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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch that?

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

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

I’ll strive to do better next year.

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

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

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

We can all strive. Together.

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

 I will strive to do better next year.

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

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

Photo Credit: Kari Bodnarchuk Wright

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

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

Quick Trip To Dork Town:

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

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

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

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

One positive thought produces millions of positive vibrations.


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As A Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

As a writer.

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

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

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

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

2] I’ve never been a drug addict,

and 3] my family’s Good People.

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’est moi. 

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

The silence that lies in the grass

on the the underside of each blade

and in the blue space between the stones.

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

Lovely, right?

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Now and Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

Anne asked, “Did anyone see the quarters?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Most interesting.

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

Yes. Most interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Dark Nights of The Soul

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

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

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

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

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

I quit the class.

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 3.42.28 PM

from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s The Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Writing The Thing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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.


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].


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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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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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