Writing in My Head About the #Fedwiki: A Memoir

On Friday, I hosted a “task force” meeting on my campus, and it was a spectacular bright spot to an otherwise kind of bleak week. Let’s just say I’m watching one amazing project die because a small vocal few dislike what I represent, one fantastic project limp along because of bureaucracy, and one project struggle because I lack substantial “power” and my “influence” only goes so far. I also wrote a grant that I lost, and I’m going to rewrite it and hope for a better audience someday. Try not to be bitter. Try not to envision the schadenfreude of watching the projects that did win fail.

Cool things this week: people bought me chocolate, smart people gave me good advice, a female journalist is rocking my life, my boss gave me a pair of shoes that didn’t fit her, my friends sent me reminders of our knit retreat that’s six days away.

And I let The Clash throw me concert in my car all week with Kingston Advice, so thanks Joe Strummer. I really miss you. That “Straight To Hell” (see 52:11) is my favorite version of a favorite song. Of all time. Forever.

Okay, real quick: If I could go back to 1982 at my current age for one concert I’d go to Jamaica.

If I could go back in time a second time, I’d go to 1977 when The Sex Pistols played to the kids of striking firefighters for Christmas in Huddersfield. I would’ve helped make that cake, for sure.


One more: I’d see Otis Redding Live at Monterey in 1967. The I’ve Been Loving You Too Long version at 7:02 kills me. Oh, Otis, you are so badass. I love you with all my heart, too. Be sure to watch him dance in the song that follows. No musician has felt more joy in a bitchin’ blue suit. And Otis, every time I wear a mini-skirt; it’s for you.


So back to Negative Ed. Tech. Nelly—I visited my friend Joleen last night who smacked me down off my sad horse by saying the following:

You win a lot, dude, what the hell is your problem? Remember how you were sitting on this very porch crying your eyes out just four years ago? Everything’s so much better now. You’re a totally different woman compared to that sad sack, so shut up about losing, and let’s have another beer. I also want you to read this book I love so I have somebody to talk about it with, so enough with the losing, loser.

Amazingly lucky I am to have such a friend.

Some backstory: Joleen single-handedly talked me into staying in grad school for my M. Ed. It took me five years to complete that second masters degree—I’m now counting the extra year of studying for the GRE, applying for the state tuition waiver, and researching for the PhD programs to which I will now not apply to as planned.

Back then, I had four classes left to go to graduate—including one on ed. tech that looked like a complete waste of my time, so I had decided to quit. Everyone I talked to advised me to stick with what would make me happy—which was quitting—and everyone agreed, walk away. That is, everyone but Joleen. Everyone accentuated the positive, but Joleen told me off with a palpable anger and white-hot disappointment. If we were the hitting yelling type, she may have punched me. Instead she got in my face with her words, used her pointer finger to emphasize flaws in my logic, and admitted that she’d never forgive me if I walked away. Had she not completely bitched me out that night; I would have quit.

I owe it to her to at least see her once a week; I was a terrible friend last year. 2015 is going to be different. I need to remember to thank her for that night.

Our conversation turned last night to how she advises our single friends who are dating. Ten years ago, she’d advise that them to “have fun, but keep your pants on.” Now we’re adding a tip for the digital age: “have fun, keep your pants, and don’t give up your password to anything on the Internet.”

Our two best memoir titles from last night (she’s six years older than me):

Great Idea Twenty Years Ago, Now, Not-So-Much: A Memoir

Edicts For Now: A Memoir

Speaking of the memoir titles, I am delighted to report that Jen Whetham has embraced my memoir title writing joke! I wish I could point to the moment where I started to do this writing in my mind, but I can’t. It may be back when I introduced authors on book tour while working at the bookstore. The memoir writers always spoke “A Memoir” so earnestly breathy. So sad—almost embarrassed-like. So much so, that after hearing the fifth author do it, I had to make fun of it. I just wanted to tell the authors, quit being so damn serious, creative writer; you’re getting on my nerves. Quit pretending; nobody cares.

For years, I was good at limiting the memoir writing to my internal dialogue, but I got stuck on saying it aloud in the backcountry, and now I can’t seem to stop. Things are way funnier in the backcountry, trust me. I’ve also started using the memoir title writing with my little eLearning team to ease the tension of the everyday workaday blues. Here’s one that made us laugh to tears:

I Cringe When I See Your Name in My Inbox: A Memoir

At the end of our task force meeting yesterday, Jen invited us to write our memoir title as a summary of the week as a way to conclude our magical meeting. Here are the highlights. Nerd-tastic here, wrote them down.

It’s Too Much pressure: A Memoir

Thought Week 1 Was Hard, Week 2 Was Worse: A Memoir

What’s My Job Again? A Memoir

Ask Me in Month: A Memoir

This Would All Be Easier If I Loved Myself More: A Memoir

This Will Help Me Get Me Tenure, Right? A Memoir

Loving What Is & Everything Is As It Should Be: A Memoir of My (Im)perfections

As you can tell, this meeting was wonderfully digressive and very productive. Being asked by the state board folks to host a “task force” meeting is up there with riding my bike, and I wish I could end every week that way. We talked about big picture stuff and small changes that we can make to the Assessment, Teaching, and Learning Conference. I was there as a member of the eLC, and again, it’s these bigger projects—connecting the smaller ideas with a big picture–with anything in higher ed. that has real momentum feds my brain. My soul.

As we spiraled away from the agenda, I bought up the fedwiki—three of the five task forcers are or were English teachers. Everyone is an educator in the room—just with different titles. And for the second time this week, I found the limits of my vocabulary. The limits of explaining something that has changed my life. Without sounding ridiculous. Without sounding stalkery and weird. Without sounding completely knackered about my current situtation (as the Brits say).

The Fedwiki Happening has been a bit like Joleen telling me off for walking away from grad school. Only this time it’s not me, the student, it’s me, the wanna-be-writer. Are You There Free-Time, It’s Me, Alyson.

The combination of the way the fedwiki works and the people who are a part of it–has been like the finger in my face pointing out what I’ve been trying to ignore. To accept. To live with. To reconcile.

The Fedwiki reminded me that writing is my first love. And like Otis said, “With you my life has been so wonderful/I can’t stop now.” And I simply have to make time for it. Just for me. I’m not happy without that practice.

I used to get paid to teach people about writing, and I miss some parts of that life. And the Smallest Federated Wiki Happening helped me rediscover that little part of my soul that got lost in The Recession, got damaged from publication rejections, and got worn out from the constant tirade of feelings of inadequacy while learning to do my job.

Mind you, this all happened, as I just signed a book contract to publish a chapter in an anthology. And it’s about educational technology. I’m very curious to see what my work will look like in the package of an anthology of voices.

The fedwiki is so unlike that writerly experience—I was given (or rather I stalked the editor to have ) the same topic as a small group of people, and I have no idea what they did. I’ve had no access to their ideas let alone anything that looks like cooperation. We collaborated on deadlines, and that’s it. I can’t help but wonder what an anthology would look like created in the fedwiki. We’d have to call it something else surely. If you try to talk, say, to a traditional academic, about participating in an attribution-free anthology, or how this could revolutionize the dissertation process from gatekeeper horseshit to something actually useful to scholarly inquiry and knowledge production; they look at you like you’ve lost your fucking mind.

But I need a way to explain this, and I know others are working on the same thing. So here goes:

Alan Levine’s notecard explanation is a superb way to get started on how to understand the fedwiki from the writer-side, and it’s beautifully written. I’ve loved everything Alan Levine touches ever since the CogDog walked into my life. His mind is like a small fire that you can’t walk away from. But. I hated notecards as a student and when I taught research writing, I let students choose not to do notecards. Every time a teacher forced me to do and turn in notecards, and I had plenty as an English major, I read and read, wrote notes everywhere. Mostly–for better or for worse I still do–I wrote/write in my head. I don’t think about what I will write–I put the words together and I see them in my head. Maybe you do this too.

When I wrote research papers, I copied my essaying ideas on to notecards to satisfy the assignment. When it came time to turn in an outline, I entered roman numerals next to the sentences in my essay. Deleted and created BS. Teachers raved over my “organization” and “coherence” from start to finish with the research process. I never told anyone I cheated that way until I became a teacher, and I told my students how I worked around the note-card obsessed teachers. (Sorry, if you are one. If it works for you, that’s fabulous).

When I became a writing teacher, I struggled with how to teach students because my method was—and remains—complete madness. Too many choices are terrible for first-year college students; they’re still recovering from The K-12 Standardization Testing System Industrial Complex. You have to ease students into seeing the gray area because everything they’ve been taught up is so very black or so very white. Never both. The gray doesn’t exist. There’s only one answer on the scan-tron. One dot to fill-in. One right answer. You know, just like life.

So I gave students two or three options for note-taking, but I made them do my entirely made-up process curated from the work of my smarter-than-me colleagues. I taught with the promise they could then choose what works for them in the future. Just do it once, and then you find out what works for you, I’d say.

Everyone gave me notes in all different forms–digital and on paper. Notecards, I noticed, mostly came from grade obsessed students going into STEM—the nursing students gave me three-inch stacks of notecards. A favorite submission was on bar napkin with a note, “I know this looks unprofessional but I got my best idea while drinking with my friends. Here it is.”

“Well, well, me too! Looks like brown booze. Hope it was whiskey. Thrilled you’re talking about my class at a bar,” I wrote. (Underlined “thrilled” three times. Made sure that comment was not in the portfolio that the English department reviewed for accreditation purposes, btw). #MissedOpportunityAlert

So I keep writing in my head about the fedwiki and I’ve been thinking a lot about the fedwiki as a bike share system. I haven’t quite put the pieces together yet on how to use this metaphor (or is it better as analogy? a symbol? motif? theme?) so I’m just going to write and think about it all day today. I’m going to start with this blog and then I’m heading into the fedwiki.

Rain is predicted to fall in inches, so it’s me, the dog, the fire, and word-nerd heaven today. I start with the fedwiki mentality by jotting down the things I list/write in my head constantly.

I’m sure they gave electric shock therapy to people like me once. It looks like this on paper. On the screen. Whatever.

OER and the Fedwiki: The Similarities

1. Started grass-roots, has the potential to grow beyond our wildest dreams

2. Fosters community in ways previously unimagined

3. Changes the definition of connected learning–discovered the fedwiki through the very same people that helped me understand OER and connected learning

4. Encourages healthy behavior—one for the mind, one for the body

5. Downplays ownership and provides a short-cut to get to The Thing (the “thing” may be work, writing, cooperation, teaching, creativity—mostly I’ve journaling on projects there instead of in Google Docs. And I like “the thing” that I’m creating there better. Wish I didn’t have to spend so much time on the bullocks: A Memoir).

6. Allows you to see things you don’t normally see–the designation is the journey (as opposed to being in a car or on the internet). Avoid the bumper sticker platitudes, rewrite that.

7. Pivots the notion of PLNs–this is something very personal connected to a network in ways I haven’t been able to describe (yet). All notions of audience kind of go out the window, because you don’t know who (if anyone) will stumble on it. As a writer, you don’t see stats, likes, notifications, or anything but what you want to see. It’s entirely ego-less while completely narcissistic. Research narcissism more, connect Bike Lust smell to this idea.

8. Cycling, like writing, is incredibly hard solo work that brings together joy, passion, and release—the harder the climb, the better the downhill. The flats are just to pedal or think easy.

9. It’s very hard to explain to people who have never heard of the federated wiki.

10. I realized how wonderful the fedwiki has all been during lunch this week with a very dear friend, Lolly Smith. To say she a friend is so wrong. She’s the sister to my inner-teacher, and I’m endlessly thankful for the time she has spent with me. On me. Mentoring me.

Before I forget, Lolly, if you’re reading this, I regret not bringing up three things during lunch:

1. What do you think about Daryl’s transition on The Walking Dead? He’s the methy-skinny-outlaw-turned-Robinhood, right? Any Shakespeare connections?

2. Have you seen that Jon Snow cut his hair in real life? You really know nothing now, Jon Snow.

3. What are you reading?

But here’s what got me thinking. She said I taught her brevity. How to take something long and make it shorter. Smaller. Brevity? Me? Seriously.

Now, if you have made to this point in this blog post, please note this memoir title.

I Embody & Embrace Contradictions: A Memoir

She was talked about how she used to live for long papers, long books, long projects and I taught her brevity with my presentation about Pinterest. I used to focus on professional development in small bits thanks to a class I took, I suppose I still do that but now it’s about OER. For those of you who do not know Lolly, she’s one of the 2012 Anna Sue McNeil winner. When I use the phrase, “teacher’s teacher” I see her face. When I think of future awards for OL teachers in Washington State, I think “The Lolly Smith OL Teacher Award.”

She either hired or had a hand in hiring everyone I think is cool at EvCC. She connected me to my first

job in higher education/grant/recognition/diversity course/literature course/CC job recommendation/online and hybrid class/teacher award/instructional designer job/my current position

Sometimes the luck one gets in life is because you impress the right people. Do the right dance to the song of the moment. Make something that somebody benefits from selling. With Lolly, it’s all of that and none of that. She’s just plain Good People. She’s left this giant legacy in teaching that I’m not sure she is aware of. She’s too humble to own it. And I understand why she retired when she did, and I share her same concerns about the future of education. In my best moments, I want to make sure I’m somebody’s Lolly.

I told her that I would create a backwards design “assignment” for her to read so she can ask me questions about the fedwiki the next time I see her. We giggled about how very instructional designer that is! As a Shakespearean who taught writing, she started glowing when I described the fedwiki to her. And originally, that’s what I wanted this blog post to be, a lesson for Lolly, but now I’m going to ask her to join us instead. As one of the pioneers of online teaching in Washington state, she has a lot to offer us.

This morning, I woke up thinking I’d read the paper and my stack of books. But I got a ping about the fedwiki, so I peeked at the iPad. And saw this post:

A Fedwiki Happening on Teaching Machines Featuring Audrey Watters

I could write something brainy about this title, but all I can say is, this is like seeing it’s 2AM, and the bartender yells, we’re staying open! Free rounds for everyone! Fuck yes!

So I’ll struggle some more with the OER/fedwiki/bike-share idea today, and I’ll stop with my cultish devotion-speak and conclude with an invitation to carve out those seven hours, dear readers. If you can follow my blogging style, then you can struggle with the fedwiki. Learn it, don’t give up, don’t be intimidated by anyone, be silly, have fun, entertain yourself, and be delighted when you connect with somebody. Be prepared to read other people thinking your thoughts in a way you’ve never seen. It’s digital learning magic.

The fedwiki is up there with my “favorite things in life” like the first bike I bought in pieces which somebody hand-built the wheels and put everything together to create a bike for me. From the wheels, to the parts, to the bar tape, I picked out all of the parts to make the whole.

When I first saw how the parts became the bike, I just stared in awe. I asked, “how does it ride?”

To which the highly-skilled mechanic said, “I didn’t build it for me; it’s you I thought of. Throw a leg over it and check it out yourself. What are you waiting for?” Those two clicks of my shoes going into the pedals changed everything. Click. Click. Pedal. Pedal. Yes. Yes.

Sign yourself up and go for a spin.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in All The Things and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Writing in My Head About the #Fedwiki: A Memoir

  1. Lisa Chamberlin says:

    Fedwiki sign up done. (I can’t let you have all the fun).

    Fail? You? Hardly. Naysayers just require a lot of energy to work around, and sometimes you need to recharge. Beer is an excellent recharger.

    I think I really like your friend Joleen. If I ever meet her, I will buy her a frosty mug of some dark IPA. And then she and I will gossip endlessly about you and your delusions of failure while succeeding brilliantly.

    So for now…(and yes, I know, this will absolutely kill the old school music lover in you, but the lyrics work)…


    • Yes! So glad you signed up! I didn’t want to email bomb the eLC folks on a Saturday, so I’m really glad you found the link here. You’ll want to write your dissertation with the fedwiki. You were on my short list of people to stalk, so thanks for taking care of my to-do list.
      You and Joleen would get along swimmingly, and yes, I need to ‘shake it off’ and stop being my own worst enemy. Perhaps my problem is that instead of listening of Taylor-type music, I wallow in the moody. I’d rather cry to The Cure than jazzercise to Taylor. What’s my problem?! I have a lot to be thankful for, so yes, I might earn the first digital badge for being annoying. Hopefully this exposure makes somebody else feel better–Taylor built her empire on break-up songs, right? This blog is my little temple to my best failures.

      Don’t you hate overly dramatic English majors;) Talk about needing a beer!


  2. CogDog says:

    I gotta say that I so enjoy your writing here. If I might reach for a bicycle metaphor (and mine is weak since I left my mountain bike in Arizona 3 months ago and will be 3 more til I ride again), but its like those crazy down hill descents where you just keep going from one hop to the next, and a more than sane pace.

    Well, what I enjoy in someone’s writing is that it shows who they are rather then some projection they think they should be.

    Thanks for the kind words. I continually pull out my luckiest person alive speech for still getting to do fun work.

    I should say that despite my reference for doing high school research papers via the proper note system, I hardly did it in earnest, and like you describe, only making cards when doing so was part of the grade. I found it a bit stiff and made the topics boring.

    That does not seem the case with the FedWiki, but of course, its not for a grade and nor am I 16. And my attention waned a bit, but there was something compelling for a period of finding something of interest and making some notes there. My hunch is, that its usefulness is in doing it over a longer period of time.

    Mike’s strategy to pull in a new round via a topic and amazing person like Audrey is brilliant, I am counting on the experience to light a few flames again.

    The best part was doing this in the proximity of others, just some comfort in work occasionally overlapping, not the forced kind of cooperation in a school group project or the typical Un-federated Wiki writing.

    Thanks (and double that for The Clash).


    • Thanks, Mr. Cogdog! I’m going to save my luckiest person alive speech in response to you reading my work. And liking it. I’ll admit I’m doing a bit of an experiment with writing in over-share-mode here as a way to free up my mind for the fed-wiki writing and reading. In the last six months, I’ve made really strong connections with people not by describing the perfect moments in my life, but by sharing the complete train-wreck moments. After reading the “Imposter Syndrome” writing in the fed-wiki, I was kind of blown away. People who seem very perfect to me as far as work-ethic, wit, and writing ability–focused first on their flaws.

      What I didn’t share in this post, is that I got a lot of emails last week with the words “Woohoo!” or “You rock” or “Thanks for making this happen.” Smart people gave me very sound advice about my little problems. And yet for some reason, all I could think about was my tiny failure. If I’m going to be interested in the sloppy-side of creativity, then I feel a certain obligation to share my own little mess.

      And I think you are so absolutely right on three points. 1] The usefulness of the fedwiki is in the long-term. We all have a 16 year old who can understand the fedwiki-as-notecards description, and it’s the best I’ve seen as a way to understand it from a writer’s perspective. Since The Happening ended, I’ve been focusing more on the notes and journaling, and I’ve tried to back off the silly editing. I have several projects going with monthly deadlines, and the fedwiki is helping me keep it together better than I’ve ever been able to do. I also spend less time searching for notes. 2] Yes on everything you said about Audrey coming into the mix. I’ve made fun of myself as being Mike’s Horshack from Mr. Kotter, so I’m going to have to chill out with Audrey. And 3] this is a lovely way to describe The Neighborhood:

      The best part was doing this in the proximity of others, just some comfort in work occasionally overlapping, not the forced kind of cooperation in a school group project or the typical Un-federated Wiki writing.

      This comment made my day, and all that time away from your bike will make it that much more fun:)


    • Kate Bowles says:

      The “comfort in work occasionally overlapping” — yes, that was also compelling for me. I’m so struck, though, by your choice of “comfort” to describe this. Thinking. What do we mean by comfort?


      • CogDog says:

        I’m not 100% sure I can recall my intent in using “comfort” — equally well might have been “at ease” “in resonance” “at peace” “re-assured”.

        Or ambiance? Like sound? I find often working in dead silence to be stilting, so a background of TV/radio at soft volume, like being in the coffee shop or student work area. Not that you listen to these things, but its being in an ambient space where creativity, ideas, interaction is going on around you.

        It’s that studio idea again (though I have never done art in a studio) but its what I have seen in maker spaces, where people are working individually, separate but not isolated from the next. The office of the DTLT at UMW was the same way. You are focused on your work, but there is other work going on in the adjacent space, and that energy rubs off on each other.

        It’s not perfect. Sometimes it is distracting. But when you are in a space like that, and someone shouts out “this is amazing!” – the separation can collapse and you can see something that you might never attempt or consider.

        What are those equivalences online is what I seek. Twitter, facebook (before I left) is too crowded and noisy, people just trying to get attention. Email is a dead silent lonely cubicle, Discussion forums? It’s like walking into the room after the party has move on to another location.

        Fed Wiki has a different range of proximity/separation that feels… well for me, comfortable. With focusing but not being out of range of what is going on in the wiki right next to you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kate Bowles says:

        You’re right that the issue here is proximity. What does it mean to be working in silence but aware of strangers working nearby. This is the basic practice of a public library: the companionable silence of strangers. Have begun a trail of thoughts in #fedwiki in response to this, but still circling around the idea and practice of comfort.


      • Before a massively long day begins; I only have a short few minutes, but I have to respond to you two. I share the same frustrations as Mr. CogDog about FB and Twitter, email eats up so much of my time that it doesn’t even feel productive, and I avoid Discussion forums–it’s too easy to get lost. Maker spaces, libraries, and coffee shops-are locations that offer me that “comfort” of a creative space–when I read that word, Kate, I thought “solace.”

        Like my little blog is a table next to yours, and you can lean over and chat with me if you like. The fedwiki differs a bit, because it is like a knit retreat to me (perhaps this is on my mind because I’m about to attend one in 72 hours). You work on something solo, you have a chat with others, or you’re just silent admiring or reading the work of others. When you have a problem with the pattern or if you make a mistake, everyone who can help drops everything and comes to the rescue. You suddenly have a group of people who can help you understand what you’re doing wrong or what you’re missing. Or they can show you another way out of the pattern.

        I was talking to another writer yesterday who asked me listen to the “best three sentences” he’s ever written. Who can resist? I’ve been his sounding board for ideas throughout his entire project, and he’s finally there with where he’s been going the entire time. Rather than sharing that I wished I could write like him (and I do), I asked why he’s finally got to The Thing he’s been trying to say. Is it life right now? What you’ve lived through? He said, and this is brilliant, “It’s the right constellations of people, ideas, and texts to respond to at just the right time.”
        To which I responded, “OH.M.G, I need to write that down.
        He said, “Is this about the fedwiki for you because I thought we were talking about my work?” And yes, it was about the fedwiki. And if I wasn’t staring down a day of meetings and agendas, I’d take these two quotes into the fedwiki—anyone in The Neighborhood is welcome to do so–what fantastic quotes!

        “the companionable silence of strangers.”

        “Fed Wiki has a different range of proximity/separation that feels… well for me, comfortable. With focusing but not being out of range of what is going on in the wiki right next to you.”


  3. Kate Bowles says:

    Just wanted to show up here because your comment that this reminded you that writing is your first love is exactly how I feel. I think that’s why I want it to be a space whose organisational properties I understand better, but for now I’m just scribbling, scribbling and then letting the thoughts go like paper lanterns. And that in itself is no bad thing.

    Reading your writing has been one of the singular joys of the experience for me. Thank you.


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