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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Lady Shredders #MTB #CX #QueensOfDirt

I want to tell you a little story, Lady Shredder. My bike team is planning our upcoming mountain bike clinic, and if you are reading this, you may be interested in joining us. We work hard to raise money to support our mission to get more women and girls racing bikes. We have a limited amount of funding for scholarships, and I’m trying to connect our organization with other organizations who care about the same thing.

This post is to encourage you, Lady Shredder, who may need financial assistance to try riding and racing bikes. Contact me. I might know somebody who can help you.

And this is a big ask if you carry the shame of struggling with money. This I know. And I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

Like I said above, we have a limited amount of money to share and we want to help women and girls with the greatest need. We pay coaches who make their living by doing this work (and other jobs) and this entry fee includes meals, snacks, and a party. It’s an all-volunteer effort and we’re a nonprofit. One of these days, I’d like to provide this clinic free for participants–especially juniors–completely sponsored by bike companies, organizations, and donors who want to grow the sport of womens cycling. And by “free” I mean other folks will pay for it in exchange for in-kind marketing, promotion, and donations.

Until/unless that day comes, we don’t know how to measure “financial need,” and frankly, I hate the idea of making people give us intimate details about their lives.

And asking for this kind of help is embarrassing. This I know. You might be too stubborn to accept help. This I know. You might also look at my team and think none of us have been in your position. I can’t speak on behalf of others, but I can tell you my story.

When you see me now, I have a beautiful Queens of Dirt kit and super-fly fancy dancy mountain bike. I sometimes go to my garage to just stare at my beautiful mountain bike. I smile so hard while I ride it, my cheeks hurt. Thanks to the generosity of my boss and his connections to Pivot Cycles and my bike sponsor Jacks Bicycle Center, I have the privilege of owning my Pivot Magic Machine. Hubba hubba!

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Me on my Pivot chasing the coaches down Atomic Dog photo by Bryce Barry

My husband built the bike for me and he shares my philosophy of life that we’d rather have experiences than things. However, if we’re going to drop fat bank on things, we’re going spend it on bikes. We’re also quite happy to have crew of bitchin’ bikes while the futon in our living room is still the one we found on a street corner in Ballard in 2005. We bought a cover, used some sand paper to smooth out the scratches, and it looked brand new.

Every time I think of buying a new couch, I’m like, “Wow, we really should be better adults and get new couch. Or, I think, I could buy a [enter expensive bike part here]. Yep. Fuck it. The futon stays.”

I sleep really well on that futon after a mountain bike ride. It all works out.

Here’s the thing.

It’s been brought to my to attention that when you’re new to this sport, racers look intimidating. Lady Shredders look scary. I’ve written about this before, if you’re interested, and this post is another attempt to break down that fear of connecting with other women who ride/race bikes.

For instance, when you see me on my bike, you might think I wouldn’t understand needing scholarship or what it’s like to struggle to purchase a bike.

You’re wrong, Lady Shredder. I do. This I know. Had a Queens of Dirt scholarship existed when I first started mountain biking, I would have wept for joy. And I would have progressed much faster as a rider. To this day, I’ve only been able to afford professional coaching because of the generosity of my team.

When I got my first mountain bike, I paid for it by putting it on layaway. Remember layaway? If you don’t, it was the practice of putting a down payment on something you wanted to buy and then you paid that thing off increments. Back before you could get a credit card if you had a pulse, this is how you made big purchases when you were a pretty broke person with no credit history.

In 1994, I purchased my first mountain bike while I working as a waitress at a ski resort. I was chasing The Dream of being a ski bum, and let me tell you, I have no regrets. Those years were beautiful, fun, but very lean in the wallet. During the off-season when the tourists stopped coming to my town, The Dream wasn’t as fun. I struggled. And let me be honest, I could have borrowed money from parents, but I was too stubborn to ask for help. I couldn’t admit that my plan to drop out of college to become a waitress who skis everyday was a really stupid career goal and a waste of my brain (sorry Mom and Dad).

My boyfriend at the time was a pretty good mountain biker, and I really wanted to try it. He seemed so happy when he got home from muddy rides. What is this mystery sport, I wondered. He told me it’s just like hiking only you go faster. Sold! I’m pretty short in stature so it was really hard for me to borrow a bike, and most of my friends at that time were tall dudes.

So I made a layway plan at the local bike shop and I upsold the fuck out of expensive vodka to Canadians drinking Clamato Bloody Marys to increase my tips. (High-five, eh? Love you, Hungover Albertans!)

I flirted with disgusting men to get better tips. They would leave the bar thinking I’d call them, and I didn’t even have a landline. (High-five, Suckers!)

I chatted people up I thought were the most obnoxious snobs to increase my tips (High-five, Boring Rich People!). I worked doubles. I did everything my managers wanted to score the money-maker shifts. I put every extra cent I had towards those layaway payments for six months, and when I finally rode that 50 pound hardtail mountain bike home, I was elated. Overjoyed. Satisfied.

My first ride changed my life forever—Mountain Biking, I thought—where had you been all my life?

I rode that bike for ten years. I rode that bike through two major heartbreaks. I rode that bike in four different states while I moved around trying to figure out my life. I rode that bike when my car broke down and I needed a way to get to work. I rode that bike on one of my first dates with my future husband, and I impressed him (and myself) by climbing the fuck out of Cleater Road in Bellingham to chase him. When I could finally afford a new mountain bike, I traded it to a friend who knitted me a hat and a scarf as payment. She gave that bike to a friend who was starting “Pedal Smoothie” business. (People pedal a stationary bike to power a blender, if you’re unfamiliar with this technology). In short, that bike brought a lot of joy into my life.

Not having a bike is another major barrier, Lady Shredder. This I know. I don’t have the means to get you a bike, but I can get you a loaner for the clinic. You can email me about that too.

Okay, I need to post this, and get back to work. The lack of airplane wifi gave me some time to gather these thoughts, and Lady Shredder, I hope this makes you feel better about contacting us.

If you don’t get in to our clinic, connect with me anyways. We would love your help as a volunteer and you can also check out Shifting Gears and SheJumps and The Joy Riders. Bellingham is rad that way.

If you don’t live near me, check out Ladies AllRide and Roam, for a great place to start with clinics. Check out Facebook for local rides. Go to bike shops and talk to mechanics.

For now, I hope to hear from you. I might write you back super late or super early in the morning, but my inbox is waiting. If we don’t have room for you this year, keep riding your bike and connect with us next year. We’re also going to have clinics for Cyclocross in the fall.

Let’s not let money get in the way of getting rad, shall we?

I also want to thank The Queens of Dirt for killing it to raise money and for volunteering their time to help create more Lady Shredders.

And all my love to Jacks Bicycle Center, Liv Cycling, Kulshan Brewing Company, Clif, Giro, Continental Tires, Performance Health Northwest, Louis Garneau, Bank of the Pacific, Apex Bike Fit, ModSock, Bike Reg, NuuMuu, Cascade Cross and Bellingham Grindcorps.

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Intentions

Last January, I adopted my friend’s practice of writing “Intentions” instead of “Resolutions.” I like the change in the wording. Rereading what I wrote in January, I’m a bit surprised that I accomplished 15 of the 20 that I set out for in 2018. I won’t share all of my Intentions because they are deeply personal, but I want to take a minute to reflect on a few here.

Somehow I have looked up and there are now two weeks left in the year–June somehow turned into December very quickly this year in ways that frighten me. I often quote Bob Dylan’s lyric “Time is a jet plane” and this year Time was a space-bound rocket. I’ve just had a very magical week personally and professionally, so before I meet up with some friends to ride bikes, I want to take a pause here and reflect on these 2018 Intentions intentionally. Here.

Read 52 Books

Nope. One book a week is super hard right now. I had a lot of time between classes as an adjunct, so I could pull this off no problem back then. I miss very little about those days, but I do struggle to make time for reading. As of today, I have read 39 of my 52 goal and maybe I’ll get two or three read by the end of the year. My top three favorites are Less by Andrew Sean Greer, The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing, and Walking the Dog by Elizabeth Swados. I question whether Less deserves the Pulitzer (they forgot to ask me to be on the committee), but I loved how the story moved through different locations. I’m a fangirl of interesting dialogue and landscape metaphors.

Gavin Edwards could have done so much more with the material of Bill Murray’s life, but this is on my list because I laughed really hard on a plane by myself when I read a few anecdotes from the Lost in Translation era. Like I really lost it. Like I had tears in my eyes from laughing. Like I laughed hysterically. Alone. Pretty sure several people wondered how I made it through TSA. Or if I was on something. I got side-eyed by more than one person about the noise I was making laughing. Exhaustion makes me silly. I won’t write the quotes here, but pay close attention to the anecdotes about the useful Japanese he learned while they were filming Lost In Translation. I laugh just thinking about it.

And then lastly, Walking the Dog may be my favorite book of 2018. I just picked this book up from a library display, and just fell in love with it. The narrator has this haunting way of telling the story in the present and the past simultaneously. I was so depressed to learn that Swados is dead and that she won’t be writing any new books. What an artist.

I’m going to round out the year with three more books Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, Michael Pollan’s latest book, and Small Pleasures by The School of Life. So you know, ten books away from goal. Not too bad.

Learn To Surf

YES! I stood up and rode that giant beginner board on my first attempt during my lesson. I loved that day of surfing so much that I’m relieved I discovered skiing in my 20s rather than surfing. Had I found my way to that life, I’d probably still be cocktail waitress living for the next tasty wave, but you never know. I met some locals in Maui who shared that they all had to come back to mainland after 911 because nobody was flying. Restaurants and hotels laid people off in droves. I started graduate school (the first time) that year, so you know, it all worked out. I can’t bring myself to learn how to surf in the PNW because the water is cold. When I see those surfers in their full body wetsuits, I’m like, NOPE. They look like human-shaped seals. Total shark bait. Freezing.

Ride My Road Bike More

Yes! I fell back in love with my road bike. The danger of cars is real, and I pedal in terror sometimes, but I love it again. I think I fell out of love with the road bike because it’s the one bike I own that doesn’t whisper that I’m out of shape, it screams like YOU ARE CHUBBY, INDRUNAS. It’s also my cheapest bike to maintain because I haven’t upgraded anything on it in years because I’m dedicated to the idea that if I want a lighter bike, I could just lose five pounds off my ass. Overall, it’s a great bike, and the road rides I’ve done this year made me really happy. Despite how hard it is to pedal uphill.

Paint Our Chalet

Nope. I like to call our condo a chalet because it feels like we should be able to snowboard right out our backdoor. We eventually want to have a house, but this was the best we English majors could afford, and we love it. It’s a pretty sweet little place, really. We put in new flooring in our garage and the mister created a bike shop for his art, and it’s the nicest “room” we have. The rest of the place needs to be painted and the flooring needs an update. Not this year. 2019 is the Year of Chalet Remodeling. We haz da plans.

Kiss Elroy Everyday

Yes! My little pupper is turning 14 in 2019, and when I’m home, I kiss him everyday. I didn’t really have to create an Intention to do this, but I wanted to record how special it is that he’s still kicking it. He’ll walk 2.5 miles like a boss, and he’s still up for playing. I’m not sure how well he can hear and see these days, but he’s still the same as he’s always been. Just grayer. Just less muscular. Just with stinkier breath. Like me.

Cut Back on The Twitterz

Yep. I’ve really scaled back on the Twitter. I go through waves but I’ve had to dial it back. It’s such a pretty hate machine thanks to our current president. Twitter helps express rage in bite-sized chunks that can be refreshing. Therapeutic. I get that. I do it. There’s something that has changed in the current political climate that has ruined Twitter for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still interact with that medium, but I’ve scaled it way back. When a swarm of like-minded people get themselves all riled up around an idea, I have a hard time seeing the value of Twitter these days. Remember when people used to share what they were reading? Or quotes from blogs they’ve read? Now it’s become a stream of privilege and power that deeply disturbs me. There have been a few times when I’ve seen personal attacks launched by the dozens and it’s so uncivilized. Just petty in the grand scheme of life. I’ve made a deal with myself that the minute I’m annoyed by what I see in my stream, I close it down. Just walk away. Or I check my favorite accounts like The Cat Rapper, Awkward Animals, Cher, WeRateDogs, and Black Metal Cats. Or I just look at Bike Twitter.

Keep Drafting My Book

Yes. I finally have an outline that will work, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been talking about it for years, and it’s all started to come together. I’ll share more about that in the upcoming year. Truth be told, the only book I want to see finished in this household in the upcoming year is the Mister’s dissertation. And damn, I’m throwing a big fucking party when that happens.

Blog Monthly

Nope. I wrote a short piece for a bike zine this year, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of blogging. Given all of the other things. All the other things. My piece in the bike zine doesn’t have an author attribution, the editor totally changed my words in ways that I love, and it’s one of my favorite accomplishments of the year. Magic.

So. How to conclude this? Of all the special things that happened this week, here’s one.

I boarded a plane to Portland from Seattle with the members of Death Cab for Cutie. They obviously have higher status with Alaska Airlines than me, but you know, I was two rows back from the band. At the airport, I was in a work meeting tryna be professional and I locked eyes with Ben Gibbard. Or maybe I just imagined it. I have a sticker on my laptop that shows some love for Bellingham. So maybe he was looking at that–those guys were a college band in my town. They’ve written lovely songs about my town. Hey, there’s Ben Gibbard!

Then I saw the rest of the band. I didn’t say anything to them as I boarded the plane, but I have gone back and listened to all of their albums since then. I haven’t liked most of what they’ve put out since Chris Walla left the band, but Something About Airplanes, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and The Photo Album have a tiny special place in my heart.

I can remember those years intentionally song by song. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. Intentionally.

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Reflections from The Podium

Oh, how I wish I was writing a reflection about my bike racing season, but um, I’m getting slaughtered this year. Destroyed. Annihilated. Nothing to see this cyclocross season.

I moved up into the Ladies A (expert/pro) category this year because on paper I look like sandbagger in my local series. Turns out, I can pedal with the fast ladies for less than a minute and then they are gone. Poof! Out of sight. Then I’m caught by the quick pedaling Ladies B and Single Speed racers. After that, I focus strictly on trying to take stylish hand-ups, not crashing, and heckling the dudes I know. It’s also entirely joyful to cheer on other women that I lap in the beginner category or single-speed category. The woman who is leading the A’s is my teammate, and it’s awesome and humbling when she blows by me on the last lap. We start at the same time, so she’s gaining a full lap while I’m out there goofing off.

So yes. Not that podium.

I want to share a bit about the keynote podium. First of all, a few of my friends had hilarious reactions to the news that I was a keynote speaker. One said, “Wow, I can’t believe you could be professional for that long. An hour seems like a long time for you.” Another told me that she was fed up with me reading all those “bullshit leadership books.” Another said, “What the fuck was up with that bingo card? You get paid to make dumb shit like that?”

Anyhoo. Needless to say, people’s reactions were beyond interesting. Whether I knew them personally or if I just met them for the first time; people had fascinating observations about what I said from the podium. And then later what I posted on this blog. Gratitude to everyone who shared, commented, and talked to me about that keynotery.

The keynoter gig wasn’t like doing a workshop or teaching a class or MCing an event or presenting at conference. It was way more interesting than those performances. It was probably one of the most engaging experiences of my professional life. I definitely overthought it. I definitely stressed out about it way too much. I wrote way too much. There isn’t really a how-to manual for writing a keynote. I mean, I think there probably is but it’s probably written by master of the universe man with too white teeth and sales pitches attached to his leadership mentor programs.

I’ve seen a keynote or twenty in my life. Some dreamy. Some amazing. Some controversial. Some delightful. Some confusing. Some bewildering. Some boring. Some hilarious. Some delivered with the thrill of a dial tone. Some passionate. Some clearly phoned in. When I thought about emulating the key note speakers I admire, I’d spiral into self-doubt. When I tried to think about being controversial, all I could think about was how my words could be twisted and manipulated into damning the work that I do and how that would hurt the team of people with whom I’ve shared three years of my life. They would have supported me, no doubt, but I didn’t want anyone else to suffer because of my unsubstantiated ranty rants.

And honestly, my favorite controversial moment in a keynote was from George Siemens who showed a slide with a dead animal in the desert while delivering a one-liner on how educational technology companies see higher education as the last carcass to feed on. I still laugh my ass off when I think of that line. I couldn’t deliver a controversial zinger like that without cracking myself up on stage. I think you need Siemens’ talent for research and a deadpan Canadian accent to really pull something like that off.

I also didn’t want to talk about what was wrong with education. What was wrong with technology. I didn’t want to invite Ol’ Ranty McRanty Indrunas to take the mic. I wanted to bring some joy to people’s lives. As silly as that sounds.

People who care about teaching with technology have pretty tough jobs. Conferences are a bit of reprieve from the woes of budget cuts, austerity, and challenges of everyday leadership. Who wants to hear from smartass rant machine from the private sector?

Wait. I think I just wrote my blog’s new tagline.

Where was I? Oh. Right. The keynote. So stressful! And I hate making slides. I thought about skipping them and going rogue, but then I felt like I was half-assing the job more than I was being defiant. I know some people claim that keynote slides deliver content to folks who are not there, but they don’t really work for me. I scroll through them on Slideshare and I don’t see the story. The person. The passion. Just small quips and images from the talk. Cliff notes of the cliff notes, if you will.

I stressed about making the slides look professional, and in the end, I just decided to circle favorite images from my paragraphs and when I was tired of writing, I searched open source photo sharing sites to find images. I had a lot of fun with those searches.

Here’s the thing.

The most fascinating part wasn’t the preparation or the delivery; it was hearing about what people connected with in their own lives. How people clung to the off-the-cuff things I said. The stories I shared. The ideas that I talked about. It was different for everyone. Midway through, I tried that trick that all Communications teachers advise about making eye contact. You know, like if you scan the room everyone feels like you’ve made eye contact. And oh my word, everyone was looking at me! I mean, nobody was checking email. Scanning their phones. I completely lost my train of thought to see so many eyes engaged with what I was saying next.

In the end, I suppose what resonated with most with folks had to do with what I said about leadership and cycling. I’m still teasing out those ideas, but it got me thinking. Perhaps the leadership gurus have it all wrong. Maybe we don’t learn about leadership through work, or our careers, maybe it’s something that comes together through everything we do in our lives. A wholistic experience of who we are. Every thing we nerd out about informs how we’d lead people. How we build community for ourselves and others. Not a very sexy thesis for a leadership book. Maybe a little too hippie dippy.

But I think there’s something there about leadership.

For instance, I had a very reliable bike race volunteer tell me recently, “I don’t want to be in charge, I don’t want to figure out what we’re doing. Just tell me what to do and I’ll be there. Just don’t ask me to make any decisions. Just tell me what to do.”

In another non-work situation, a person said to me, “That’s a great idea. We just need somebody with the time and energy to make it happen.” And that response is really somebody saying, “It ain’t me, babe.”

Okay, so I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, but while I was working on this talk in earnest, I took a Community Education class. And yes, I had a year to write it, mind you, so I read for 10 months, stressed out and procrastinated for a month, and then wrote everything two weeks before the conference. I lost two weeks by shopping online and/or searching Redfin. Super mature.

I somehow organized four weeks of my life so I could take a 90 minute class every Thursday a month before the keynotery. It was a goal of mine to try creative writing courses. Again. This time I wasn’t going to care about grades or impressing my teacher.

Once upon time, I wanted to be a Continuing and College Education coordinator or director. I thought I was going to fight the Good Fight and make sure that my community had painting classes for the elderly, yoga classes for broke hippies, and courses for chakra reading life coaches. Pottery classes for aging punk rockers. Classes for people who wanted to learn about wine? Bring it, Amateur Sommelier who is really just a well-travelled wino. Classes for people interested in Norwegian knitting patterns and candle-making? I was ready to line up all the Hygge experts. Interested in cooking with curry? Fire up the naan oven and make a meal! Want to learn how to blow glass bongs? I’d make sure the kiln stayed lit while you sobered up.

You name it. I was going to fight for those budgets, hire the best people, write the coolest pamphlets to appear in community mailboxes, and curate all the life-long learning coolness. For The People.

Then I did the math and realized that I’d make less money than when I was adjunct. I’d work harder than I was an administrator for less money. That I’d probably have to wait tables on the side to pay for my school loans that were supposed to move me up the prosperity ladder. Continuing Education, I have a thing for Broke Artsy Types, but you know, I just don’t room for another one in my life. Maybe someday. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.

So anyways, I took continuing education classes on writing for four weeks in a row. I clapped my laptop shut after work, rode my bike to the class, and sat there silently in every class. I didn’t participate. I didn’t ask questions. I used the time to write and think. Two of the teachers were pretty mediocre–I’m very opinionated about what I think is “Good Teaching” so I’m the first to admit that sometimes I just need to STFU and be nice. Instead of feeling like they were wasting my time, I stopped paying attention and wrote. It was rude, but they didn’t know whether I was taking notes or writing my grocery list or my next novel. I considered my super cheap tuition a charitable donation the Continuing Ed Director who married up.

Holy moly, two of the classes were awful. Let’s just say that if you’re teaching a class on writing, reading your own work and quotes from others is not really teaching. It’s like showing a finished lasagna and then peeling off each layer one-by-one without talking about how you prepped any of the ingredients. Or it’s like painting a tree without really explaining how you do the strokes to make the tree look like a happy tree. It’s like you’re practicing for reading your own work as a creative writer and you’re not teaching a damn thing. But I digress.

One teacher was incredibly charming. I’d guess she was pretty green at teaching and had ten lesson plans when she really needed one. It took everything I had to not go up to her and give her advice after class. She had worked herself into a lather trying to cover everything. I saw myself in her marathon of 90 minutes. I make that mistake a lot. I so know, you just want TELL IT ALL. I so get it, sister.

One of the teachers really impressed me. She had skill. She made me think. She gave really good advice. I’m going to take a class from her again. I plan to read her book. I had this I-miss-teaching-sadness-brewing. I started down that magical ridiculous path I call “Will I Regret Not Getting A PhD Someday?”

And then one of the students asked a really fucking dumb question. Bubble bursted. Boom. Reality. Earth to Indrunas.

I know we all lie to another and say there are no dumb questions, but let’s face it, sometimes there are really dumb questions. Clearly, this student hadn’t been listening at all to the teacher. So frustrating! Thus, the answer to his dumb question had already been covered in her lecture.

And that’s when it hit me. I love taking classes. I love learning from other people. It’s the other students that crush my will to live. What a great reminder that I have zero patience for my fellow students in seminars anymore. No, I will not regret not getting a PhD. I can’t stand seminars. Right! Thank you, Dumb Question Guy! Yes! I’m done with school. Thank you! My current gig is rad. Note to self.

For example, one of the reasons I’m dedicated to a certain yoga studio is they have a strict silence rule. Total heaven. I get to listen to the teacher and I never have to hear some fellow yogini co-opting the entire class to ask questions about how “to release her anger” at her ex-husband from her tight quads and her third chakra. Or I never have to hear some horndog yogi tell me he “appreciates a flexible woman” while stretching his dirty eyebrows at me. Hell is other students, Sartre. Thank you, Dumb Question Guy.

So what was the question? He asked the teacher about memoir writing: “What if I can’t remember everything that happened?”

Sigh.

I looked at the teacher. Bit my lower lip. Waited for her response.

She said, “Going back to my Frank McCourt example,” she said patiently, “Do you really think he remembered all those details from his childhood? Sometimes you just have to trust yourself and make shit up.”

She earned my respect. That’s a good teacher. That’s the type of teacher I hope to be when faced with Dumb Question Guy.

I love Dumb Question Guy when I’m the teacher by the way. Ask me all the Dumb Questions and I’ll eat it up as a teacher. When I’m a fellow student, however, I can’t stand you, dude (keep in mind, I use “dude” interchangeably in the gender neutral).

As a teacher, I probably would have said something smartass-like, “Going back to my example of Keith Richards’ memoir Life, you really think he remembers any-goddamn-thing after he discovered heroin? It’s your memoir. Who’s gonna know you’re a liar, man? Nobody cares.”

More importantly, who is really going to care about the truth if you can tell a good story? Like to this day, I wish James Frey had said, “You know what, Oprah, screw you. I’m not apologizing for shit. I was trying to sell a book and I wanted a million goddamn pieces of gold in my bank account.” (I love Frey to this day, and I buy all of his books in hardback because he got a raw deal from Oprah. People lie. It’s called memoir writing and nonfiction).

What if I can’t remember?

Really?

Nobody cares.

They’ll follow along. Hopefully learn a thing or two. Enjoy the time with your words and move on with their lives.

Well, and since I brought up Keef, and his memoir, I’ll let him conclude this post. Life is one of the most disappointing rock-n-roll memoirs, by the way. The first third of the book is amazing and the rest you could just learn from a Google Image search. But even Keith, for all his liver abuse, has a poetic moment.

Indeed. Here it is. His best sentence. And might be a lie.

“My life is full of broken halos.”
― Keith Richards, Life

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#NWeLearn2018 Keynote: Change Management & Other Duties As Assigned

This is the keynote that I delivered today at NWeLearn in Boise, Idaho.  I skipped a lot of words and free-styled a bit during the actual preso, and here is a link to my slides. This is what I wrote in its entirety to prepare for what I said today. Thank you NWeLearn. 


Change Management and Other Duties As Assigned

Since I’m standing in front of academics the first thing I want to admit is that I struggled to come up with a title for this talk, and I agonized even more about my blurb. So let me try it out on you now just to see if any of you want to decide to do something else with your life for the next hour.

Here’s what I pitched: Attendees of NW eLearn are all too familiar with the phrase “other duties as assigned” in their job descriptions. Change management, innovation, and thought leadership, to name a few buzz words, end up in this catchall category of our job descriptions. Because student success—especially with educational technology—is in all of our job descriptions, how do we support one another as leaders through this process?  Whether you’re an adjunct faculty member or an executive administrator, you might be spinning a lot of plates to implement changes at your institution. This keynote will address the challenges and joys of our community of practice with other duties as assigned.

Did I get all the right words to sound key-notey?

But here’s the question that I really want to address today: How do we support one another?

How can we be more empathetic and kind towards one another as we try to connect and sort out the future of teaching and learning? Together.

Let me also first start with a bit of truth-telling. I haven’t done discipline-specific research in over six years. I’ve given up on trying to publish anything peer-reviewed about my current work because the last time I saw my name in print concerning educational technology, it felt so out of date that I felt embarrassed to say I wrote about iClickers and cell phone polls. Life comes at you quick. When I read my work in the journal, my ideas were positioned as the dissenting voice or critique of the technology that every other writer praised. The only response I got from readers were from clicker companies who wanted to give me a demo or additional support to “really know their product.”

I suppose I’m qualified because I read a lot and I write almost daily about things that I care about, so I’d like to invite you to take any of my ideas and make them more academic sounding. I’ll post this talk on my blog and license it for re-use. So what do I have for you in lieu of actual research? What makes me qualified to keynote when I’m not an academic anymore? I write a lot of nonsense, and most of my conversations about higher-education center around my rage about adjunctification of the teaching profession or my own navel-gazing reflections about my career path. I’m not affiliated with an institution, I’m not a teacher, not an administrator, or anything that else that really qualifies me to stand up here and inspire you for an hour. But maybe, just maybe, I can entertain you with a few stories, and give you something to think about in your own context. Your own lives. Your own professions. Your own joyous accomplishment with being a part of this community.

I love the NW eLearn community.

This group of people gave me my first chance to change my career. After my very first NWeLearn in 2013, I felt like I had found My People. It was like a magical group of tech nerds who liked to geek out on the dorkiest topics. You understood wikis! You loved talking about workarounds and solving problems. You could out-snark me! You could make me laugh. You could teach me how to be smarter about educational technology. My People. I love the work that I do today, but I really miss this community. So thank you, NWeLearn board, for asking me to be your keynote today.

Prior to working in educational technology, I was a little lost. I was an English Composition teacher for over ten years. An “I-5 Flyer”–a contingent teacher who drove up and down the I-5 corridor in the Seattle area jockeying for a full-time position that never came my way. To make a very long story short, I took advantage of the WA State tuition waiver, and earned a second master’s degree where I focused on instructional design. I took five years to complete a two-year degree and I wrote about the open door policy of the community college, teacher burnout, educational policy, and leadership. I reflected on my own teaching career using fancy-dancy graduate school jargon. I honestly didn’t know that I was going anything innovative or interesting at that time; I was merely trying to figure out a way to make a living.

My first presentation at NWeLearn, I had fo to cancel and I was sure I’d ruined my chances of ever presenting again. My cousin was getting married that same week, and at the last minute his photographer canceled and my mother strongly suggested that I put my skills to use as a favor to the family. I had to make a decision to burn a bridge with the EdTech folks of the NW or be on my mother’s shitlist. Weeks later, I got a phone call from Jerry Lewis that people were interested in my session, and that they’d like me to present what I was going to say via webinar. I said, “Sure, that sounds great” and then I stewed in terror about something that would live forever on the internet. Then I volunteered to do another webinar on my failures as an online teacher, another on being a leader, and then another on open education, and I found myself saying, “Sure, I’ll try that” Or “Sure, why not?” or “Yes, I think I can do that” a lot.

Yes.

And with that spirit, I accidentally found my leadership philosophy without even really trying. It’s a very simple philosophy. Just be the first person who is willing to say yes. Say yes. Just raise your hand and say yes.

While I’m talking about raising your hands and leadership, let’s do an informal poll to get some context of experience in the room. Help me do some informal research.

How many of you have been through an LMS transition? Raise your hands.

Okay, now keep them up if you’ve been through an LMS transition twice.

Three times. Four times.

[Keep counting until I get down to a dozen folks.]

Okay for those of you that have been through a major technology transition like that [X many times] raise both of your hands.

You’re the victors of educational technology leadership! You’ve been through the worst of the worst and you’re still here. You’re still saying yes.

Let’s give these people some applause.

Remember their faces and buy them drinks or give them extra dessert later. Ask them what they are going to do when they retire.

These are the people who continue to say, “Yes, I’ll do it” or “Yes, I’ll try.” And I realize that many of you did not have a choice. You were either voluntold that this was going to be your job or it was just part of that academic year’s mission. Either way, you recognized that this is the future. Whether your faculty wanted it. Whether your administration wanted it. Whether you thought it was the right thing.

You said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” You held onto hope you were helping students.

I have spent the last year or so reading the The School of Life series. These slim little aesthetically pleasing books have been a bit of professional development for me. My own joy of reading on the weekends.

From their website:

The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm, and how better to understand the world.

In How to Be a Leader by Martin Bjergegaard and Cosmina Popa, they remind us that “Leadership is a choice, not a position…and [t]he best leaders in the world find what they really care about, and almost everything else flows from this point” (p. 10-35).

For me, I care about students. And I imagine if you are here today, you do too.

My People.

I care about creating opportunities for people who were born on the wrong side of the tracks. People without privilege. People without capital–social, cultural, economic–I care about students. I care about teaching. I care about learning. I also care a great deal about the people who supports this work in the behind-the-scenes.

The question we do not ask enough is: “Who supports the supporters?”

When I’ve done workshops on open educational resources, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, I always advocate for time with the support folks so I can listen to their concerns without faculty present. It’s even better if their superior isn’t present. It’s the one way to truly get to know people who work as classified or professional staff in organizations and help them with their jobs. They get a lot of other duties as assigned.

This also gives faculty time to share their concerns about the people who support them. Faculty, by the way, are good at what they do because they don’t particularly like being supported. My favorite quote from a teacher when I worked LMS Admin. support was, “I need you to solve my problem and then get the hell out of my office because I have important work to do.”

Technology is stressful, man.

And this work of managing change–change management– is exhausting.

Before I go too much further, the former English major in wants to pause and put my foot down to reflect on the words “change management” because there is a lot of history in the ways we use these words. In human resources. Organizational change. Technology. Project management. There are 8 steps. There are consulting firms. Self-help books. Certificate programs. It’s kind of a silly phrase when you think about it. How can you really manage change? It’s like the phrase “organized chaos.”

Let me define what I think this phrase means in the context of open education.

Open education isn’t about licensing, adopting, adapting, building, curating, doing-it-yourself, debating about whether free, nearly cost-fee, or partnering with a vendor is the superior stance. It’s about supporting people through change. A pedagogical change that directly impacts the affordability of college for students. It’s a massive shift in our academic tradition.

You have to take this work step by step. You have to look for a path to sustain this work among the cairns. Whether you’re guiding students down new pathways or being tasked to be innovative, this work is about change. Some are resistant. Some welcome the challenge. Some will help you. Some will try to get in your way.

If you return to this question at the root of everything you do, then you will find the path forward.

Ask: Does this help my students?

Either way, leaders, you’re often in a position with your team where you have to admit that you don’t know how something will work out. Teachers, you’re in a position with your students where you have to admit that you haven’t done something before and it may not work.

And it’s exhausting. It takes its toll on people. Change management could be summarized by The Dude from The Big Lebowski when he’s talking to Maude.

Open education and change management is “a very complicated case…you know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.”

A conference like NW eLearn can help recharge you. A conference like this is the rug that really ties the room together. Makes you feel a bit less alone. Some of you may be lone wolves at your institution. Some of you have a solid pack. Some of you are respected leaders in this community and beyond. Some of you are early-career. Some of you are late career. Some of you might be a bit star-stuck, and let me give you some advice. People that you might think are superstars are genuinely nice and dorky in their own right. Just talk to them.

If I’ve learned anything in the last three years it’s that all leaders need people. And it’s hard and dangerous to admit your flaws, your weaknesses, and what you don’t know.

I spent some time reading all the leadership books for this talk. I read about leaning in, finding your why,  the color of your parachute, and how radical your candor must be before I had to stop. Those books, albeit worthy of teaching us all something, they made me feel like leadership was this sacred circle of successful people who had all the answers. All the answers.

The first rule of Leadership Club?

Don’t talk about what’s hard. Only talk about what makes you perfect. Don’t talk about your failures. Don’t share the sordid details about how you totally blew it. It’s more the rage to get up in front of people and talk about all of the wonderful things, but let me tell you, this is the community where you can talk about what’s hard. What’s not working. If you’re doing something right, then make sure you share what you’re doing. Are you killing it back at your home institution?

Share everything with your peers here and then offer to speak at their institution. Sometimes having somebody from another organization speak to your people can make all the difference. There are a lot of schools within driving distance of this area, and there is a wealth of information to share to support one another. We can easily drive to share our ideas in this community. Truth be told, I’m with the character Miller in Repo Man when he says, “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe take the bus. You can do your best thinking on the bus. Or ride your bike. Just do it in person.

Who supports the supporters?

Let me start with a few of the challenges, and then I’ll get to the joys. All the joys. And then I’ll share some advice that I have not substantiated with research. Something that you can hopefully take back to your institutions. Something that can help make your hard jobs easier.

Allow me admit, I never saw myself–and still don’t see myself–as a leader; I just volunteer. I say yes a lot. Say yes. Maybe you’re the same way.

My first position as a leader of a project, I thought somebody else was in charge, and right before the start of the meeting she shared with me that she will provide the funding from her budget, but I was going to do the work. She got up and left. Told everyone I was in charge. Everyone in the room looked to me to start the agenda. I pretended like I knew what I was doing and that’s pretty much been a skill I’ve honed ever since. So now that I’ve admitted that I’m not an actual researcher and I’m not an academic, I think I’ve got a few good stories today about what I’ve learned since I’ve gone to work in the private sector. Here goes.

Over the last three years, I’ve been to over 100 schools–community colleges and universities–in twelve different states. I’ve talked to a lot of smart people about open education, open pedagogy, and the change they are managing at their institutions. It’s been magical. I owe all of my current thinking about education to the people I’ve met through Lumen Learning, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had representing this company. This company that cares about students.

My People.

Allow me to address three problems that I see over and over again at institutions that I think are a barrier to managing change. The trifecta that makes the jobs of “other duties as assigned” so much harder.

The Ambitious Administrator

The Adjunctification of Teachers

The Always Changing Initiatives

The Ambitious Administrator—for those about to rock up the ladder of leadership, I salute you.

Ambition is a wonderful trait in a leader. Necessary. What’s difficult for the ambitious administrator is that you have to keep that ambition private, or it can kill the morale of your current team. Some of you have your sights on other jobs right now, and this presentation at NW eLearn might be that rung you need on your ladder. In fact, if that’s your goal, tell that to the person you hope to be your future boss. Why the hell not? Connect with them on the LinkedIn. On the Twitters. Invite them out to dinner. You never know.

I just beg of you to do one thing, Ambitious Administrator, leave a list of what to do for the people who will get stuck doing your job as other duties as assigned for the next six-eight months that it will take to replace you. Or what to do should they not replace you and distribute all of your duties to the other duties as assigned. No position in higher education is more destructive to innovative momentum of an institution than that of the Vice President of Instruction. Almost all VPIs or VPAs have their sights on being president. And that’s awesome. During the time that they are on the job market, however, every sexy line on their CV can mean more work for their direct reports who get left behind. So what do we do?

We can do better than exit interviews. We can leave people with a vision. We can help people make a plan. You can fight to promote somebody who you think can lead people through a change. If you can’t do any of that, then leave a checklist or a timeline of what you would do. I’ve had the privilege of helping a group of faculty from three institutions through a grant project where the writer of the grant and the main point person left for another job. No list. No timelines. Just the grant language. When I read through the grant, it was a blend of magical thinking, ambition. A pure brazen mess of open educational grant buzzwords. In other words, in between the lines, I could see this person saying all the right things to win the grant funding. I saw the super sexy line on the CV. And thankfully, I could see a path towards a solution and I could pretend like I knew what I was doing. One of the teachers said of this leader, “He’s burned a bridge with me because this work is impossible to do in one quarter.”

Sometimes the bridges we burn, light the way. I get it.

The next barrier is the ever increasing adjunctification of teaching labor. I have no quantitative evidence to support this theory, but I’d argue that when it comes to technology, we might be saving money short term in labor, but we’re losing tons of money in the long-term. I’d also argue that the labor that we expend in faculty support with technology, it’s actually more expensive to hire adjuncts in the long run. I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the ways of solutions—it’s too personal to me. We can—and by we—I mean this group—can rethink how we support those faculty.

If you aren’t considering how to help adjunct faculty on a regular basis at your institution, you are failing your students.

In The Weekend Effect, a somewhat depressing tomb about how we have slowly let technology take away the two days that labor activists fought for, Katrina Onstad sums up the current state of our careers. She writes, “We carry our jobs in our purses and packs, on our bodies” (p. 36).

How many of you are checking email right now? Multi-tasking to keep abreast of the inbox. Inbox zero is the biggest lie tech people tell about their work. I don’t believe it ever happens for anyone, but I digress.

Onstad says,

Gone are the days of long-term employment in one organization, with decades of mutual loyalty and a gold watch at retirement; job security is a relic of the past, like a butter churn, or a Slanket. For many, work is painfully insecure, a patchwork of short-term contracts or a series of small jobs that add up to one fragile living (p. 8).

Students see this, by the way, but they don’t quite understand the labor conditions of our faculty. Hollywood movies and television do a nice job of fooling most young people into thinking that teaching is a stable career. And for some of you, it is. For others, you laughed-cried when Tina Faye’s character runs into the Mean Girls at the mall on a break from her night-time restaurant job.

Students trust us to have their best interests–their backs–and I’m not sure that’s always true with the way we run our colleges.

For instance, when I was an eLearning Director, I once had a student who asked me: Who is Dr. Staff and why does he teach so many classes? How to begin explaining to students that that one of the most expensive investments of their lives is managed by contingent workers who have little to no job security? How to explain that we have to enter “Staff” in those schedules because we care about print deadlines in 2018?

The Always Changing Initiatives

Despair not, My People. These initiatives hold so much potential for collaboration! Whether it’s Guided Pathways, Co-reqs, learning communities, there are ebbs and flows that lead to managing positives changes. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee tells us, change isn’t permanent, but change is.

And this year’s Horizon Report–which I read mainly so I can understand Audrey’s Watters snark-tweets about it–summed up the challenges of leadership in technology and education. If you don’t read Audrey’s work–Hack Education–I am assigning this as another duty for you. She’s the most important journalist in our field. Read her work.

And note the “Wicked Challenges” in the Horizon Report–the use of the word “wicked” really made me happy. I’m married to a New Englander, so the word “wicked” has a lot of uses.

Here’s what those wicked smart people predict:

The experts identified political and economic pressures as those that create a wicked challenge—one that is difficult to define and even more challenging to solve. Similarly, rethinking the roles of educators is also considered a complex problem to define and solve.

For the record, the word “wicked” appears in the report only nine times. And if I can hop up on a soapbox for a minute, the easiest–and I mean the easiest complex problem that we can solve and define is the cost of learning materials. Period. In fact, when I see the word “wicked” I start hearing Public Enemy’s “Welcome to The Terrordome.” I know Chuck D. wasn’t talking about how to save students money on their textbooks, but this works for me:

I got so much trouble on my mind/Refuse to lose/Here’s your ticket/Hear the drummer get wicked

There are solutions from section to system on how to do open education, and I know of one that works exceptionally well. I don’t have The answer, but I have AN answer, and we need to include educators in the conversation about redefining their roles. Wicked. Indeed.

And let’s be honest, we can feel the pain of everyone and then we feel nothing.

If I can use the NWeLearn tagline right now, then I can transition to a new point.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

In my mind, there are three broad categories of leadership.

You can be a Champion or a Chicken Little or somewhere in between. In a blog post, I called this in-between space as being a chump.

Forgive me, I haven’t seen the Disney version of the Chicken Little story, but I know the folktale. An acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head and he thinks the sky is falling. He can only see the ultimate worst catastrophe. Chicken Little is paralyzed by fear. Change is hard to manage when you are scared.

A Champion, according to the lovely people who edit and contribute to Wikipedia, can be a noun or a verb. A state of being or an action. Yes!

According to Wikipedia: In an ideological sense…a champion may be an evangelist, a visionary advocate who clears the field for the triumph of the idea.

I love that definition, whoever you are, Wikipedia author. The Triumph of the Idea might be the most perfect memoir title for an academic.

The Chicken Little story stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense if you help people who teach with and without technology. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The acorn is a new LMS! The acorn is new software! The acorn is new courseware! The acorn is big giant budget cuts that are going to gut everything you’ve been doing! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

It also applies to leadership because you can tell your team “Chicken Little don’t work here, y’all.

I didn’t hire him. The sky is not falling. We just need to _________.”

And they laugh. It helps to diffuse the pressure.

A Champion is poetic. A bit more romantic. A bit more heroic. A bit more intelligent. A bit more versatile. I’m thinking Knight In Shining Armor type-champion. Brienne of Tarth-type badassness. Your job is a noun. Or your job is a verb. Thought Leaders champion ideas and people they like. Ideas and people they can trust. Ideas and people worth following. They look up and down to make sure it’s the acorn and not the sky. They don’t use exclamation points lightly.

They don’t run around getting everybody all worked up.

Here’s what I know: I’ve had quite a few Champions along the way in my career and I think it’s worthwhile to champion for people and for ideas. When I spoke to the SBCTC New Faculty Institute a few years ago, I asked everyone in the room to think about the champions who helped them get there. My audience was newly hired tenure-track and FT temps in the CC system. They got that rare full-time job. That even rarer tenure-track position. Here I was talking to the very people I had at one point in my career hoped to be. I stared down a room of teachers and asked them to think of their Champions. I saw some smiles. Nodding heads. Some furrowed brows lost in thought. I paused for silence.

It was the moment I felt a real connection in the room among the group. If there were thought bubbles above their heads, I would have seen photos of their Champions. And then I asked them to champion their colleagues who are adjuncts. Help them get here next year or some place else someday, I said.

What unknown pleasures might lie in advocating for others. This is something I’ve learned from my colleagues in the eLearning Council in WA State.

Here’s my (choke, cough) *leaderly* thoughts/advice:

Don’t call yourself a Thought Leader if you are trying lead people. (That title is for others to decide about you. Don’t call yourself that. You sound like a Chump).

Talk down the Chicken Littles (they are reactive Chumps, not proactive leaders who think).

Be a Champion (somebody was for you, right?)

In another School of Life book, A Job To Love, Alain de Botton sums up a lot of our experiences in our careers and the careers we are helping students discover:

…it’s eminently possible that the kind of work that someone is best suited to (and around which it will be possible for them to love what they do) doesn’t exist yet. One might have a great deal of potential for a kind of job that has yet to be invented (p. 8)

Think about that–most of us do work that wouldn’t make any sense to our grandparents. Most days I talk to my laptop for hours. I interact with people in five different states synchronously on an hourly basis. Who could have predicted this?

Think about the future our students are facing. What their jobs might be like.

Let’s return to other duties as assigned. Do you see a future job in your department? Do you see a lot of little duties that add up as other duties as assigned that could become a job. Like an OER Coordinator. An Instructional Designer. Faculty Technology Consultant. Student Technology Support Mentor. Apprenticeship Project Manager. Digital Equity Consultant. Accessibility Advocate. User Experience Guru. Digital Redlining Destroyer. Open Pedagogy Evangelist.  

Alain de Botton outlines five distinctive skills which [he] believes are key for effective leadership (p. 86). The instructional designer in me loves a good list of verbs:

  1. Inspiring, storytelling, enlisting and selling
  2. Understanding what others are saying
  3. Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings
  4. Being open and transparent, including about the difficult stuff
  5. Creating a space where others will feel safe to tell you the truth

Hopefully you know this. You practice this. You can take these ideas back to your team.

Some of the best lessons that I have to share about leadership, actually come from cycling. In my spare time, I advocate for girls and women to ride and race bikes. It’s really more about the camaraderie than the competition, and this community-building has taught me just as much as my work in open education.

  1. You are only as fast as the slowest rider in your pack.
    • What this means is that if you are truly working as a group, you can only achieve what’s possible for the slowest rider. A ‘no drop ride’ means you make sure that person is okay with your pace and your distance. It’s really not about who is in front, it’s about who is the last in the pack. For me, in open education, it’s about the early adopters or even the second generation, it’s the people who have yet to join who will influence this movement in ways we have not yet seen.
  2. If you can’t ride the course or the trail, run with your bike as fast as you can.
    • Every trail–initiative, policy, practice–has a bail out line. You can make it down any trail you want.
  3. You can win (or lose) right up until the last corner.
  4. Every great ride or race usually has more suffering that you lovingly reflect on as fun later.
  5. Riding and racing is always safer and more fun with friends.

So what can I offer you here, my dear leaders? What can I give you that will set the tone of the conference? Let me give you some Hot Tips. My grandmother played the lottery pretty much everyday of her adult life, and the Pennsylvania Lottery put out Tip Sheets based on myths, ridiculous statistics, and trends.

Hot Tip, Baby Doll, she’d say when she felt good about a number. And really, everyday held the potential of hope until they drew those three numbers at 7pm. So here we go. Hot Tips.

Hot Tip #1: Count The Students Not The Teachers

If you work in professional development of any kind, and faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

Hot Tip #2: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy.

So what do you do for your faculty to keep their learning about technology simple? If you’re a teacher working with students, what do you do to help your students? For your workshops? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start?

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone it down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

In fact, get faculty to teach other faculty. That’s how I got my start. I was a faculty member who won a grant to teach my peers about technology, and I found a whole new passion. Faculty members in attendance, these are the people to tell that you want to do that work, and it should count for your professional development.

Hot Tip #3: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions.

What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

For those of you speaking in session over the next two days, I’d love to see you start by asking why people chose your session. What did they see about your session that they thought they could learn? Be willing to bounce around a bit, and you can use your pretty PowerPoint as a follow-up. Pass around a sheet. Get people’s email addresses. Start a slack channel. You need this support when you go back to your gigs. I promise.

Most importantly, ask people who are attending your session what they wanted to learn from you. They read your blurb, decided to be in the room with you, so they must have some ideas. Even if it means totally scrapping your presentation just roll with their questions and have a discussion. Your powerpoint and notes will make a brilliant follow-up email and continue the conversation.

Hot Tip #4: Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does–you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

  1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.
  2. This year I would like to try _________.
  3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and tell them that it’s probably “other duties as assigned” for you, but you’ll try to help make this happen.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work. There is no handbook for what it means to be an effective leader in these austere times. So what can we do for one another during these next two days? We can be kind and open when we’re listening to one another’s ideas. We’re trained as academics to parse out differences, unpack difficult ideas–to point out what’s missing. We live in exhausting times–let’s use these two days to be generous towards one another. For instance, if you are presenting ideas from a well-funded university with a team of support staff, make sure you present the alternative for a leader who has no support, no funding, but wants to bring that ideas to his students.

If you are presenting from an urban school with a massive population and your enrollments are up, share a strategy of what you would do if your enrollments were down. Imagine how what you’re doing might work at a rural school.

If you’re presenting a strategy for professional development, share all of the details and make sure it’s something that you can also do for an adjunct who gets hired on a Thursday to teach a class on a Monday. In fact, all of our professional development should stem from that very reality.

Who supports the supporters?

Me.

Just remember that things are going to change. It’s the nature of our field. Remember and be quite aware of what you’re going through. You can watch the ripples change their size but they never leave the stream (really poor David Bowie remix).

I’ll conclude today with a bit more Alain de Botton because I think this quote gets at the heart of what it’s like to be a part of change management in your other duties as assigned in educational technology:

“Much of life is spent on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151).

One thing is for certain, we’ve got a great conference for you. Enjoy it and your time together.

Thank you.

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Story That I Wanted To Hear

“I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.” Carrie Fisher

I’ve spent the last month trying to write an article, my elusive book, and a serious essay, and I failed miserably on two of three. For a month of Thursdays, I rode my bike after to one of my favorite little bars to dork out, write for a few hours, and edit solo. Such joy.

On other days of the week, I woke up early in the morning to get it all down on the page before I started my day. So hard.

On other days of the week, I burned the midnight oil to write things I’ll never share. So weird.

I got one of the three goals completed, but I loved the trying. Loved the trying. Loved the tryna. And let me tell you, I write and talk all the damn day, so it’s hard to make time in front the magic machine for writing. This ritual of September felt really special.

I submitted my piece a few days ago, and now I can die a million times with the thoughts of another people reading what I wrote. Other people reading the words. I need to use this space to talk about how I tried tried tried to write a reflection of a bike ride that I attempted but did not finish. How I tried to mourn my failure without sounding like sappy jerk. Tried to reflect on how much I love really long bike rides now. How I fell back in love with my road bike this summer. Tried to explain in three different short groupings of sentences my experience of riding. It was hard. And get this. I whipped myself into a lather over publishing something in a bike zine.

I told the folks who are creating the zine that they can choose one of the stories and I’ll publish the rest on my blog. I noted confidently: “I’ll publish the rest of these words to die on my blog” (A Memoir).

When I submitted my writings, I half expected that they would hate everything. Regret asking me to write for them. I was, of course, shocked that they liked one of the three pieces, and, GET THIS, it’s the one I spent the least time on. The one group of sentences that I obsessed about the least. The one I like the least. The one I wrote quickly and just included at the last minute. A kind of rough draft that just appeared on the page.

Type. Type. Type. Fuck it. Submit. Send. Dammit. But that’s okay. I’m so stoked to see the finished product. It’s quite possible that I may not even be listed as an author. They have no idea how much the warning about a “lack of attribution” made my heart skip a beat.  But that’s a story for another day.

Today’s story you ask? A teacher told me this week that she’s not interested in all the Open writing because it’s not done by professional writers. She knew nothing about me. Nothing about the origin of any of the courses we were talking about. Knew nothing about me. Personally. My background. She was ready, however, to tell me all about professional writers and it was my job to listen. My job to invite her into another way of thinking. Some days are easier than others.

“Writers who are worth anything,” she said, “get paid for their time if their ideas are any good.” I imagined her face scrunching up like she smelled shit as we chatted more on the phone. “Professional writers of content get paid for writing their ideas,” she said, “otherwise I can’t imagine anyone reading it and caring. It’s hard for you people outside of academia to understand.”

Indeed.

You People.

Yet here you are.

Here I am.

I probably spent about 30 hours unpaid time on that zine piece so I’m clearly a fucking loser. Not very professional. Not worth your caring. Not worth your time.

Unpaid Time: A Memoir.

Yet here you are. Here I am.

I need to relive the whole experience of writing this past September here. In this space.

For the zine, I was given a certain space instead of a word count, and that’s really hard for me. Not much of a spatial thinker, this gal, so I stressed out about what to write. People always think I’m going whip their ass playing Scrabble, and it’s really not about vocabulary. It’s about spatial relations and the luck of the draw. Space to write?

What to say. How many words can I fit in 4×6 space? Do I write it by hand? What do I write? I settled on one idea. Decided to write something joyful. Something positive.

A story that I wanted to hear.

So here’s what did not get selected. I can’t really say it got rejected. More like postponed for another day. Like today. Here’s what what I wrote about the RAMBOD.

RAMBOD stands for Ride Around Mt. Baker in One Day, which pokes fun at the more serious and much more expensive ride around Mt. Rainier. The plan among some frens was to roll out of Bellingham, ride mostly gravel to Baker Lake, hike up to Mt. Baker Ski area, and then ride back to Bellingham. There was a ragtag support system for our gear in the transitions, and I was aiming to make the ride/hike in less than 18 hours. Even if it killed me. Or I planned on my husband picking me up at the dive bar of my choice somewhere in Skagit or Whatcom counties. He just shook his head every time I mentioned this ride (not his gig) and he quietly tuned up my bike (it glistened).

Of the 15 people that started, 7 completed the ride. Only one of the six women finished and she’s a fucking badass Canadian. Ladies who grew up riding bikes up north of where I live?

Hats off.

Okay, that’s the context.

Here’s what I wrote:

The RAMBOD Rains

Submission One: Three Thoughts

First Thought: I know very few people who’d get up at 5am in the morning to suffer on a bike all day. Who are you people? Where have you been all my life? Didn’t you see the forecast?

Second Thought: If I complete this ride, I’ll give myself gold stars. In the form of IPAs. A lot of gold stars in the shape of delicious IPAs. I’ll work off those Structures’ Fuzz calories. I might need to choose the bail out line for this ride. I’ll then forgive myself. And let me be clear, every Grind Corps ride that I showed up for in 2018, I planned to be rescued. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I’m getting old. Either way. I was going to try.

Always know the location of the bail out line. Even if you don’t use it.

Third Thought: Good golly goddamn, there are a lot of logistics to make this happen. Should I pack a bottle of whiskey just in case I bail out at Mt. Baker?

Submission Two: Practice Suffering (this one got selected so I won’t publish it here, but OMFG a bike zine, y’all! I’m like the oldest most unhip fucking zine writer in the history of zines).

Submission Three: Raining Around Mt. Baker in One Day

The painful love of living in the PNW is accepting that summer can disappear in August. Winter can show up for a day or two. No autumnal transitions. No slow progression of color. No leaves to peep. Nothing. Just rapid ass-kicking cold. Winter rains on you during the summer months. Perfect predictable PNW.

Here’s the thing.

When the RAMBOD rains hit at first, we loved it.

Amber remarked how wonderful the rain felt after weeks of smoky air when our forests to the north, south, and east burned. I smiled yes and tilted my face towards the early morning mist as I rode down a relatively car-free quiet Chuckanut Drive. Felt glee as I gazed out at the lowering clouds over the San Juan Islands. Kerri stopped to take a video. We rejoiced.

Then the rains fell harder. Temperature dropped. The white ceiling of the sky dropped lower.

Within an hour, we finally hit gravel. We were really soaked.

I calculated at least four dive bars where I could get a whiskey and some coffee until my rescue ride arrived.

No. Keep going, I thought. Keep pedaling. Keep pedaling. Pedaling. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

That’s when I started to pay attention to the sound of gravel under my tires.

How different it sounds from the scraping braking sliding on loamy downhill mountain bike trails.

How different gravel sounds from the steady consistent buzz buzz buzz at speed on a road bike.

How the tiny pieces of gravel create their own inconsistent hum under your tires. How you feel every shift in texture on the road through your handle bars. Gritty gravel gliding under your tires for miles is really quite a sweet sound.

Meditative.

On my ride back to Bellingham after my group split at the Birdsview Brewery, I was solo for another 50 miles home. Still a respectable day in the saddle. A cold as hell century.

That’s when I started looking around.

Long stretches of bike trail filled with puddles spanned for miles. Misty fog in the foothills rose. Saw big mounds of dirt. Farmland. Working soil. Baby cows.

On the paved roads back to the Skagit/Whatcom line, the rains and clouds lifted. The front of my body was dry with grit and I had on every bit of clothing I had packed. My exposed skin was gritty with sweat and dirt. My bike was covered in mud and tiny bits of dust and dirt.

All the while I kept thinking: Next year. Next year. Next year. Be happy you rode 100 miles. Feel joy. That’s an accomplishment.

I looked east towards Mt. Baker as I rode into town. My house.

Mt. Baker? Nowhere in sight.

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