves me with little time and energy to read and write, so I try to wake up early so I can write 500 or so shitty words and read a chapter before the days starts. I set an alarm, lose sleep, and I do it.

Some days I don’t get to work on the things I really want to work on, so I daydream about them every minute I can. I’ll see the words in my mind and sneak away moments to savor whatever it is I’m obsessing about. This Second Dark Night I can’t control and I have to live through it. Sometimes it feels like it will never end.

I just have to be patient. It ends. I know this, but I often forget. I so often forget.

The third Dark Night of the Soul is when I just get stuck. And this is where I’ve been for about the last six months as a writer. Since this is the hardest Night to describe, let me tell you story about riding bikes to try to describe how it feels.

For the past two months, I’ve been trying to ride with flat pedals instead of riding with shoes that connect to my pedals on my mountain bike. You have to use flat pedals if you’re going to coach mountain biking, so I thought I’d take the time to commit.

Quick digression Ferda Bike Nerds: I’m a CrankBrothers Candy Pedal girl. I tried to love SPDs, but I almost broke my ankle on those things. I missed the SPD boat in the 90s so I don’t dig them. Candies are the way. I love how the mud just blows out those egg-beater beauties. And their logo is kinda bitchin’ in my eyes.

Okay, where was I? Oh, learning something new. Right. Pissed me off ten ways to Sunday, those fucking pedals. Oh. My. God. I hate flat pedals. I tried. I truly tried. I got me some cool looking shoes that all the cool kids swear work better for riding in the Northwest. I haven’t been this pissed off on a bike in twenty years. Guess I’m not going to be a coach.

On the one hand, I was like, “Oh, I teach people all the time to do new things. This might teach me empathy for learning something new. It’s sometimes painful to learn new things. Blah blah blah, empathy. Blah, blah, blah, experiencing new things. Blah, blah, blah, this will make me stronger.”

After my 8th ride, I was like, “Fuck this fucking fad. If the fastest mountain bikers on the planet ride clipped in, so will I, dammit. Fuck you, Enduro Bro Culture. You can stuff it in your fanny pack! Give me my Candies back. My time to ride is too precious; I don’t have time to learn anything new. Flat pedals aren’t for me. When I’m good enough with these pedals, why change?”

Second digression Ferda Bike Nerds: My husband had already switched out my pedals the day I worked myself up into lather about My Big Decision To Not Be A Flat Pedal Rider. He had already switched them for me without me knowing, so he didn’t need The Big Speech. So that was like one of the most romantic gestures ever or he had already decided that he was tired AF of hearing me bitch. Either way, style points for days for the zen master that puts up with my shit.

So back to the Dark Night of the Soul. This is the most interesting Night because it takes me bit to see an answer that is already there. Every time. It’s like the blue bright sky that is always above the cloudy storms that delay flights out of fucking Chicago no matter what time of year it is. You know the blue sky is there. The night, though, is really dark.

The Bike Pedal Digression wasn’t really about the Dark Night of the Soul, but it did help me describe how it’s sometimes really painful–literally and figuratively–to move on from that low point. After dealing with bloody scarred legs and stupid crashes, I decided to stay with what I know and feel good about it with my mountain bike riding. I could move on. I could move forward. Finally.

That’s the sunrise after the dark night, so to speak.

This painful low-point is what helps you gain creative momentum again. Happiness.

Here’s The Thing.

I’ve been sitting with an idea that I want to write about for a very long time, and I think I see a path to completing it. Finally. It’s going to be hard, but if I don’t try, I’ll never be able to move on. No other stories can stay alive in my brain until I get this one out and on the page.

I desperately want to get to the upswing of “It’s done and it sucks.”

That’s why I laughed like a madwoman on the flight when I saw this image. I want to be done. I know it might suck. But I need it done. I need to write it.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write This Thing and be part of This Thing I’ll Write About Later.

I honestly need a break from All The Open and The Teacher Things because it’s the jobby job right now, which makes my heart and brain full. I’m lucky in so many ways and I’m so grateful for all of the smart people in my life.

If you’ve found my work because you wanted more of the Open and Teacherly, please click on the Teachery Tags to the right. There’s enough there about those topics for a good six or so months of reading. Or I can recommend a self-paced project management course you get get half way through.

For now, let me return to my epigraph, and what I think Joan is preaching in that essay. She reminds me of what it means to have character. Regret. Intention. To be human. How the shape of an essay can move past my eyes and feel the way my arms do when they cut the water when I swim. The way my feet feel when they’re attached to my pedals. The way the right sentence sits with me all day. The way the right words are what I need to read but didn’t know it until I read the sentence five times. How a sentence can thread the needle of a perfect thought that I wish I wrote.

I need to write the book I need to read. So I’m really going to try.

Anais Nin captures that feeling of the trapped story: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”

Yes.

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The Work Finds You. Reflections & Questions from #CascadiaOpenEd

This past week I had the distinct honor of attending the Cascadia OER Summit, and I thought I’d keep up my tradition of blogging about what I learned at a conference since I didn’t do a great job of sharing while I was there. Live-tweeting feels a bit too multi-tasky these days, and I can’t keep up with it all. Plus, I really like to spend quality time with people I never see. The notifications to my social media and email accounts never stop, and although I love to include people who couldn’t be there by hashtagging it up, I can’t do it anymore and feel sane. Selfish, I know, but necessary for me. Thus, I’ll get bloggy with it.

I wrote down major questions that I want to explore, personally, but before I do, I’d like to list out a few things that I need to confess. Confess. Confess. Confess.

1] There were a lot of people at this conference that I really wanted to sit on a couch with and just shoot the shit, but I was working, so I didn’t/couldn’t. If that was you I made puppy dog eyes at, let’s make the time either virtually or in real life. If we don’t, another six months will roll by and we’ll never talk. It was awesome to see your face.

2] I’ve been going through some heavy shit personally that I’m not ready to talk about here, but my life feels like a Polaroid photo that won’t develop. I peel off the protective strip, and I wave the photo to dry but the image isn’t coming in clear. It just won’t develop in words  that form a story yet, but I’m working on it. I think I’m plagiarizing somebody here with this metaphor–but it’s the only way I can spell it out. I’m not sure if there is name for this thing I’m going through–some things are harder than they used to be. It meant so much to me to see a keynote speaker be vulnerable. Thank you, Heather Ross, for sharing your story.

3] While I was in Vancouver, I dropped some cash on some fancy lipstick, and for the fucking life of me, I can’t figure out make-up. My husband doesn’t really dig with my face with make-up so I’m winning, but every once in awhile, I like to rock it. It’s like my inner 13 year old who wishes she was Bjork takes over, and the next thing I know I’m buying really bright lipstick that I know doesn’t work with my skin tone. I’ll probably give it away to my friend’s daughter so now I feel guilty about wasting the money. Why is being a woman so complicated?

4] Wow, I am eternally grateful for the community of people that I lucked into knowing. To the SBCTC people, I’m Alyson. To the BC people, I’m Indy. To some of the Oregon people, I’m both Alyson and Indy, and it was really entertaining to be in a setting where I have two names. I met one woman as Indy and she talked about something “amazing” that Alyson Indrunas said, and I didn’t tell her that was me. It was magic! A girl has no name! 

5] Two faculty told me that they learned so much from a workshop that I did years ago, and they shared wonderful things about their course and their teaching. I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t remember the workshop, what I said, or what I taught. I used to be so good at remembering people and faces and things that I’ve taught, and now I’m not. I just listened and felt really grateful that something that I did made them happy. 

6] One person told me she quotes me all the time in her workshop when she explains open pedagogy to her faculty, and I broke into a sweat because I didn’t remember how I defined it. Shit! Was I having a bad day? Oh dear. Was I optimistic that day? No clue. Like no idea what I could have said. Turns out, I’ve said something kind of useful. Who knew? So nice to hear! What a surprise.

So before I get caught up with the work that I need to do, and before I really get into The Thing of this post–The Thing–I needed to get that ridiculousness off my chest before I can share what I learned during those two days. Thank you if you’re still here. Let me know if you need some fabulous lipstick.

attribution

Here are the questions that I wrote in my journal:

1] How do we scaffold/support “open pedagogy” when there is such a resistance/debate/struggle to define it? Why does this question exhaust me? So many people describe it as a way “ditch your lesson plans” or “scrap your plans in the class” or “just adapt to what the students need” or “burn down your teaching practices” and that’s amazing, but how do you teach a teacher to get there?

How do I hand a teacher a flamethrower when she has nothing to burn because she’s a new teacher? Or new to using OER? I don’t see how to help somebody teach that way until they have the confidence and faith in themselves to fail in front of people. It takes hours and hours and hours in front of students to feel that confident. I used to script my shit down to the minute as a teacher. As a speaker. As a whatever I am now. I scripted the fuck out of everything before I felt like I could go off script. I planned. TO. THE. MINUTE.

Now, I can’t seem to follow a script if you give it me (sorry colleagues), and I can wing it because I failed a lot as a speaker. And I forgave myself. I still FAIL a lot (present tense) as a speaker. And I forgive myself. It took me a decade to feel like I could teach the way that a lot of people describe open pedagogy, and the idea of it still scares me when I put on my community college adjunct hat who desperately needs a job.

I haven’t seen a way to get there–because I don’t see a there–that I can teach a faculty member. I need to simplify it for myself before I can explore the complexities. I know of a few great projects that embrace the practice, and maybe I should just write about that and let those who actually do research define it. 

2] Why do we discount transactional experiences for students? Why does everything have to be transformational or we’re failures? Why do these questions exhaust me? Or is this just because we are at a conference and everyone likes to share successes? I’m not sure what triggered this question, but I need to think about this more. Heather Ross claimed that the failures felt like “hers” and the successes were “ours.” That sentence clanged like a one ton bell for me. Yes.

3] Why do we spend so much time talking about the Big Pub and their evils? Believe me, I know the market. I know the evil. I know the injustice. I know the racket. We know. We know. We know. What’s next? That’s what I’m interested in. The better question for me is “What’s the workaround? Is there a workaround? Are there disciplines where we just have to live with the shit of exploitative pricing because there are no options? If so, for how long?”  What good has it done to come at this work from a place of anger? 

Let me pause for some context because I’m being a little vague. I stopped tweeting about where I was presenting because those who are competing with what I’m doing for a living starting contacting faculty while I was presenting. While I was presenting, yo. Faculty received emails offering them money to be “content specialists” while I was preaching the word of a better way. Should I ever write a story about Upper-Level Trolls, that’s one story.  

I just can’t work in a space where I feel hatred, despair, and anger at somebody or something else anymore. Karen Canglialosi expressed her anger at the exorbitant prices, for sure, but it’s her undying enthusiasm and joy for what she does as a teacher that I prefer to be the source of motivation for other teachers. That’s the feeling I want to bottle up and send to everyone. She has “shifted the audience” for her students, and that’s what education is all about for so many teachers. Karen’s smile as she talked about her students is the bees goddamn knees, and I want other teachers to feel that way.

4] When will we see that stipends, release-time, and grants only scale so far? They only work for so long. Believe me, I was the first girl in line when there was a stipend or a grant as a faculty member. Yes please, I said. If I calculated that I could make more money teaching another class than I would make per hour for a grant, I politely declined. Nope.  I’m out. Release-time is a luxury that only the full-time and the tenured get to enjoy, so take that privilege and enjoy it while you can. Mourning the lack of release-time is energy expended for a small few.

Some adjuncts experience something like release-time about four months a year; it’s called unemployment.

Time is a barrier of changing to course materials, for sure, I get it. So let’s call it something else. Maybe it’s professional development. Maybe it’s a training with the LMS. Maybe it’s about accessibility. Just sneak that shit in and call it something other curriculum revision. 

And forgive yourself when it all doesn’t happen as fast as you thought.  

5] What will people remember five years from now about this conference? What moment will I remember, and say, “Yes, you rocked that” Or “What was I thinking?” Or “Fuck, why did I say that?” Will I feel shame for stories that I shared? Or will I feel empowered that I learned and changed?

I know I will feel gratitude for the people in my life who helped create this conference.

6] How do I shift gears from being with people who are so far along with the conversation of improving teaching and learning to helping newbies tomorrow? How can I hold on to the faces of people who seemed truly elated to be learning together while I listen to people who turn me down?

7] What’s missing in my work? What don’t I do when I talk to faculty? What do I take for granted when I speak to administrators? What do I miss? What do I miss? What do I miss? What don’t I see? Who don’t I see? 

8] How can I become Canadian?

I sat next to a friend/leader from The States when they celebrated the money that BC Campus got from their government, and it was hard to be from Washington and Oregon in that room. Don’t get me wrong, the gratitude that I had for for my friends outweighed my shame of being American–that opening ceremony was truly a highlight of the conference for me. That 3 million is well-deserved, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of that work. All the congrats, BC Frens! 

9] What must it be like to be a politician who is kicking ass and taking names? Is that where the work really gets done? What must it be like to be in political power and use your capital to support educators? How brave are you to share your personal story while getting weepy? 

10] What would I be doing now if I had stayed a teacher in the WA system? An administrator? What would I be doing had I gotten the jobs that tried for and didn’t get in that system?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and I’m not sure it’s worth the energy to try to answer most of them. And I certainly do not have the energy to defend my ideas, but I wanted to pause and record my thoughts here as gratitude for this experience to learn and share. I wrote this all by hand, so I wanted to share it here. I’d love to hear your unanswered questions too. 

Let me leave you with a little story that I think attaches to this context.

I recently volunteered at a charity event, and I think I’ve uncovered some thoughts about leadership. About learning. About teaching. And wait for it…I’m gonna talk about bikes. 

I volunteered for the morning shift of this event so I could ride my bike in the afternoon. I woke up before dawn, put on all the warm cycling clothes, rode to the event, and gathered around with the group of early birds. I was assigned to do data entry because the event planners saw me as “techy person who could help others with computers.”

Dammit, I sighed. Wanted to cry. The last thing I wanted to do was train people how to use fucking Google fucking Sheets on my fucking day off. The last thing I wanted to do was data entry. But I smiled. I had offered to help; the event was for a good cause. I can’t stand people who offer to volunteer for a job, and then complain when you assign them a gig, so I accepted my assignment and started to count down the minutes until the end of my shift. I advised the Excel users to utilize the skills they have, and I sat ready at my lap top when the first person showed up to donate her stuff. She’s a sponsored pro, and I know her from bike coaching so she came to my table. I chatted with her while the other volunteers started to unpack her boxes stuff. 

I heard one of them say, “What’s this?”

Some looks of confusion. Shoulders shrugging. Confused brows.

“I don’t know. This doesn’t look like a bike part.”

That’s a bottom bracket, I said.

What’s this? (I looked around. Nobody knew).

Those are brake pads.

What’s this? (Still I paused to see if somebody else knew the answer).

Those are road cleats.

I watched a line form at the door. Fuck it, I thought. I’m taking over and if I don’t get it right, somebody else can correct it on down the line. My lady pro friend had other boxes. I spotted another pro balancing his toddler on one hip and a bag full of stuff on the other. 

What’s this? I heard.

Those are vintage bar-ends from the 90s that are super dangerous. Throw those away. That bad idea should stay back in 1995. 

And with that, I left the laptop, the spreadsheets, and I started helping the data entry folks identify The Bike Things. For the next three hours, I didn’t type a damn thing, but I helped identify and sort donated bike gear from dozens of people. I loved it. I taught people. Talked shit. Bounced around helping several teams. Got to see every bit of bike gear that came in.  

The job that I was meant to do presented itself once the work started happening. I just had to show up, be patient, and wait for the right opportunity. I had to participate with what I could do rather than complain what I didn’t want to do. 

Here’s the thing.

If there had been a job to identify bike parts I would have never ever never ever ever signed up for it because I live with a skilled bike mechanic who has a photographic memory and knows all the parts. All. The. Parts. Compared to him, I don’t know shit.

Compared to the lovely volunteers that morning, I knew a lot.

I found my role once the work started happening.

The work found me.

I don’t think we know the work that we need to do until it starts happening. And when it does, you have to be there. Ready to take the job or create the job.  

The work finds you. 

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Design-y Thoughts

“It’s a bit like arguing where the furniture should go while you’re standing in a burning house.” 

This epigraph comes from a podcast that I listened to while I was on the hotel treadmill this week. Stopped me cold. Or rather, made me press the pause button on the running robot. Yes, I thought. Sometimes that furniture seems so important even when you can smell the smoke and see the flames appearing under the door. My mind went straight to course design and some words I’ve heard from teachers lately.

A very smart instructional designer once told me that a course is like a house. The teacher is in charge of where the rooms are–the architecture of the place for learning–and his job was to help figure out where the furniture should go. I loved that description–it’s so simple and elegant about a job that is hard to explain.

I presented this past week to teachers who are not only being told they need to clean house (bring down the cost) they also need new furniture (course materials) because the house is on fire (initiatives have been announced). I mustered up all the sympathy I have. I cracked a joke. And I was brutally honest about ways that I think they can do all that work without it being as hard as it seems. I try to be that instructional designer-ish person who advises that we can make do with the house we’ve got, and this new furniture, well, it goes quite nicely with some things that already make this house a home.

And every time I share these ideas, there’s one teacher who says, “Oh, this is just like [enter pedagogical theory here from the analogy era here].

Yes!

Exactly. Analog Theory, Meet Digital Ideas.

It’s like how the kiddies like seeing “avocado crostini” on the menu when it’s just guacamole smeared on bread.

Same.

It’s very similar yet different digitally and it’s not that hard. To the adjunct who teaches at three different schools using two different LMSs, the house has been on fire for a long time. They are quite accustomed to the smoke.

But I don’t want to talk about that today. I’m about to go on a bike adventure vacation! Stoke level is high!

Photo Credit: Me, capturing “Rescue” by Nick Cave. Not the Bad Seeds Nick, the American artist that I discovered in Des Moines, Iowa this month.

This week I also reviewed back my notes from five years ago. What I was thinking as an Instructional Designer.

Capital I. Capital D. So brainy.

What I thought was a good plan. Then. What I thought would work with technology. I had this firm belief—and I still do—that faculty who have not taken online classes will only improve their course once they’ve had a shitty experience as an online student themselves. I know some readers will disagree, but I’ve yet to see any training where there is a more powerful return-on-investment (so business-y, c’est moi) than a faculty member who experiences what truly stinks–what truly deeply sucks and feels like a waste of money–as an online student. Until the technology has gotten in the way of their own learning, they won’t change a damn thing about their courses.

Preach!

Wait. I’m talking to myself. Where was I?

In my notes, and this idea made me laugh at my former self–I had this idea that if I was to ever support an instructor who is using an LMS that rhymes with “crack lord,” I’d buy ten different envelopes that all fit into one another. You know, kind of like nesting Matryosha dolls. I’d ask the faculty members to open the envelope to find their first assignment for the training.

I’d watch them open envelope after envelope after envelope only to find the words “Are there parts of your course where you can reduce clicks for students? In other words, is there a part of your course that you could simplify? Start there. That’s your first assignment.”

MWHAAA HAAA HAA! So witty, Self Five Years Ago! Look at you creating ways for teachers to experience annoying course design! Those teachers would either want to smack me really hard or they would get it. They would GET IT.

Here’s the thing.

I love the idea of having people experience something in order to see a new perspective. I’ve always wanted to do something as creative as Yoko Ono, who once put ladder that you had to climb just to read the word, Yes, in an art exhibit. John must have thought, this is my woman. Yes.

Yes. Yoko, you fucking genius, I thought, when I first learned about that story. When John stood on that ladder, he must have seen the gallery in a new way. When my hypothetical teacher opened up those ten envelopes, she would see that hunting for a folder within a folder in a folder within a folder in an LMS might make a student give up. And not do the assignment. The reading. The door to the house can be impossible to find when you didn’t build the house (the course).

Design.

That ladder that leads to a word. To a new idea. That different perspective. It’s never easy.

Okay, thanks for reading. I’m trying to blog at least once a month and I’m running out of days in March, so let me conclude with gratitude to Amanda Coolidge, Robin DeRosa, and Rajiv Jhangiani for citing my work in their talks. What an honor!

Five years from now I’ll remember I saw those tweets while I was in my home office surrounded by my gear in various stages of packing for my vacation when I reread my old ID journals. And I’ll wonder how the hell my camp stove ended up in my box of journals.

And I’ll feel gratitude for this life.

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Just Write, A Reflection

One of the magical results of blogging is when somebody finds your writing via the Internets Search Engine Machine. You put a post out there, your readers read (whomever you lovely folks are). Some people comment, some people DM you, and a small beautiful few will bring up the post in real life. But really, a blog post sits and waits for the right reader. The person who finds your words to be what they need to read. On that day. Or at least that’s how it works for me.

If I imagine personifying a blog post—and why not, this is my bloggy blog after all—I imagine a post to be like a yogi in a meditative state. She sits. Lets the Internet roll by. Expects nothing. Gives nothing. Until one day, a phrase or a hashtag sounds like fog horn in the distance, and what was once a peaceful calm state, springs back into life. Your notifications light up.

HEY! SOMEBODY HAS READ THIS. YOU NEED TO RESPOND.

And that’s just a blog post comment. If somebody posts a summary on Twitter, then that post clangs like a one-ton bell in my notifications. When I look at them. I don’t have the push notifications from the Twitterz and the Insta anymore. It was becoming too much. When somebody does engage with an old post, I look at the link. I pause. I try to be happy instead of paranoid.

And then I have to remember what the fuck I even wrote.

Surely, you say, your title must give you some indication of what you were thinking. What you posted. What you thought. What you typed. Surely, I agree, that makes total sense for somebody who thinks differently than me.

I Make Up Twenty Titles A Day To Entertain Myself: A Memoir

In other words, my titles tell me nothing.

I then get this sinking feeling. “Shit. What did I say? Will I still believe my own thoughts? Oh dear. Okay, just breath and reread your shit. Some random stranger on the interwebs pulled your words out of the oblivion. The least you can do is respond. The least you can do is honor the person you used to be who shared those thoughts.”

Usually this walk down bloody memory lane goes down one of three avenues.

1] I either love what I wrote, I love this person for reading it, and/or I just fall head over heels thinking about how I’ll respond. It’s pure joy. Hello new Internet Friend. Let’s click our brains together like Wonder Woman’s bracelets and fuck shit up. (Sees 10,000 rainbows).

2] I hate what I wrote. I’m no longer that person. I regret whatever crazy ass state I was in when I busted out that blather. I’ve moved beyond those words, I think. So I post a polite response of gratitude, and I move on with my life. Sometimes, I have to hear the words of the great French singer, Edith Piaf, and I regret nothing. I accept I was who I was then, and if I’m going to think and work in the Open then I have to see this post as a trace of who I once was.

3] I delete the post and I respond privately to the person who took the time to read and respond to my work. I’ve only done this twice. Something I wrote was misunderstood, and I didn’t want to explain my orginal point. They were crappy posts so I deleted them. Maybe I’m a coward. Maybe I’m “an emotional blogger”—a phrase once used by somebody who was trying to give me “professional coaching.” That person also told me to not use the F Bomb so much and work more research into my post. That’s obviously going really fucking well.

If you’re going to push Publish, then you have to be open to feedback, criticism, and random thoughts. All of my favorite bloggers taught me that.

So when I saw the lovely sweet tweet from @klabadorf my stomach lurched. Ohmyfuckinggawd what did I write about? Then I clicked on the post and saw that it was seven months ago. A lifetime. Also known as August 2018. The month I gave up going backpacking with my friends because we were short staffed at my jobby job and I felt like I was letting everyone down if I asked off work. My friends were disappointed in me (again), and I was sad about being on the opposite schedule of my academic friends (again). Oh dear.

But then I read it, and yes, I was obviously in A State. Kinda charged up about something. But I liked what I wrote about then, and I loved how the Tweeter summarized it even more. Thanks @klabadorf!

Here’s the only thing that I would change, and then I’ll add another idea that I want to throw out there. Something I need to get off my chest. I’ve promised myself that I will blog once a month, and somehow February ends this week so I’ve got to get to it.

Here’s a reflection on that old post. And another idea.

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

No. That’s not it.

That quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, and I suppose you can burn my Feminist Card, but I love Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises rocked my little world as undergraduate, and I taught “Cat in the Rain” to my pre-college level English Composition students for years. The worst teaching review I ever received was from a dean who spent my entire classroom observation revising how I “should have” taught that short story to my students.

This is the same dean who tried to cut interviewees for adjunct positions by making them diagram sentences. She sauntered into the last 15 minutes of my interview and handed me a quote of Toni Morrison’s and asked me diagram it. What a conceited bitch. Little did she know, I rocked sentence diagraming when I was in third grade. And I hadn’t used sentence diagramming since, mind you, but who’s keeping track?

Those slanted lines made sense to me. Like avenues and streets for words. I had heard a rumor that this dean would make you perform this esoteric if not completely outdated activity in order to prove your worth as an English major. So I studied. I needed the job. I was sweating in my business suit as she sat across the table from me and graded my work like I was undergrad instead of a grown woman with the same credentials as her. I look back now and see this woman as a person who thrives on the power to diminish people by fooling herself into thinking she was upholding “standards.” Not that I’m one to hold a grudge (slow wink)– I just can’t see Hemingway’s name without thinking of her and that observation that I never included in my teacher portfolio. Even though that one class taught me more than any other because of the students.

I taught that story because it was short. My students could find it online outside of the learning management system. And it taught my students that a very simple story could mean a lot of different things to many different people. It taught my English language learners that a famous American author wrote in plain English. No fancy words. Students could see transitions that indicated a passage of time. They debated about symbolism. They talked about relationships.

In other words, I saw little use in teaching sentence diagraming and memorizing parts of speech when my students needed to build their confidence as writers. Most of them were amazing story tellers, they just hadn’t learned how to put it on the page. Professional writers really intimated them until they met Hemingway. I never mentioned what Hemingway did in his free time. I never mentioned his politics. What he did sober. What he did drunk. We just read the words and the story. I’m sure sentence diagramming would have helped retention since they were all bound to be linguistics majors. That was a hot job market in the early aughts (that’s sarcasm).

Okay, where was I? Oh. Right.

Writing drunk.

Nope.

Edit sober.

Yes. Always. In fact, find another editor who is better than you.

One Other Reflection: A Memoir

I’ve been a little quiet on the interwebs because all of my free time is sunk into either my bike team or my writing. Which is making me very happy. I’ve gone through my box of journals since December, and I’ve been mining for any gold that I may have produced by hand, and let me tell you, what I produced while drinking fucking sucks.

I felt like a star while writing and my level of confidence was sky high, but really, what I created stinks. Like not even worth my time editing sober. How can you tell if you were drunk, you might ask. My handwriting slants in a way that I hate. I also take up a lot more space on the page with a big font, and when I’m sober, I hate wasting paper. I also digress into weird to-do lists that I somehow fool myself into thinking that I’m creating outlines. I’ve laughed outloud more at my own thoughts in the last two months than I thought was possible. Write drunk? Edit sober? You’re wasting your time, Indrunas. Just write.

One other thing that I would add to this post of mine while I’m on the topic of addictive substances? I’d add a request that people stop talking about “gateway drugs” and OER. I see this phrase a lot during academic conference season, and I fucking hate that phrase more than anything. I’ve lost my shit on a colleague who used this phrase, and we had to have a conversation to get on the on the other side of it. We’re good now.

Here’s the thing.

When has addiction ever led to happiness? Let’s take the example of marijuana as a gateway drug to opioid addiction. It’s usually alcohol that’s the gateway drug, for the record, but we don’t have the same hang-ups about alcohol that we do with marijuana. Most addicts will tell you that trying a low-stakes drug like marijuana led to one attempt of something harmful to another harmful substance. And they almost always drank before they smoked pot. But somehow alcohol is okay. We accept that drug as a society.

Can you think of one use “gateway drug” that leads to anything positive? Let me try it.

That bag of kale chips was a gateway drug into my extreme snobby locavore habit.

No.

That night I binge-watched The Wire was a gateway drug to being really productive on the weekend.

No.

I’ve argued this advice for years, so I want to share it here. This is my advice for when you’re working with teachers who are learning about open education for the very first time.

Talk about “Sampling” materials instead of calling OER materials “gateway drugs”—and I’m purposefully not using “free samples” because they aren’t free. Companies mark up the product to pay for the distribution of the free samples. Or they take a hit in their profits. I used to think that my students were getting that Hemingway story for free on the Internet, but really that access required labor of some sort–accessing the Internet, driving to a campus computer lab, printer ink, and quite possibly time that they could have been studying.

So maybe just talk about samples, or sampling. Like what you see at Cosco. When would you ever buy a box of 1000 pork taquitos if not for those samples? Or those Mochi small bites at Whole Foods? Totally makes sense to spend $15 dollars on 8oz of ice cream. So totally worth it. Or that weird spinach ravioli dinner from Trader Joes? All you wanted was that free coffee while you shopped and somehow that frozen dinner ended up in your cart. Now it’s rotting in the back of your refrigerator.

Oh, and all you cycling dorks who are crying about Zwyft upcharging you now? Same. They gave it to you “for free” until they built up a market who will pay for it. Talk about a gateway drug. You totally need to see if you can PR on the Champs-Elysees. Again. Totally worth it. And really, you dropped a grand on a stationary bike and you’re crying about $10? How much is that road bike you’re Zwyfting on? For fuck’s sake. Privilege, Meet My Lack of Sympathy.

So, that’s it. Stop using “gateway drug” to using OER. Imagine half of your audience has somebody in their lives who struggles with addiction. Imagine a third of your audience was abused as a child because of somebody high on a gateway drug. Imagine a third of your audience might be a recovering alcoholic who never talks about it.

Imagine your audience as a group of positive people who deserve positive examples.

Just call OER a gateway to better teaching and learning.

Diagram your words, and edit out the negative. Say and teach the words worth keeping.

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