Last night, I got a text message that read:
If you don’t bring beer over to my house and drink it with me; you’re dead to me.
No name. Unidentified number. I thought to myself, Joleen must have finally gotten a cell phone. Yes, that’s right. I have friend who hasn’t had a cell phone in over a decade. I text back, “I’ll be there at 8. Please do not cast me out of your court, my queen.”
Joleen and I bonded instantly when we met 15 years ago at Village Books in Bellingham. Booksellers spend a lot of time getting to know one another when business is slow, and she was somebody I wanted to have a beer with—there are things you can’t talk about when customers are around. And thankfully she felt the same about me.
Late into the night, I felt the urge to sing to her:
“Joleen, Joleen, Joleen. Jooooleeeheeen. Please don’t take him, just because you can. You can have your choice of men, but I could not love again. He’s the only man for me, Joleen.”
I shared with her that I loved Dolly Parton’s version best because she gets all whispery and it’s so sad. Having always associated the name Joleen with Appalachia, I was surprised to meet a Joleen in the Pacific Northwest. And get this, she grew up on a commune and her mother “discovered” her last name by using a Ouija board. You can’t make this stuff up, people.
After I finished singing the song, she rolled her eyes, and said:
“Do you know how many men have sang that to me over the years? They all thought they were so original. As if I never had that line before!”
I returned with “Alllllllyyyyyyyyyyssoooooooon. You know this world is killing me. Oooohhhh, Allllllysooon. My aim is true.” I shared with her tales of bartending when an entire bar full of men–republican lawyers at that–sang that song to me. I had to suffer through it because it was last call, and they owed me a very large tip. I told her of another instance where a man who sang that song to me within minutes of our first dinner together.
She asked me, “Well, did you take off your party dress that night or what?”
We laughed so hard my cheeks hurt the next day. Instant best friend, that one.
We then turned to analyzing the lyrics of both songs which painted our namesakes as kinda slutty manipulators. Joleen could “have her choice of men” but Dolly’s narrator “could never love again” if she stole her man. Alyson (spelled Alison) “took off her party dress” and she was basically an airhead that Elvis wanted “stop [her] from talking” and save her from “the silly things” she says. Why couldn’t my mother have named me, Prudence?
Oh man, we went down the rabbit hole that night with discussions about sexism. This, my friends, was a woman I had to befriend because yes, “this world is killing me.”
So tonight I will go to her house because she’s reminded me she hasn’t seen me since August. She asked, “Where were you during the holiday break?”
“Well. Home. I was working on this project. It’s hard to explain. I’ll tell you in person.”
The last time I tried to explain the FedWiki Happening, I was walking into the backcountry with my friend who is a librarian. She wanted to hear all about it, so I talked non-stop for four miles. This may sound like an epic feat of listening on her part, but I was about to listen to hear talk about the same two men for two days straight. Being single in the digital age is so confusing. So, yes, she could listen to my FedWiki ramblings for four miles.
Here’s the rough outline of how things happened. As I explained them to her then, of course. I’ll get to a proper reflection, but here’s the outline I’ve been working all week. Sentences will be fragmented. Thoughts will be scattered; you’ve been warned.
- I met Mike Caulfield at NW eLearn. I voted for him in all caps in the chat window when Maria Erb mentioned he could be our keynote. I’m on the planning committee. Had to stop myself from shouting Amen several times during his keynote. Decided to live tweet instead. That night, I hung out with him and several others whom I adore. We drank and talked. That conference was a highlight of an otherwise very difficult autumn.
- At the end of the night, I got all saleswoman-like and gave Mike my business card on behalf of my faculty member to get in on the federated wiki. She loved it so much during his session presentation, and I enjoyed to talking with him. It was a business gig after all.
- Months later, he DMs me on Twitter about the Federated Wiki Happening. I know for sure my faculty is burned out because I bequeathed her very difficult yet pleasantly lucrative Instructional Design project. And she teaches four classes. Has three kids. Shoot! I’m going to jump in on this myself and check it out, I think, all eLearning Director-like. I’m a professional.
- I say yes, give him my title. I fly into a panic when I start to see the names on the Google Doc. People have fancy titles. Degrees. Publications. And there’s little ol’ me from a tiny community college. Well, I think, I can always change my name and dye my hair if I totally blow it. I’m sure I can still get a job back at the bookstore.
- I begin to fret. I pace like a trapped feral cat. I am a total impostor but nobody has figured that out, it seems. I go buy two growlers and commit to watching several bad movies. Mike sends his Daily Tips tiny letter. I read all of them with great interest. I watch hashtags and tweets.
- First log-in. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m at Tami the librarian’s house. We’ve shared many Jubelales. I burned my hand stoking the fire. I try to type something, and it’s totally weird. I can’t figure out what I’ve done. I can’t delete. I can’t find what I’ve done. I have this lovely butterfly graphic that I dig. I clap my laptop shut, and think, I’ll work on this tomorrow at work.
- During my lunch break, I bust out a very bloggy blog blog post. It’s a little story that’s haunted my soul every time I see discussions about women in ed tech. About women in leadership. Every time somebody calls me a leader. Everytime somebody mentions my future in leadership.
- I notice other people seem to have different pages. Smarter. Cooler looking. They clearly know what’s up. I check out Twitter and this woman Maha is asking 10 questions a minute. I try to calculate her time zone. I read her blog. I really start to panic. Then I have this realization that this is how the people I work with feel when I say “Click here. Or Click this.” It’s been a very long time since I’ve let technology intimidate me. I think, okay, this is good. I need to remember this feeling. This panic is a good reminder of why I like teaching adults about technology. I like calming people down yet I’m terrible at doing that for myself.
- Maha DMs me. We have a short chat. Ten tweets later, she’s my friend. I know that’s really strange for people to believe, but there is enough of a digital record via her blog or her tweets, that I can say, yes, this person is a friend. It’s the same feeling I had about Joleen as I described above, yet I don’t know of any songs with Maha in the title.
- Mike spends a ridiculous amount of time via Google Hangout to teach me about the fedwiki. My office technology makes everything harder. It’s the one day that I left my personal computer at home. Sigh.
- Then I kind of get it. Watching him use it really helped me understand it better. I really start to enjoy writing in the federated wiki. I’ve lost all connection to being an eLearning Director. I’m no longer in this for my faculty member or as research for my job. I am writing. Creating. Having so much fun. I write something serious. I write something silly. It’s relaxing, stimulating, and really unlike anything I’ve done.
- The next day, Kate Bowles picks up on the silly post and tells me she loves Jens Voigt.
- Then Jenny Mackness likes my blog.
- I fall down the rabbit hole of reading their blogs. I’m inspired more than ever to bloggy blog blog. (I follow all of them, you can see upper right).
- Mike tweets a compliment about my thinking, Maha agrees, and I float. I had impromptu dance party in the kitchen with my dog. He chases me around and I do a kind of a two-step.
- I really start paying closer attention to some of the videos that Mike had posted about the federated wiki. I take notes about my feelings of inadequacy about technology. I make some talking points to empathize with my future teacher-students. I daydream about some of the ways I want to help my professional technical teachers.
- I start writing fedwiki articles. I spend time editing other people’s. I feel like I’m getting it. Even though I really can’t explain the “it” that I am claiming to get. I start bailing on plans with friends like Joleen. I go full-on hermit. I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to write and read. I looked in the mirror at 1:30 and realize I’ve had Nutella on my chin for hours. I was also still in my pajamas.
- Then I step in on a post titled “Clickin Chicken” and I really start get it. I stop caring if I’m right. I’m not sure if the fedwiki is software. If it’s like a browser. Or even if it’s been buggy. Everything wrong I assume was user-loser-error (me). But. It’s working with my brain. In cycling, when you’re really feeling good on the bike, it feels like your brain, body, and the bike are one machine. That sounds all cyborg and weird, but it’s really magical. I’ve never had that feeling with writing. Suddenly, I recognize a similarity between the bike-as-one feeling and writing on the fedwiki (I’ll expand on this idea later, but I need to get this list out of my head.)
- I spend hours reading, writing, forking some, reading more, and it’s all by the fire with my dog. It’s the most time I’ve spent with him in months I realize. Leaving my adjunct/contract schedule has been hard on him. He’s not a fan of the M-F, 8-5 capitalistic grind, he tells me.
- One night, I hop on a Google Hangout with Maha and Mike already in session. Ward jumps in. It’s so much fun that I have a hard time sleeping for hours. I regret something silly that I said to Ward. So I read and write some more.
- I then realize that I want to go to a coffee shop. No more shut-in. I write a little pun about the wiki-world. I’m working endlessly on bloggy blog blogs in my head.
- I edit one of Maha’s posts. I struggle a bit with what I do. She loves it. I fall more in love with the federated wiki with a devotion that now feels borderline obsessive.
- I continue to do the writing. The forking. Then jobby-job-work begins again for two days. I come back to my sweet little office with a renewed sense about my writing. I fret that I won’t have access to the fedwiki once it’s over. Mike sends out a daily tiny letter summing up that he doesn’t want The Happening to end. The general spirit of the people in my neighborhood feels positive.
- I bust out this crazy all over the place email to Mike. It’s the last thing I write before going into the backcountry. I begin to think that if I die in an avalanche, that crazy email will be the last thing I write. So I write one more article that’s kind of more like a list.
At the trailhead, I’m feeling kinda sad that I’m going to be taking a hiatus from writing. Then the resort worker who is hauling all of our stuff into the backcountry via snoe machine lifts up our case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and says in a perfect imitation of Dennis Hopper, “Pabst Blue Ribbon! Alyson and Tami, I’m glad this isn’t Heinkein!” To which I reply, “F—that shit!” Within minutes, I’m bonding with a stranger about Blue Velvet. It’s going to be great adventure. And it was.
Twenty minutes later, I said all of 1-24 above to Tami, and she asked, so where does that leave you? What’s next?
I’m not really sure, but I’m going to keep after it. Whatever the it—the federated wiki—and my writing becomes. I’ll be honest, I’m not interested in its flaws. All I can see is potential.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play? Open up your eyes.
I’m still laughing about this post, as it mirrors my own experience of trying to explain fedwiki to others — in this case my very patient family. Today my partner made two suggestions back to me, that what I seemed to be going on about was play, and what seemed to make it delightful was the interaction with strangers. I realised that for me this has been it exactly: fedwiki has rescued play from gamification for me. To play with ideas is critical, I think, to a kind of creativity that is being stifled by education at the moment — but we can remember what it felt like. Adding the dimension of interacting with strangers is a strange part of the mix, and is much harder to talk about because we are in an era where the figure of the stranger is problematic, always potentially hostile or harmful.
But fedwiki for me has been about the importance of trusting strangers, and I’ve learned so much. Like you, I’ve read and read and read.
So I’m passionate about figuring out how it can be explained in plain language for users like me. I think there’s a way to go with this yet.
This is a lovely, inspiring piece.
Thanks, Kate. I just adore your writing, so a compliment from you makes me want to do that two-step dance I mentioned in this post:)
You know, I have next to zero experience with gamification and I haven’t played video games since the 80s. I have a little understanding of the culture my friend’s kids fill me in a bit. One idea that I adore from gamers is that you have to take risks and lose in order to move up a level. The more you learn to lose, the better you get. When you wrote “fedwiki has rescued play from gamification for me,” I think you’re spot on with what’s being “stifled” in education. I would love to hear more about this idea from you. When I think back to some of my best experiences in classes, my teachers encouraged us to “play around” with ideas. In my best moments as a teacher, I hope that I did that for my students.
And yes, the interaction with strangers is a point to take up with this experience. On the one hand, Mike chose the members, so he either knew us personally or knew our work. Yet most of us were new to each other, I think. All of the neighbors I’ve connected withe the most were completely new to me yet somewhat familiar. For me, it’s been really easy to trust strangers because I’ve been in awe of their ideas. Being strangers, I think, have pushed us to focus on the words, the ideas, and the thoughts. That’s why I originally did not like the avatars changing from the squares.
Oh, and yes, very hard to explain to the family, indeed.
What I find really tedious and limiting about the rhetoric of gamification that’s everywhere in education at the moment (especially edtech) is that it reduces play to reward and incentivisation.
But when you listen to smaller kids playing, so little of what they do is about winning. Young children understand the art of playing to play, and it often seems to me one of the most melancholy accomplishments of formal education that it teaches kids to grow out of this absurdist messing about and play with rational purpose: to secure, achieve, master, and defeat.
What I finally figured out today is that the delight of federated wiki for me has been to be able to arrange ideas by sound, or colour, or vague word association, rather than because they stack up and amount to a persuasive case. This isn’t just about letting rip. I find it actually helps me think, because it’s such an unselfconscious practice of putting this with that and seeing what happens.
I’ve been reading back over Mike’s blog to see where some of this came from, and I’m now very interested that this question of working quietly among strangers is connected to introversion in some way. And yes, I felt a pang when the squares were replaced with faces — and I was weirdly relieved to miss out. I’ve come to love my little square of astroturf.
I’ll just take your brilliant phrases in italics and try to respond with something coherent.
it reduces play to reward and incentivisation.
Yes! So well put. I’ve seen this singular focus grow among students who have been conditioned to care only about scores and grades because of the endless standardized tests that is a part of their schooling. I’ve had so many students tell me that they’ve never had a teacher ask what they thought or even what they wanted to learn until they were in tears trying to figure out one of my assignments. Sadness abounds! I see some potential with gamification with building confidence for students in say, developmental math. Otherwise, yes, I worry that it removes the fun from learning, and just becomes one more thing “to do.”
When I’m at cycling races, I often see parents failing their kids by making them race hard. I know it’s a sincere push to get your kids into a sport you love, but the parents who look like they are having fun make the best examples. Even the toddler skoot bike races, the smiling dad walking next to his tu-tu wearing skoot riding daughter is way better of than the serious dad yelling and instructing.
the most melancholy accomplishments of formal education that it teaches kids to grow out of this absurdist messing about and play with rational purpose: to secure, achieve, master, and defeat. Does it ever! I also have to admit this pretty much sums up why I’m done with graduate school. At a time when students should truly be be able to experiment with their learning and ideas, the graduate experience becomes another place to impress the teacher. Out perform your colleagues. Compete for recognition and funding.
How we can keep that kid-like creativity in adult learning is very important to me. And I wish I had more time to work with teachers who are interested in ed. tech. One of my best experiences in the last two years was teaching a faculty member to use Jing. He just didn’t see the point in “talking to his students” when they could “just read the stuff OL.” I knew he had family in India and England, so I asked him if there were things he wished he could say to them on Facebook. He said, without missing a step, “Yes, I’d love to tell them the stories behind the photos I post of my grandkids.” So I asked him to bring up a photo and I taught him how to screencast. By having him tell me what was important about the photo, he didn’t pay attention to the recording. I showed him how to get the URL and post it. A week later, he shared that he was “Jinging” photo links on Facebook and he gets so many comments from his friends. He said, “it’s way better than a Like. They get to know my life more.” So then I said, “Wouldn’t that be cool for your students, too?” He smiled, and agreed that he would be Jinging with his students. Sadly, I don’t have this time to spend with faculty these days, but that notion of play is exactly what’s missing in the hustle and bustle. And even for me, that space of the fedwiki is time out from the multi-tasking horror.
I’m now very interested that this question of working quietly among strangers is connected to introversion in some way. It’s kind of like seeing a really fantastic movie in a theatre full of respectful theatre, right? This is a great idea, Kate, I can’t wait to see what you make of it.
I think the Happening began happening in that little bar in Boise. 6 geeks, big ideas, deep thoughts, and alcohol. What could go wrong? (A memoir).
Did I mention how I am seething green with envy and jealousy, btw? 😉
Oh man, it’s a hard battle to keep with it. I think the memoir title is:
Creativity & Its Slow Painful Death: My Years in Administration. More on that in person.
You are the rockstar, my friend. I can’t even begin to entertain graduate school again even though it’s something I always thought I would do. So when you’re Dr. Chamberlin, I’ll be green with envy:)
I think the Happening (capital H) really began with our happening in that little hotel bar in Boise. 6+ geeks talking big ideas and deep thoughts over lots of alcohol. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? A Memoir.
Did I mention I have been seething green with jealousy and envy 😉 as you’ve found this renewed spirit of the creative ( which tends to die a slow, painful death in the administrative) in the Fedwiki?
Bloggy blog blog on, girl…I am (virtually) on this spirit quest with you.
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Just have to say, my youngest daughter would be named Prudence if my friends hadn’t staged a massive intervention and stopped me. I should have gone ahead. Great post, Alyson!
Oh, I wish I had known you then; that would have been a great name! My dad wanted to name me Brandi, so I’m actually very happy my mother won that debate. He liked that Looking Glass song “Brandi, you’re a fine girl.” Sheesh. Could have had a much different trajectory in life (thanks, Mom).
Wait a minute. You’re from a community college? I wish I would have known that before I read all these bloggy blog blog post.
P.S. You write blog pretty well for an imposter. And a non-journalist, to boot.
Okay, snarktastic. Yes, I’m from THE Everett Community College (said in the tone of one of your protegees). Oh, and given our chat this week, I did have a teacher try to explain to me that a B+ was “an Honors” grade, btw. Why was she trying to ruin my life, I asked? Forgot to tell you that. Not a highpoint in my undergrad years.
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