Pose This Question and Just Listen

Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Hell is other people” reflects the experience of modern day air travel. I wrote this post while stranded in Detroit, Michigan after my plane out of Lansing had a mechanical. The airline made it up to me by putting me up at hotel and booking me on another flight the next day. I waited in lines, and tried to be a bit zen about it all because it’s a necessary part of my jobby job. Would rather they find what’s broken on the plane on the ground than in the air.

During this time in line, I made a new buddy. He and I chatted about his son’s college major. This is a convo with strangers my age almost always happens after I explain what I do for a living. Parents feel compelled to share their horrors about what they spend on their children’s college textbooks. And rightly so, ye parents of Priority and First Class, it’s truly an abomination. Tell it.

I bite my tongue to not snark-splain them. About how I care more about students whose parents can’t afford to foot the bill. I don’t say that. That makes me sound mean and bitter about my comfortably middle class peers (A Memoir).

Allow me to air some academic-ish dirty laundry.

I pitched a conference proposal on a whim with little to no forethought of what I would actually say if I got acccepted. Or how I would substantiate my ideas.

At the time, I needed to feel witty.

At the time, I gave myself full permission to be creative.

At the time, I had just been rejected by a global conference where the committee used words like “simply too sketchy” and “not really clear in its delivery” in the ding letter. I laughed really hard at those thoughtful rejections. You SO get me!

At the time when I submitted this particular preso, I was super-scattered and not very organized. I didn’t really have it together, and now I’m trying to sort out what I’ll actually say, but then again, I kind of want to write about something else. I’ve got a post going about surfing and mountain biking (all the rad). One about my readings on leadership (all the confusing). Another about two articles that a friend shared with me (all the troubling). Another about my sadness concerning one awful event (all the difficult). Another on how I learned to not joke about the worst case scenario (all the painful). Okay, where was I?

Right. Sorry I’m a bit too sketchy and not very clear in my delivery sometimes.

I used to get really exhausted by the airplane travel, and I still do, but I now understand where the exact point of exhaustion circles and swirls in the deep darkness of my soul. In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer (noted philosopher) writes about why traveling for work is so tiring.  Schumer writes about how she feels compelled to be nice to every service worker she encounters because she used to do so many of those jobs. She’s overly nice and tries to make up for the lack of humanity that she experienced as a service worker. Yes.

When I read that passage, I put the book down and thought long and hard about my life. How I see my old self in hostesses, waitresses, caterers, bartenders, cashiers, and cooks. How I see myself in those black aprons and white chef coats and I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. And I’m suddenly not so tired from the jet lag and I’m eternally grateful for this life. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Reading her book helped me to curtail the emotional energy that I expel with the small talk with strangers. I don’t engage with service workers as much while I’m traveling for work. I just smile and tip well. I realized I need to save every bit of energy for my work because, you know, it’s so easy-breezy, stress-free, and predictable (that’s sarcasm, btw). So I’ve dialed back the chatty with the strangers. I don’t say much. It helps me.

Okay, here’s the thing. The Thing.

I’ve been thinking about using the 10 Essentials as a storytelling framework for quite some time. One of these days I’ll get to My Big Vision With Said Framework but for now, I’d like to tease out a bit of story telling about Open while also thinking about pedagogy. Have I lost you yet? This post will be a blend of using the framework of the Mountaineering’s 10 Essentials and my own take on the teaching and learning. And some other things that I need to say but shouldn’t during my preso. I’ll have my shit together when I actually present, I promise.

The Map--Where do you want take your students in the short term? Maybe that’s your learning outcomes. The Big Question. The Five Questions. What’s the most important thing you hope students will remember about your course five years from now? That kind of thinking. Short-term learning strategy with long-term impact. You only have a semester or quarter, so what can you do with that precious time?

  • I once backpacked 40 miles with a map on my cell phone and when the battery went dead on that last day, my friend and I got really fucking lucky we didn’t end up on the nightly news. I’m willing to wing it on the trail and in the classroom and in my life, but I know that’s not always the best tactic. I love dreaming up plans while looking at maps. That anticipation is sometimes the sweetest part of planning a trip. Don’t stray/My kind’s your my kind/I’ll stay the same…chances are most of my audience will not get the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference. What’s next?

A Compass! Where do you want to go long-term? Do you want to adopt, adapt, or build? What’s the most important change you’d like to see in your teaching? department? discipline? institution? Where do you hope to be in five years?

  • So if I’m to admit that I’ve gone on a long backpacking trip without a map, then who the hell am I to ask this question? Like I could have ever guessed I’d be doing what I’m doing five years ago. Fuck it. Doesn’t matter.
  • The Mountaineers, who came up with this list in 1974, have since upgraded their language to include modern technology. Instead of a compass, they list a GPS. I think that’s a mistake, Brahs. Fancy gadgets are bullshit. You either know how to find True North or you don’t.

Sunglasses/Sunscreen--When there are so many shiny bright ways to get started, how will you choose what’s best for you? What attracts you? Adopting? Adapting? Building?

  • Okay, let me pause and admit that I’m struggling with this essential for two reasons. I almost never pack sunscreen when I backpack and my skin burns like a motherfucker. I can’t seem to make this essential work without a bunch of crappy-ass sun metaphors.
  • True story: I was once on a trail-crew outing and my leader didn’t have sunglasses when we got to a glacier, and the ancient deep snow was blinding. So bright. He fashioned eye protection out of Wheat Thins box and duct tape. Man, I was so impressed by that quick thinking. And he totally looked ridiculous, but he could see. He adapted to the situation like a badass. I had on fancy sunglasses with interchangeable lens, and I kind of envied his ingenuity. Either that or I’m easily impressed by creative uses of cardboard boxes by men who are skilled with axes.

Extra Clothing–What will you do if something changes in your discipline? This essential is getting at “change management” and being prepared, I think.

  • Okay, also struggling with this one. I’ve been on backpacking trips where I put on every single layer of clothing that I brought just to stay warm and I was close to crying in my sleeping bag because I was so cold. This is another “essential” where I kind of shake my head. At the point where you are freezing or considering if it will ever stop raining or snowing, you can’t have enough clothes. You mentally torture yourself for choosing to be in a freezing tent close to hypothermia instead of in your warm bed. If you aren’t prepared for all weather shifts, then what the hell are you doing out there in the first place?

First-Aid–What if you need help? What will you do when students are struggling?

  • I think this essential is really about self-care and self-preservation. I can’t really think about that right now.
  • I might pose this question and just listen.

Fire-starter–What is your main idea that will spark conversation or creativity with your students? What’s the most fun you have while teaching your course?

  • I’ve been camping many times where there was no hope of ever starting a fire. I live in the Pacific Northwest. It’s damp. Mossy. Soggy. Even with the fancy-ass firestarters they sell at the recreational employee incorporated, there have been times where no flame was going to fire. You have to resign to suffer in every item of damp clothing you have and hope that the buzz of whisky would take you down to sweet sleep. You make do.

Matches—How can you get the fire started? What’s the spark?

  • Recently I learned that one of my favorite OER leaders tells his/her faculty: “Why are you rubbing two sticks together when I’m standing behind you with a Zippo?” Holyguacamole that makes me laugh every time I think of him/her saying that. Fucking genius. (If you’re reading this, my beloved friend, and you want the attribution, let me know. I don’t want to out you here just in case it’s not something want to share beyond your faculty. It’s a beautifully intimate private joke with people who trust you. Really. It’s the easiest way to describe administrative support of adopting already existing OER with some humor, so I had to share. Hilarious).

Knife–Do you know what you’d like to cut? What will you get rid of if you run out of time? What will you sacrifice? What’s the least your students need to know?

  • Here I am struggling with all the shitty analogies again. Maybe this is a bad idea.
  • Truth be told, I never carry a knife. I always depend on other people. In particular, my friend Tami who can catch a fish in 30 degree weather, kill it, gut it, and cook it up in the Panko and olive oil. Mother fucking delicious. She always has a knife, and I mostly backpack with her these days. I am blessed that this woman is in my life.
  • FYI teachers, it’s dangerous to admit that you’d cut anything from a class. But you do. You do. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Extra Food–What do you consider unnecessary in your course? Is there a learning outcome that makes you feel a bit “Meh”? Or is there something that feels redundant? I LOVE talking to faculty about institutionalized outcomes. It’s so entertaining to listen to them slam that system.

  • I’ve run out of food before on a backpacking trip. I shared one packet of oatmeal and three dried apricots with a friend and we had many miles left to hike out. We were also out of coffee. The horror of that day still haunts me when I’m packing for a trip. My friend and I were so broke and hungry together. Hiking towards my old car that I wasn’t really sure would start when we got there. Miles from where we could hitchhike. Good times.

Headlamp–And it’s something quite peculiar/something shimmering and white/it leads you here despite your destination.

  • Okay, clearly I got nothing on this one if I’m quoting The Church–the band.
  • I kind of disagree with this “essential”–I’d rather have clean water and be in the dark any day of the week. I think you always need purification tablets and a pump, but then again, most of the time I’m ready for bed as soon as the sun goes down, so I could get away without having light. I can sleep like the dead when I’m off work and in the backcountry. Love napping in a tent too.

Okay, this post has clearly devolved, but it’s helped me sort out some thoughts. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to this point. I promised myself to blog more and click “Publish” a bit more often this year. How is it almost April?

Since I’m unsure how to conclude this post, how about a quote from something I’ve read recently?

In “How to Be Bored” by Eva Hoffman, she writes something across my soul with the following:

If we are to remain internally and intellectually alive, we need to make time not only for introspection but for our intellectual predilections, say, or our aesthetic impulses, without keeping an eye on the outcome or the specific goal.

Amen sister.

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Coaching The Nope Girl

“Stay young in the theatre of your mind.” ~Mary Oliver 

It’s Open Education Week, and it’s been awhile since I’ve published a post. In honor of this week of sharing, I’m going to take a minute to tell you about a profound moment of my learning from this past summer when I volunteered for a bike-related event. There’s deeper story that connects to my everyday work, and eventually I’ll tie these ideas together. Eventually: A Memoir.

For now, let me tell you a story.

As some readers may know, I’m on the board of an all women and girls bike team, Queens of Dirt, and our mission is to encourage more girls and women to race bikes.

The Queens of Dirt hosts several events as part of our sponsorship with Liv Cycling and our bike shop sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center. We ask our team members to volunteer for trail days, local events, and our Mountain Bike Weekend as part of the camaraderie and sponsor benefits of being on a team. I decided to step up my volunteering this summer to make up for the lost time I spent living in Portland. When the women decided to split from our co-ed team, and I was like, hells-to-yeah, ladies, let’s do this. Then I said, oh oops, I’m moving to Vermont. I mean Oregon. Whatever. I wasn’t around for a year, so I needed to up my game in 2017, so whenever I could, I signed up to volunteer. 

My first event was with RRAD, my friend Chris Mellick’s, organization who partnered with She Jumps. These two groups give girls a full day of activities such as learning first-aid, Leave No Trace principles, yoga, and mountain biking all for free at Lake Padden. If you have a bike, you’re encouraged to bring one. If you don’t, RRAD sets you up with a bike you can borrow. The girls rotate activities by age group throughout the day, and, I have to admit, I was really nervous about being with girls under 12. I was a baby-sitting machine as a young teenager, but my grown lady years have been childfree save for interacting with my friends’ kids. I’m an adult educator by trade. This was a total experiment for me. 

During the morning yoga session, the teacher described poses using animals sounds and she had the girls join in by being a bit silly. It was refreshing to see a yoga teacher play with poses. As she guided them through a bit of meditation, she said, “Think of your favorite color. Clear your mind and just see that color. I like yellow. I see nothing but yellow. Breathe.”

One girl immediately raised her hand and said, “What if you don’t have favorite color? I mean, I like a lot of different colors. It just depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on what I’m wearing. Or my dreams from that night. Or a book that I’m reading. I don’t have ONE favorite color. I kind of want think of a unicorn. Can I think of a unicorn? I know they don’t exist but I love them. What should I do?” 

Omg, that was me at 8 years old. And at 18. And 28. And 38. Every damn day of my life. 

I laughed to myself. Girl, I thought, just learn that yoga. Breathe. It’ll help you keep your shit together. I promise.

As each age group rotated through the different stations, and I was there to help demonstrate for the Mountain Bike Group. The coaches took turns teaching the concepts, and I was their Demo Girl. Watch Alyson’s arms in “Attack Pose.” Or we can call it “Strong Girl Pose.” See how Alyson has her elbows out? Ready position means you’re ready to react to the terrain. See how Alyson’s feet are level on her pedals?

The coaches did the teaching. I over-exaggerated all the moves to demo and I led the girls one-by-one so the coaches could give them tips. I was elated to have this train of girls following my every move. Smiling. Sweating. Really trying. Strong Girl Pose. 

Before we started with the 6-8 years olds, one coach went through a series of questions.

Have you ever ridden your bike on a side walk?

Yes! In unison. 

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Yes! In unison.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?
Yes!

I noticed one girl looked really nervous. She wasn’t saying a word. She was standing awkward next to a bike that was way too big for her. She had that lost look that was either going to devolve in tears or sadness. She kept eyeing the bike like it was going to bite her. She was having a hard time keeping the bike upright.

Parents often buy bikes that kids will grow into, and I totally get it. Parents are doing the best with what they can afford. It’s really hard to ride a bike that’s too big for you. Scary.

So I rolled over to this girl, and said to the coach, I think we need to review these questions again so that she can answer too. 

The coach walked over, knelt down at the girl’s level, look her in the eye, and repeated. 

Have you ridden your bike on a sidewalk?

Nooooope. She started to smile.

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Noooooope. She enunciated Nope very distinctly.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?

Noooooope.

Have you ridden your bike in your house? 

Nooooope. 

In the playground?

Noooooope.

Have you ever ridden a bike?

Noooooope. That’s why I’m here! 

We all started laughing so hard, and the other girls started saying “Nooooope” the same way she did and everything melted into chaos like things do with that age group. Or like with adults in a computer lab trying to learn something new. But I digress.

Same chaos. I loved it. 

Chris came over and asked her if she wanted to try a smaller bike.

Nooooooope. I want to ride my bike, silly! 

He said, okay, throw a leg over your bike and let’s see how you do.

She fell over immediately. He caught her.

Nooooooope. 

He said, okay, let’s take your pedals off so that you can just roll around.

Okay, she said. I could tell she had no idea what he meant until he started to remove the pedals.

He lowered her seat, and as soon as she got on her bike, she started rolling around like mad. He turned her bike into Skuut-like substitute. Her eyes were bright and she was suddenly very excited. Riding my bike, she yelled!

The coach said, okay, time to come back together. 

Noooooope. Just kidding, she said, and she scooted over to the line-up. 

At that moment, I loved that girl so much, and I now say Noooooope just like her every time I can. 

Later in the day, she was burning up the grass kicking those legs around the field. The Nope Girl loved her bike. She just needed somebody to help her get started. She just needed somebody to help her find the right tool for her ability.

When the next group rolled in, we had the 9-10 year olds, and they weren’t as into the unison-answering-question thing. Not cool. So we got right to the coaching and the demo moves. I loved how the coaches adapted their approach with a new group. Same lesson plan and goals, different delivery. Some of these girls had a lot of experience riding. 

Part of the mountain bike segment of the day was using wooden stunts that imitate bridges or rolling terrain. There are a few “skinnies” to ride which are really long wooden boards about three inches off the ground to help build balancing skills. When I demoed the skinnies, I pretended like I couldn’t ride them to show how to bail safely. Plus, it’s awesome when the girls can do it and they think they are better than the old lady doing the demos. Super fun.

One girl pedaled like crazy, hit one of the rollers with speed, and crushed big time. Total yard sale. Bike went flying. She went over the handle bars. Endo City. Everyone stopped to stare. 

Me and two of the other coaches looked at each other like, “Faaaaawk! Broken arm. OMFG. Parents are going to hate us. Ack!” Eyes wide. We ran over to her.  

Then the girl bounded up like a gymnast who just stuck her landing pose and screamed, “I DID IT!” 

Arms in a V. Looked around for praise. We clapped and said awesome. Then we started cracking up. 

She did that exact pedal-like-she-stole-it-to-yard-sale-endo seven times. Every time yelling “I DID IT!” She actually never rode over any of the stunts successfully. Crash-tastic Girl was brave as hell and having the time of her life. She had zero fear to go fast. Her knee was bloody, but she was still pedaling fast. Once she learns how to control her bike, she’s going to be amazing. 

After the event, when the coaches and I were reflecting about the day, I brought up Crash-tastic Girl. You guys, I said, she was so incredible. To her, she was totally DOING it because she was trying. Her “I did it!” moment wasn’t about failure, but rather, she was trying and thus totally doing IT in her book. We should all learn from her, I said. The head coach shared that she was happy that Crash-tastic didn’t break her arm and she’s never seen such fearlessness and joy in crashing. We laughed really hard together and imitated her gymnast-I-DID-IT-pose.

What really got me hooked on the idea learning how to coach wasn’t the Nope Girl or Crash-tastic, it was one of the mothers. When she arrived to pick her daughter up, I encouraged one of the girls to show her mom what she learned.

“Look at me, Mommy, I can rip the skinny.” 

Her mom said, Uh, I don’t know what that means.

Don’t worry, I said, just watch her.

The girl was out of the saddle balancing her way across the skinny. Then she hit the bridge. The roller. Joked with another girl. Stopped to make sure Crash-tastic knew she saw her totally doing it too. They high-fived. You ready to go home? Noooooope.

The mom had tears in her eyes.

I don’t even recognize my daughter, she said. She’s like a different person. I’ve never seen her so happy and confident. What did you do?

“Mommy, I’m going to rip it again. Okay?”

The mom said I’m going to go video this. Her dad won’t believe it. We’ve had a hard year as a family. I guess we need to buy her a bike. Thank you, Coach. 

I’m not a coach, technically speaking, but I will be someday. I’m going to do it.

I found a new love thanks to that mom, Nope Girl, and Crash-tastic, and I’m going to use this bloggy to share my learning on my path to becoming a Level One Coach as part of the Bicycle Instructor Program. On March 17, I’m going to take the WMBC ride leader certification with March Northwest and thanks to generosity of the bike community of Bellingham, I won a scholarship for this certification. I can’t wait to give back. 

Thank you, WMBC, and Mahalo for reading, my friends.

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Winter Solstice Scarf

A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for the dignity of labor. ~Mahatma Gandhi

A few plane rides ago, a ball of yarn flew out of my lap just as we were landing.

The weather was awful and there had been turbulence for most of the flight. Just as we were about to touch down, the plane jolted forward and my ball of yarn went flying.

I was in that row right behind first class. You know that row.

That first row behind first class–the loser row–where you can smell all the mediocre food they don’t bother to serve to you. The thin curtain separates you from The Swells. The row where you can hear the ice cubes in the weak yet free drinks they don’t serve to you. It’s not the worst row on the plane–that’s the one by the bathroom–but it’s not the best. Honestly, I don’t mind this you-are-not-first-class row. You get to deplane faster than those who sit in the back, and you get some sort of treat in a shrink wrapped box. A free drink or two. You get to ride next to hardened work travelers who aren’t interested in talking with you. Nobody is on vacation and ready to make friends. My ideal seat mates.

On this particular work commute, I sat there knitting quietly during the entire trip, and just as we were about to land, the ball of yarn flew from my lap and pin-balled between the four rows of first class passengers. It zigged and zagged between people’s feet and carry on bags. Rolled continuously like it was guided by an invisible cat who batted it around through several rows.

I sat there stunned. Helpless. Shocked. With my needles in my hands.

I was in the middle seat so I had to crane my neck towards the aisle to see what had happened to my yarn. Crap! The yarn was dark purple, very thin, and kind of delicate. Expensive. It blended in perfectly with the airplane carpet. I tried to stand up to retrieve it and the flight attendant yelled at me that I was in violation of the FAA. Ma’am, you need to take your seat, she said.

I side-eyed her with all my rage. Sat down hard like a scolded toddler.

Just then a guy in the front row held up my ball of yarn, and said, “Who’s is this?”

Mine, I said. I’m so sorry. I held up my needles as proof. The yarn got really tight as he held it up the air. Dammit!

He reached into his pocket and took out a small nail file to cut it. I was wide-eyed. Stunned silent. Just then three women in first class yelled NOOOO in unison.

What. The. Hell. I thought. How did that guy get on board with that aorta slicer in his pocket when I got felt up by the blue gloves just to confirm that the underwire in my bra was not a semi-automatic weapon. TSfuckingA.

NO! Another woman said. Wait. Let’s untangle it, slurred a woman who drank a bottle of merlot by herself glass by glass during this flight. She drank three glasses to my one. I had already decided I liked her before this yarn debacle. Her lips were as purple as my yarn.

The guy next to her said, “My wife is a knitter. You don’t cut the yarn unless you have to. Let me help. We can do this.”

Then the woman who sat next to the Nail-File-Yarn-Discoverer took charge. “Give it to me,” she said.

The man beside her said, “Send it this way.”

“No, pass it under the seat not over.”

“I’m next.”

“Here.”

This type of exchange went on for what seemed like eternity to me but was probably more like five minutes. If I could’ve made myself invisible, I would have.

These complete strangers worked out a tangle of yarn between feet, purses, carry-ons, flight blankets, and seat rows. They laughed. Helped one another. Corrected one another’s next move. Touched hands as they passed the yarn. Looked each other in the eye as they passed the ball under their seats. Stretched in odd ways to guide my wayward yarn between their legs. Coached the next row of yarn guides from their own unique perspective. Bossed one another around. Turned into a team right before my eyes.

I sat there helpless since I was on the hit list of the flight attendant. She seemed annoyed that she had to stop reading her Kindle to keep an eye on me and Team Yarn. She was right to watch me.The second she looked down, I was going to get up. She had my number.

I did not like her as much as the Merlot Drinker.

By the time the yarn made it back to me, it took almost a dozen people to help untangle the fiber strand. When the last person handed it back to me, the entire first-class broke into applause about their work. They laughed. High-fived. A few raised the roof. The Merlot Drinker Whoo-hooed.

I sat there mortified and somewhat in awe. I packed up my yarn carefully. I’d untangle the mess in privacy of my hotel room later. Said thank you. One person asked me what I was knitting.

A scarf, I said. Felt mildly embarrassed that I wasn’t creating something more complex. They didn’t seem to care. They were quite pleased with themselves. Team Yarn got the job done.

Then the plane bell rang. People unclicked their seat belts. Grabbed their bags. Deplaned. Joined the masses of bodies in movement. Strangers all on their way somewhere.

I walked to my next flight in silence. Marveled at how my mistake brought the joy of collaboration to a few rows of traveling strangers.

I finished that scarf yesterday shortly after reading an airline offer on my phone congratulating me on flying so many miles this year. Thanking me for being a valued customer. You flew 123,047 miles this year. Congratulations, the algorithm told me, hope to see you in 2018.

That scarf was a project that I carried in my purse for most of 2017. I carried it to several different states. Airports. Hotels. Restaurants. Bars. Libraries. Universities. Colleges. Parks. Train stations. Taxis.

Just a thin gorgeous thread of purple. Garnet stitch row by row. Size ten needles. Simple. Something to do when I was too tired to work. Too stressed to sleep. Meditative. Easy.

Thinking about that flight now, it makes me laugh. Spontaneous joy. How absurd life can be. I might be missing an opportunity here to say something about the kindness of strangers. Spontaneous collaboration. Team work. Empathy. Generosity.

Maybe this is all an anecdote for a larger point. Someday.

Originally I thought I’d gift this scarf to somebody, but after all that work from the strangers in first class, I’ve decided to keep it as my own.

A gift to me on this Winter Solstice of 2017.

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Open To Bringing Your Best #Adjunct

If I know this community well, there will be mind blowing bloggy blog bloggery for days after the OpenEd conference. People are going to reflect, synthesize, question, debate better than I can because I had a bit of a different experience. It was my first OpenEd and my time there felt a bit like hosting a party for all of my favorite people. I had a responsibility to be mindful of hospitality. A role that is a great privilege of my life—not just my career—I knew a lot of people in that space. In that community. Some of the faces I got to see are my dearest friends. Many are people I’m hoping to become friends with in the future. I had the privilege of being a woman in this space who has a lot of very cool brothers. My Ed Tech dude-friends are like the brothers I’ve never had. The women are more than sisters. They are my inspiration. The reason I stay in this gig.

One woman, who could be described as one of the major leaders in Open, shared with me her true feelings about her friendship with another woman. “Without her, I would not have been able to live through this year.” And it was honest. Real. Heartfelt. Full of pain. Joyful in the moment of sharing. I had to miss the UnCommon Women session, but it seemed to have had an impact on a lot people so I hope somebody will write about so I can know what I missed.

I know some people so well that I had full conversations with them across the room just by looking into their eyes. I hugged and got hugged more than normal on a work day. People that I think are total visionaries who I planned to fangirl faint and swoon over when I met them, led with saying “Oh my gosh, I love your work so much….” Hey. Wait. What? That’s what I was going to say!

When the morning keynote began, I looked around the room at the faces in the audience. I saw high-level administrators in the room who sacrifice their own careers to help their faculty. Because they care about students. Instead of worrying about their own promotions and reputations, they spend a lot of unrecognized time trying to get more staffing and support for their faculty and students. I know those people have sacrificed a lot to keep this idea moving forward. Sacrifices to their health. Their relationships. Their time. Their own self-care. They sit at a lot of tables where people are unkind to their ideas yet they keep persisting. They stay in this for their people. They lived through hurricanes, shootings, violence, and suffering with their staff, faculty, and students. And on top of all those other duties assigned, they teach. They publish. They research. They resist. They persist. They are my inspiration.

When I looked around the room during the first keynote, I could barely pay attention to his words because I was so nervous for my friends who helped put on that student panel. I had the privilege of having breakfast with that student panel, and they were even more lovely before they got up on stage. They were so comfortable with each other and they were genuinely excited to be there. On the way down to the conference, I gave them my card and I told them that I write really great letters of recommendations. I’d help them if I could when they go on the job market. I told them this conference is a very big deal and they were so brave to talk about their experience. I shared with them that everyone in the room is going to be thinking about how they can hire them once they graduate. This is how it works, I said. People won’t forget you. You’re going to be so loved. You’re so brave, I said.

When Robin DeRosa’s Minnie Mouse ears popped up and she said, “How do we hire them to come to our campuses?” I jumped up and threw them a Yes Yes Y’all with my fist and they smiled so big and laughed. We had a very private moment of sharing in a room full of people. Though I’m sure I looked ridiculous to those around me.

This is all about people for me. It’s about connecting people and ideas. It’s about connecting to this community. It’s about The People. And this work has gotten harder. Really hard. More difficult. More taxing. Yet even more needed.

I looked around the room and I realized that I also knew a lot of people who are very new to this community. Very new. I’ve been to 67 schools in one year. If you count the multiple visits to the same campuses, I’ve been to 73 schools in 11 states. Five giant systems. Small schools. Rural. Urban. Talking about This Idea. All the This in the Open.

They know words like constructivism and problem-based learning, but they have never heard of open pedagogy. They know service learning and communities of practice, but they don’t know how to get started in the digital space to make that work connect to others. They don’t know what a domain is but they know it’s a real pain in the ass when you lose access to your teaching materials. They have adopted an Open course, but they haven’t edited anything yet and they have no idea why that matters so much to some people. They know Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic, but they may not know the 5Rs. They don’t care about the theories and ideas I care about. What you may care about.

They care about their students. This I know from the work that I’ve been privileged to do.

And thus, I knew a lot of people. After this conference, I’m still reflecting on where I fit into this community and my role in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to get something off my chest in this space so that I don’t melt down on my husband. This post is a bit of self-care to make sure I’m the best I can be for somebody who truly loves me. My favorite life-long adjunct. So here goes.

I need to tell you a story about leadership.

A beloved leader teacher friend once shared with me that leadership is about seeing your people as either Weapons or Soldiers. The Weapon does one thing very well. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Keep it clean. Make sure it works. Point. Shoot. Aim. Fire. Your Soldiers, on the other hand, figure how to survive no matter what the orders. No matter what the situation. They can manage five jobs at once to get The Job done. They can make a weapon out of anything. They need orders but once they’re in the field you trust them do their job. You need to have their backs if they fuck things up and you need take the blame should your superiors get angry at your Soldiers. You hope they inspire the Weapons, but you don’t push it. The Soldier needs to stay focused on the strategy and your Weapons get all the shit done to make sure the tactics work.

It’s a simple binary, right? It’s all so confusing. I thought hard as I listened to him tell this story. Am I somebody’s Weapon? Am I a Soldier? As I was listening to my very brilliant friend, all I could think about was that I’m a pacifist who doesn’t see the point of the war.

This life is not the life that I thought I would have. I thought by this point in my life I would be the next Joan Didion and I’m not. When I shared my sadness about not being Joan at this conference, my dear friend Mike Caulfield said, “Well, you didn’t know there weren’t going to be any more Joan Didions back then either so it’s okay. You’re good.” Open bars bring out the best in my Open friends.

This life is not the story I want to tell you about either. I want to tell you about an experience that I keep having at academic conferences. Especially in the last four years. This is not exclusive to OpenEd17.

There is a systemic disease in higher education where somehow people think it is okay to pin their problems on adjuncts, and it’s not.

Let me give you a little pro-tip if I’m in the room with you. Don’t ever blame the state of higher education and all its woes on adjuncts. Let me repeat. Don’t ever blame all the fucked up shit in higher education on adjunct faculty. Ever. It’s like putting pressure on a very old deep wound of mine and I have to say something. I can’t stop myself even though I know I should.

Let me give you two tips, actually. Don’t ever make the claim that a faculty member at a community college deserves less than an R1 researcher. That R1s and regional publics somehow have the ability to determine the quality of materials because of their credentials or the status of their schools. That what they have created in the community college arena isn’t good enough for university students.

Let me give you three tips. Don’t ever shit on adjuncts around me. Ever. Or I’m going to say something to you that you probably don’t want to hear. Even though I’m trying to dial that rage back because it only hurts me. It only hurts me, and I know better.

That person will never hear what I say. It’s not a conversation. It’s a declaration of power from that person and I’m sick of hearing about it. I am really sick of talking about it. Yet I still speak up. Yet I type here.

It happens at every conference when there is a discussion about teaching and learning. With one such interaction this past week, I listened to long tales of funding woes and that adjuncts don’t care about this. That. Adjuncts don’t do this and adjuncts don’t do that. All the negatives. All the negatives. And I get it. Some are not worth defending. I know this.

I snapped a bit when I heard a complaint about not having funding to send an adjunct to this particular conference. This funding struggle is real, but I think there is a way to solve it.

I asked, “You’re here, right? Somebody paid for you to be here. What about giving up your spot at this table to send your best adjunct next year? What about advocating for your best adjunct to be here? You have a year to make that happen. Why not give up your space at this table?”

Silence no response. Started packing up his bag. Note the pronoun in the previous sentence. Conversation over. Thanks for sharing. Fuck you very much lady.

Here’s the thing. Somebody else in the room was listening.

A very quiet administrator walked over to me after this interaction, and she was very soft-spoken. She said, “I overheard your idea. Can we chat for a minute? I’m going to send my best adjunct here next year. She’s doing the best work with her students using online resources that she finds on the internet. She would get a lot more out of this conference because she actually teaches. My boss thought I should be here to represent my college.” (emphasis mine).

I’m going to pause here for a minute to give you time to shake your head.

At the moment that I’m making a new friend, I got this pained looked on my face. This is not the conference where “representing your college” matters. She thinks she said something wrong. She is picking up on my weird energy and at that same moment one of my favorite administrators on the fucking planet bounces by with super-cute-double-hair-buns looking stoked about life. And I want to run after her and say hello but I have to finish this moment with this person. Let the record show that I resisted crying twice after seeing Amy Collier for the first time in two years because I’m a professional when I need to be. Sorta.

I breath. Dry up the tear ducts, Indrunas. Focus. I say, “What can I do to help you?”

She said, “I just don’t want her to be lonely because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of adjunct faculty here. These are a lot of impressive people who are very accomplished in their roles.”

I’m thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I’m going to introduce her to [enter all my brothers and sisters here] who have been adjuncts or they care a great deal about adjuncts.” She won’t be alone, I promise.

I told her I’d try to get more adjuncts here next year. I gave her my card.

She’s a life-long adjunct, she added. We’ll probably never have a position for her but we’d like to keep her.

Here we go.

I know this story. I used to be that gal to several of my department chairs. I broke their hearts when I left teaching. Broke their hearts. I can’t tell that story today. Here is some of the story if you’d like to read it.

She also said, “I need data to help me support that OER works so that I can secure the funding.”

Data. Sigh. What do you mean that it works? What the hell does that even mean? For whom? Why? How do we measure success? I can’t unload the Ranty McRanty Pants Indrunas on her.

So I say, what do your superiors want to hear about the data on OER?

I get it. Numbers are an easy way to substantiate claims. The Quant always wins street cred over the emotional Qual. I’m a mixed methods thinker. Numbers aren’t enough for me and words don’t work up the chain of command. A beloved friend and colleague summarizes this battle well with one of his best quotes: “Data is for the weak.”

So instead I said: Open education makes people happier and they stay where they are when they feel respected and excited about their teaching. The feeling transfers to the students. A transactional learning experience becomes transformational. It rescues mid-life career adjuncts from burnout. It’s my hunch on things based on many conversations I’ve had with people. I can’t substantiate any of this with numbers, but I’m happy to talk to your superiors. I can help you get a lot of data if that’s what it takes to get your best adjunct here. Let’s figure out what your superiors care about and then let’s find the data. If that’s what it takes to help you keep your best adjunct here.

We can (maybe) help them be happier people as life-long adjuncts.

I want to respect a “life-long adjunct” because I was one. I’m married to one. Many of my good friends fall into this category.

Let me tell you now about one of my worst mistakes as leader.

I shared my career story once at a workshop by saying I got into learning about open education and thinking about education and technology because I wanted to escape being a life-long adjunct. I didn’t know my audience—I was talking to a room full of life-long adjuncts.

At lunch one of them said to me, “I’d love to be full-time faculty but I’ve accepted this is the only skill I have. At least I’m a life-long adjunct in a unionized system. That makes a difference.” Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly, I almost said and then stopped myself. Instead I shared that I had a retirement plan and benefits thanks to the faculty union in Washington State. I’m here because they invested in professional development for their faculty. I admitted that I worry a great deal about the power of administrators and the private sector in non-union states. He and I then had a spirited discussion about educational policy and open education. That night I kept my frigid hotel room warm with the heat of my shame. My regret of telling my story about “escaping being a life-long adjunct” to people who do not have options–I don’t tell that story anymore.

I sometimes overhear my Mister sharing what it was like for me circa 2003 when people ask him about his career. He shares that his current experience is so unlike mine. Back then, we would let the answering machine grab every call and we’d listen to panicked administrators calling on a Friday afternoon to staff a class that started on Monday. I had an application at every community college—and I’m not exaggerating—from Bellingham to South Seattle. That’s nine community colleges. I chose not to answer the phone two weeks before the start of the quarter because I worried that if I turned down a dean who was in pinch, she’d never hire me again.

We’d sit on the couch sipping beers and calculating if I should accept the offer and thus screw over the people who were already depending on me. I decided to stay loyal to two colleges, and that served me well in my career. My heart breaks when I hear him describe the radio silence during these recent hiring seasons. The phone, he says, never rings. They don’t even email me back a rejection, he says. They can’t even bother to automate a rejection email in 2017, he says. A part of me wishes we had never chosen to become teachers. A small part of me hates myself for feeling that way. A larger part of me can’t imagine a life that is disconnected from academia. A small part of me knows my life would be easier if I didn’t care so much. But I do. Okay, where was I? Right.

Bring your best adjunct to a conference. Your best life-long adjunct.

Had somebody done that for me, I might have stayed a teacher. Maybe. Or I would have been smarter faster about educational technology. I wouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe. Or I would have done more creative things. Maybe.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have been: I wouldn’t have been so lonely.

Maybe I would’ve found my brothers and sisters as a teacher instead in this community of  whatever it is I am now. I would have found My People. I would have been happier.

I have one idea to throw out there, and if you’re listening and you’d like to share your ideas, please do.

What about bringing your adjuncts who are doing some sort of open pedagogy without even knowing it’s a thing? And by all means don’t tell them to research prior to coming. They should just tell their stories of how they work with their students and their faculty.

I attended two presentations at OpenEd17 where the teachers were killing it with ideas about involving their students and colleagues and they never used the phrase “open pedagogy” once. They shared rich stories of faculty collaboration without using any of the lingo. The jargon. The Ideas. The acronyms. The camps. The sides. The debate.

I need more of these stories in my life. This to me, is bigger than Open.

So how do we make this Idea of sharing happen?

At local conferences. At regional conferences. At the Big Dances like OpenEd? In your teaching and learning center? In your library? In campus coffee shop? And then how do we virtually connect to what you are doing?

How do we bring more adjuncts to the table?

I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this bit of self-care post so I can walk my dog and enjoy my home before the work week begins again. I’m going to cook for my favorite life-long adjunct and we’re going to talk about movies and bike racing.

I’ll conclude with Joan Didion:

“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

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Supported & Autonomous

I have been consulting quite a bit these last few weeks with teachers all over the country who are preparing for the fall term. Some of them I’ve met before. Some of them have been in workshops with me. Most are new voices over the web or through my phone with questions that I can (thankfully) answer. I can suggest workarounds or strategies to help them save time. Or I can stall long enough to ask somebody else who can help me (I work with really smart people. Every. Damn. Day.) It’s an incredibly interesting jobby job.

Unlike being an administrator who is preparing for Welcome Week or other campus events where you actually get to chat about people’s summers, their research, their plans for the upcoming year–my recent meetings are strictly business. I’m a stranger with answers for busy teachers trying to get work done before the term starts. We’ve all got shit to do. Every once in awhile, I get a delicious peek into how a teacher really thinks. How she really works. What she’s excited about. What exhausts her. What she wants to change. What she wants to keep the same. What frustrates her. And even though I know I should cut it short and stick the agenda, I’d rather sacrifice my personal time to have these calls go long. I like to hear a good story just as much as I like to tell one.

Here are my best two stories from the last two weeks.

Story 1–How Did You Get That Job: A Memoir

A teacher asked me directly how I got my job. I don’t have an easy answer for this question. Ever. It’s too long to summarize. It’s too weird to be a strategy. It’s a hard question for me. I want to respect an educator who may be looking to change her career. I usually get asked if we’re hiring for my job. Weekly.

Quick side note: I try to make what I do look like it’s all fun-easy-breezy work but it’s actually really fucking hard and exhausting. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not easy and it’s not always fun. For every hour I can predict, there are seven hours that are completely unknown. For every whimsical thing I try in workshops and presentations, I can subtract six months from my life because of the worrying and fretting. Then I top off that experience of worrying and fretting with worrying and fretting about what I should have done. Sometimes I drink. Sometimes I ride my bike really hard. And then I worry and fret about all the things that I haven’t been able to do to support my colleagues. And then I waste a bunch of time blogging about something that nobody will read and care about. Healthy, I know.

I take that question “Are you guys hiring?” very seriously. Here’s why.

It’s always an adjunct who asks me this question. Always. And my heart breaks.

Story 2–Roombas & Innovation

When I work with teachers, I write down their best quotes, questions, and ideas so that I can share them with others. So I can remember. So I can laugh later when it’s appropriate to laugh harder. Teachers slay me when they get honest and comfortable sharing their real selves.

You don’t have to burn everything down to use OER.

To change your curriculum. To spice it up.

Teachers get a lot of pressure to jump into the deep end with licensing their materials, embracing open pedagogy, revising their pedagogy, flipping this, flipping that…it’s too much. Small steps are sometimes easier and more manageable.

Here’s an example I’ve been using lately when the pressure “to innovate” is clearly stressing out a kind loving teacher.

Everybody loves the idea of Roombas.

You know, the robot that was going to steal the job of your vacuum and broom?

People love buying them on sale at Costco and coming home to put it to use. Cats riding Roombas totally kill it on the Internet, right? Roombas will automate your vacuum. Poof! You’ll never have to vacuum again. Just like that. Buy this product. Save time. Poof!

But let’s face it, you have to break out the fucking broom every once in awhile to really clean the corners.

That damn robot is a circle and our houses are filled with square rooms. Dust gathers in the corners. Fur from our pets become tumbleweeds too big for the vents of the Roomba.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good robot, but it doesn’t leave the nice satisfying rows in your carpet like a vacuum.

That robot solves the problem of feeling guilty about not vacuuming, but it doesn’t quite do the job.

The broom and the vacuum were once “innovative” and now we can add the Roomba to that arsenal of cleanliness if we want. We now have several tools to keep our floors clean.

Either way, somebody or something has to clean the damn the floor.

Truth be told, most people I know who own Roombas get more joy out of terrorizing their pets than rejoicing that their that their floor is clean.

Here’s the thing.

A teacher shared with me one of the most brilliant points of feedback I’ve ever heard about educational technology.

We were talking about what will work best for the fall. What will happen in the spring. What the future might look like for his teaching with OER. He said, “I want to be fully supported when I need it and I need to be completely autonomous.”

Fully supported and autonomous.

In short, help me when I need it and then get out of my life.

That’s a tall order if you work in a support role. Seems impossible. Some support folks may take this feedback personally.  I totally get it.

So.

Questions arise.

How do we prepare for the “when I need it” while respecting autonomy? Is this just-in-time support or something else? How can honor autonomy while fulfilling the “faculty support” job description? How do manage everyone needing support at the same time? How do we create collaborative communities when most faculty want to be left alone? How does this all work?

I don’t know.

I struggle with conclusions of all of my posts because I just want to keep writing.

Let me end this here with a favorite quote from Mary Oliver’s Upstream, that I finally finished reading this past weekend.

For me the door to the woods is the door to temple.

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Thoughts on Open Public Art

“…what if these fading languages contain words we never realise we need.” ~Ella Frances Sanders, one my favorite illustrators who participated in the #100DayProject

I just had four glorious days of being out with two friends who I enjoy sharing time with in the backcountry woods (it’s a small club). I have the blisters, bug bites, and sore muscles to prove it. It’s my second backpacking trip this month–once to the coast and once to the high alpine of Glacier Peak. Another glorious set of days in this fabulous July. I haven’t been to an airport in a month, and I’ve been able to ride my bike more than I have in two years.

I’ve spent a lot of time curating and cleaning up planning documents during the workdays and in the evenings, I’ve gone through a lot of old writing. Planning documents. Checklists. Outlines. Some of it I decided to end for good, and one project I’ve committed to finishing (again). I’ve scoped out a nice project for the jobby job and the hobby job.

Let me get to a few threads I’ve been toying with in my mind as it relates to writing–this will help me transition back to front country/workaday concerns.

I’ve been following Ella Luna’s 100DayProject with great interest and I need to mourn that it’s over. For now. A daily practice for me since it started back in April. I’m a fan of the idea of practice as a path for life-long-learning. Self-efficacy. Reflection. Meta-cognition. Choose your educational paradigm.

I’d like to explain these ideas without using theoretical lens at all. How do we do that? Well, I feel like I’m truly learning when I can let my mind fall into a few rabbit holes about things I love doing. Things that I love thinking about. I lose all track of time.

Sometimes it’s hiking in the woods–the hours I’ve spent looking at maps. Measuring. Usually incorrectly.

Doing yoga. Writing. Riding my bike–the trails that used to be so hard only to become easier–so fun now.

Knitting. How many rows will have to rip in order to learn I can’t drink and do math? It’s always such a great idea at the time.

Researching places I want to see. Reading. Reading. Reading.

Whatever The Practice–whatever one is valuing most at this time as a learner. 

This is why structured curricula based on the academic clock hour does not make sense when it comes to life-long-learning. The italicized words above capture what I’m trying to sort out. Time and place–those are usually the themes my kaleidoscope-like brain twirls around and around when I’m in the woods.

1. Time.

The-practice-something-for-100-days idea is popular with motivational speakers, theorists, yogis, and anyone who may be trying to sell you something. It’s got a catchy title. Like a good memoir.

What fascinates me about the 100DayProject is threefold and beautifully simple.

1] It’s hospitable for all walks of creativity with no rules for participation,

2] It’s free and open to anyone who is willing to commit the time, and

3] The only thing that binds together the common experience is a hashtag. Just a hashtag, yo. Nothing fancy. Brings together any platform that uses a hashtag.

Brilliantly low-tech with high-culture. Wiki-like. Easy.

A long-term schedule of daily practice around an idea. That’s it. If you can make it, wonderful. If not, that’s okay too. Just do what you can when you can. You’re never late. You’re never early. You’re right on time when you want to show up.

My inner-Ed-Tech-designer-trainer–in-higher-education voice frets a bit and says, “How scary, nobody can own a hashtag! [wrings hands nervously] Things will get messy. Who will own the project? What will it become? What if somebody mean hacks the good intentions of the artists?  What if somebody starts using the hashtag to sell__________? What if____________?” You know, those kind of thoughts.

My inner-teacher-writer-Self says, “Excellent. [taps fingers like Mr. Burns] Wow. Yes. Hotdamn. Where do we begin? This is going to be awesome.” And it was. Every damn day. I didn’t participate but I felt like I was a part of the communal practice by following the hashtag everyday mainly through Instagram. It was a reading practice for me. Meditative.

My favorite collection was from the illustrator that I cited in my epigraph. I love her work and I can’t really sort whether her work is ekphrastic or something in between. Mostly, I admire her practice–it’s something I haven’t been able to perfect in my life. I once tried to write for 100 days publicly and I got 58 posts with five drafts. It’s my best attempt at brevity to date though I didn’t make it to 100 days.

If you search for the words “100 days habit” you see a lot of “challenges” and “motivations.” When you start to dig into the advice literature, you see mentions of “automaticity” and “habits.” I’m also reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that I read only to congratulate myself for not needing since I’m writing The Rage Project (jk). I was simultaneously in awe of how much people loved Rubin’s work and how utterly boring the whole enterprise was to read. A lot of the advice/self-help genre involving time, practice, and/or habits can be too Eat, Love, Pray which makes me want to Puke, Fight, and Sin.

2. Practice

Merriam’s Dictionary defines the word “practice” to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient. I’m not sure “proficiency” is satisfying here when one considers the pure joy of creating. The pure joy. The 100DayProject brought together a lot of entries of pure joy. Learning. Contemplation. Reflection.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I had a moment of pure serendipity–joy– two weekends ago that hasn’t quite left me. After spending time with a friend doing a gorgeous sunset mountain peak hike, I drove home the next morning, and decided to stop at a Co-op. I was reading The Stranger and stuffing my face when I looked up to see an installation of a Before I Die public art, the brilliant and visionary global art project by Candy Chang.

I’ve never seen one in person yet I look in every city I go to. Every city. There it was in Mt. Vernon, WA of all places.

I stared out the window at its sweet simplicity. I watched a shop owner and his daughter wipe down the chalkboard surface clean with a brush and water. I wondered if they just maintain it or if they helped build it. I watched three people stop and write on the board. When I finished my salad, I walked over and wrote “Learn to Surf.” Drew a heart. Instagrammed my thoughts. Reflected on how surfing is the only sport I haven’t tried in life that I know I’ll love. Yet. Drove home thinking about the things I’ve done. The things I haven’t done.

3. Space

When I got home, I immediately read up more on Candy Chang.  Her Looking For Love Again located on an abandoned building in Fairbanks, Alaska is pure genius. She somehow blends the vulnerable with architectural– the word, the image, and the poetic.

Chang is unabashedly sentimental in situations where cynicism makes more sense.

She takes (in her words) the “neglected space” and turns it into a “constructive space.”

From her website:

By drawing emotional attention to the neglected building and providing residents with a platform to share, the project explores the impact that buildings have on our lives and how they can become meaningful again.

Italics mine.

You should listen to Candy Chang describe her work in this lovely Ted Talk:

So. I’m trying to sort out something here, and I’m not sure what it is.

Truth be told–this scattering of blatherings is to help me sort out what I want to say at the PechaKucha Night La Conner: Communities and the Commons at the Museum of Northwest Art.  I’ve been asked to talk about open education to a community of artists at one of the sweetest art museums in the PNW (my friend works there). I’m humbled and so honored. And I’m so excited! I want to talk about something different than higher education while teaching about open education, art, and curation.

I want to teach people about open education without ever calling it that until the very end.

Open. As in public art. As in Public Art. Wish me luck. If anything, I get to confuse people in a really beautiful art museum.

For now, I’m going to record my thoughts here until the preso. During these last few days of July as I research for this talk. While the sun still takes a long time to set. While I have a few days to climb mountains. While I let my body heal from my month of adventure. While I’ve had some luxurious time to think.

For now, let me end on this quote from the Association for Public Art:

What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means.

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.

Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.

Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

Remove “public art” and enter “(open) education.”

Spacing of the words? Mine.

Emphasis on the italics? Mine.

Thoughts on Public Art? Ours for the next few weeks. Here.

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Aperture & Open & Creativity

Awhile back, a post of mine took off in wild wonderful ways, and I did plan on a follow-up post on all the workshoppery. But then a lot of travel for work happened and this post sat in my drafts folder. It’s somehow already July; we are on the cusp of a new season. 

We like to think of the academic year as being organized by semesters or quarters. Course outlines. Contracts. Paychecks.

Time.

For those of us who are trying to support faculty–both in the private and public sector–there are really two seasons. The busy-as-fuck autumn and the busy-as-hell early spring.

Conferences consume The Winters (which are always coming) and the off-contract/research time swallows The Summers. We have two seasons of connection potential, and truly, I applaud all faculty who use the other two seasons to completely ignore us. 

Today I want to reflect a bit on a somewhat recent post by Alan Levine, Mr. Cogdog. (this post has been in draft form for weeks?) Like many of you, I read and ponder the twittery debates between and among my OER heroes and heroines. I usually don’t respond to any of them but I read. And then I watch many others weigh in. Conviction via posts. Snarks. Links. Explanations. Annotations. Empathies. Questions. It’s been quite The Season with the engagement with Open. I haven’t engaged at all with the questions of defining anything–not because I’m worried that people won’t treat my ideas with respect or that they scare me with their genius brains. I’ll just be honest–I can’t distill my thoughts into a witty engaging tweet unless it’s about beer, bikes, or Boston Terriers.

I need more space to think, and thus, I convince myself to not tweet. But I read. I think. I jot down notes in my journal. I watch the frayed threads of defining words and actions overlap, resonate, and expand. The stream turns into a garden of thought for me (high-five, Caulfield).

I’m not one to cherish one definition of any word, and I don’t think that one side—or in this case—all sides are that much different. I see many Venn Diagrams spiraling and engaging with important ideas for teaching and learning. Where they overlap pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they diverge pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they get confused pushes us towards the unknown and somewhat frightening. 

We (meaning anyone who cares to see some change in higher education) need conversations like this and ways into thinking about the history of and state of open education. For example, maybe you high-five Wiley when he posts. Maybe you push an EduPunk fist-bump towards Groom. Maybe you nod enthusiastically with Caulfield. Maybe you can’t keep up with hitting “Like” with everything Maha posts. Maybe you cry reading the stunning beautiful words of Catherine Cronin (wait, that’s me).

These are just a few names–I could go on and on and on.

Maybe you were and continue to be lost as fuck about what any of them are even talking about. Either way, you thought a bit about your own context about teaching. You considered what you care about. What you do. What matters to you. What you need in your little corner of academia. What you need from Open. What you need from being open. What you want. What you need. 

Open, OER, Open Pedagogy, Open Teaching, OERs…whatever you want to call it is really too new to be named in my humble opinion. I’ve written about this too-new-to-be-named before and thank all my lucky stars the fabulous Lee Skallerup Bessette wrote about my thoughts. To watch one of my favorite writers/bloggers use my train wreck of thoughts was so special to me. You may disagree with me about “The This” as it relates to all things open that I think is too new to be named and that’s fine. To me, The This is all about teaching. And learning.

The majority of the teachers that I work with are new to the whole concept of open anything. ANYTHING. These folks that are just learning—just like all us at one point—and like it or not–they are going to shape what open will become. What it can be. I’m honored that I get to tell people that I have a few answers but I don’t have THE answer.

What open was and why it matters is not the most important aspect of questioning the definition(s) of open. Forgive me for conjuring up my go-to way to substantiate my ideas, but it’s all the not-yetness (#Collier&Ross4Evah). 

If you truly subscribe to one way of thinking and defining words, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from people who are new to these concepts. To me, that’s the beauty of open everything. I learn from you and you learn from me in the open. Out in the open. Open to suggestions. Open mind. Open to what works. Open to what does not work. Open to hearing that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Words are just words. I’m interested in the action. I’m interested in the inertia. 

And let me be clear, I am not without strong opinions about open education. I cringe daily—sometimes hourly—when I read grant proposals, RFPs, DMs, policies, emails, tweets, and blog posts. I’m more comfortable stating what it is not than what it is. But that’s not what I want to get into today. That kind of thinking is Big Picture. High-level theory. Being 30,000 feet high. Scholarly. Searching for horizons. Big ideas. 

Let me take you down to weeds. Let’s dig a few holes.

Which brings me to the barkings of the Cogdog. In my little corner of the open landscape (Maybe it’s a seascape because it’s so big. Whatever. Damn, I’m the queen of the mixed metaphor.)

I teach people about Creative Commons licensing almost weekly as part of the jobby job. I’ve been to 57 institutions in ten states over the last year. My jobby job sends me all over the place. I meet a lot of interesting people. I talk to a lot of teachers. And I love them. I adore teachers and administrators equally when they begin by talking about students. Creative Commons licensing, to my target audience, is something very new and all about naming. 

Institutions are paranoid about being sued and many grant projects have strict licensing rules for expanding the use of OER on campuses. I introduce the concepts of CC licensing and why it matters, and I’m advocating for folks to participate in the CC course when its done. I can share my perspective on all things Open pretty easily at this point. I struggle, however, with licensing—not because it’s particularly complex–it’s just always contextual and fraught with history. Fraught with human error. Like words and definitions. Licensing forces binary thinking about a very creative endeavor–teaching and learning. It’s either CC BY or it’s something else.

Teaching licensing and how to use an editable platform is the perfect marriage of pedagogical praxis as it relates to educational technology (oh crap, this might be another blog post. Focus, Indrunas, focus). The CC licenses are the theory behind how to enable sharing and we need dependable platforms to enable that sharing. If I have 90 minutes to open the door, so to speak, on licensing as a practice, then I’ve got to make it easy-breezy-peasy. Dare I say it? Yes. I like to make it fun for faculty.  

Here’s the thing.

Finally.

I’m always searching for anecdotes or some sort of story to explain all the CC BYs. You can haz all the CC BYs. 

To explain all the CC BYs.

Sometimes I talk about how a colleague gave me her handout and I cut my name and class title out from paper using scissors. I then taped that scrap of paper over the title of her handout to make copies for my students.

Never mind that the handout was on plagiarism and I was plagiarizing my friend (do I say not as I do, students. That’s definitely another blog post).

This is the Remix and the Reuse of the 5Rs. I also Retained that crappyass handout for years because I made a gajillion copies of it as I taught boatloads of Comp courses. I was rocking the 5Rs way before I knew what open meant, yo. I bet you were too.  

Then I share that it wasn’t until my colleague sent me her Word file that I could make changes and revise and retain it.  

I use that same “Ditto-Sharing-Story” in different contexts where the technology is scarce. Like if I’m writing URLs on a chalkboard using chalk. If this surprises you in 2017, I encourage you to travel to a rural community college in your state. If this surprises you in 2017, I can conjure up at least a dozen people from IT and eLearning to substantiate this experience. If this surprises you in 2017 as a high-level administrator, you need to make an appointment to observe a class taught by an adjunct in the evening at your satellite campus computer lab. Watch them struggle with technology when there is nobody around but security to call for help.  

Okay, back to what I say to the teachers–Sometimes I’ll throw an LMS under the bus to get to what faculty hate about LMSs. I’m always willing to host that party, y’all. I do rejoice in introducing folks to writers of e-Literate and their brilliant description of the LMS as a mini-van. This anecdote totally kills a room by the way–kudos to Michael and Phil for the comedy. You guys need to roll that joke every chance you get when you meet faculty who have no idea what the hell EdTech is (you’re welcome). 

Okay, where was I? I’m not a comedian. I teach people. Right. And I have point with this post. Right.

Alan Levine made licensing really easy in his post Open As in Aperture (I’m linking here so that you read it). He admitted in his post that he was “camera-splaining” and I can totally relate to that feeling as a writer. I bike-splain a lot. Maybe this blog is Alyson-splaining (or Indy-splaining) and that’s definitely another blog post I can title “Well Actually.”

I’ve tried several times and failed to explain OER as a bike share. Sometimes I have out of body experiences when I listen to myself heading down the bike-share-lane-as-pedagogical-lens and I see why it all falls apart. Right as I’m about to get out of the saddle, I drop my chain. Every time. I get too deep into the dorkery of all things related to the bikes. I totally get how hard it is to use one interest/love as a metaphor for another interest/love. 

A bike share needs three basic ingredients: 1] policy, 2] infrastructure, and 3] an enthusiastic audience. You need people to carve out the space (policy), make sure it can grow/scale (infrastructure), and people who excited to make it happen (audience). I would also go so far as to say that climate, terrain, and culture also play into the success of bike share. Look at the fucking Dutch culture if you ever want to get depressed about your current town.

What struck me about CogDog’s work—and thus prompted this post—is the short video of the UMW students and his use images explaining aperture. In the video, the first student uses her hands to explain how we “narrow [our] personality down” depending on the social context. Brilliant! Yes, I do that! I may drop the F Bomb here but I would never do that in front of your Provost (unless you want me to. Sounds so fun, btw. Let’s talk).

In the video, the students are discussing online identity—which is connected to our open practice—and I understand how Alan got to seeing the apertures.

I’ve been hunting for a visual for CC licensing, and holyhotdamn, I think Alan captured a framework for me (see what I did? so punny). Without getting into any details about photography, light, and aperture, I think this image works beautifully to somebody who is new to this whole idea. 

From left to right. Everything you own in a box to left. Sorry, that’s Beyonce not OER.

Public Domain (big open space for creativity)

CC BY  (a bit more closed for creativity)

CC BY SA (less space)

CC BY NC (really closed)

CC BY NC ND (if you look really close at this aperture it looks like an anus, amirite? lol)

Admittedly, I have a lot of work to make this visual work both for teaching and learning. But it’s got me thinking.

If you look at this image above, and if you think of the dark space as what’s “open”–meaning what’s available for reuse, then as the shutters close–the less freedom you have to be creative with that work. That’s really what licensing is all about. Creativity.

Moving from left to right, the potential for remixing, revising, and reusing narrows. What does that really mean for teaching and learning? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

I don’t really have an elegant conclusion here, but I know in my gut that this is all connected to the digital space as it relates to teaching and learning. And I just really like this idea and I wanted to share it.

I’m reminded of something Susan Sontag wrote about in On Photography and I’ll leave you with her words.

From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.

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#OER & A Letter of Recommendation

One of the mistakes that leaders and champions make over and over again—myself included—is that we assume we know how to move adoption forward based on our own experience. Our own lofty ideas about the future. Our mistakes from the past. Our own research. Our own egos. Our confidence that we have all the right definitions and answers. Don’t get me wrong, expertise is important but the moment you think you’re an “expert,” you are missing an opportunity to learn from faculty.

My complete and utter lack of time to invest in my own professional development is forcing me to rethink my own involvement in the workshop work I do. I’m trying to give myself time to learn by shutting my mouth and listening to faculty. This is the longest I’ve gone without taking a class of some sort in 20 years. I love to learn, and I’m struggling to find time for my own thinking and space for reflection—work is just too busy and I’m spending more time on the bike. All good things but my brain feels like it’s atrophying. I’ve been to 55 schools in 11 months, and I meet a lot of people. I’ve started to think of these conversations with strangers as my professional development—I can learn something from everyone everywhere. The fact that they trust me as a teacher/speaker/trainer still blows my mind.

During workshops, I’ve started to break people into small groups based on platform or discipline interest. I usually take the motley crew of the undecided, the skeptical, or the discipline-with-no-OER. If you think you’ve got the whole OER-as-professional-development down pat, I’d like to invite you to attend a workshop full of nurses and criminal justice teachers. Be like Blondie, and call me. I’d love for you to observe why this work is so hard.

It’s my job to help my other facilitators be successful, so I give myself the challenges. I spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zones both as a facilitator and a teacher/trainer. At my most recent workshop, teachers expressed the need for a letter of recommendation or letter of intent for a textbook review committee.

This is the brilliant idea that I’d like to share with today–mainly because I’m deeply embarrassed I have not thought of this before. Something so simple. Yet.

I’ll admit my experience with this type of textbook selection committee is limited as a teacher. As an adjunct, I usually worked for departments who either gave me complete freedom to choose my own materials or I worked (briefly) for schools who had pre-selected texts that I had to use in order to get hired. I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was an adjunct to have such a supportive network of colleagues. When I see some of the working conditions of my workshop attendees, I see my adjunct career in a whole new light. I was really lucky in an unlucky era.

My work as an administrator was purely centered around eLearning where we had no influence or power over any materials that faculty used in their courses. The real revolution in higher education is in the hands of the LMS Admins, by the way, yet they are typically overlooked, ignored, and under-appreciated by faculty and administrators alike. Edtech companies don’t see that. Policy leaders don’t see that. Visionaries don’t see that. Okay. Breath. Don’t get angry. That’s a whole other post and soapbox, yo. Focus, Indrunas.

That all being said, I’m trying to enter my workshops with an open-mind to learn from strangers. I had a very productive conversation with faculty members who expressed the need for an executive summary about the courseware they are choosing for OER adoption. I asked them specifically what would help them, and I listened and wrote notes like a madwoman.

If you know me well, you can attest that I will talk your ear off when I’m excited about something. Lately I’ve been really trying to be a good listener. I’ve been asking my workshop faculty, “What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

And then I shut my mouth and listen.

I take notes by hand in a paper journal—my magic machine for work blows up with too many notifications. If I use my laptop/magic machine, they think I’m not listening to them. Using a pen and paper invites those teachers to talk. A really good teacher loves to lecture and share what she knows. I love a good story. Good students take notes. Even if they tell me something I’ve heard a million times, I still write it down to respect their ideas.

Before I get into the best idea I’ve heard in months with this question, here’s a top ten list of things they usually say that they need.

  1. Time
  2. Funding
  3. Help identifying material that will replace a textbook
  4. More information from their administration about how they will sustain OER
  5. Details about what others have done in their discipline
  6. Examples of complete courses
  7. Peer review information about the course content
  8. Ways they can use the 5Rs
  9. Instruction on how to license their own work
  10. Guidance with repositories (Here I do interrupt them because I share with them how much I hate repositories and why they frustrated my faculty when I was an admin. Why I thought they were pure crap when I was a teacher. I flat out tell them it’s a bad idea to curate courses from a repository. Sorry if you’re a believer, but that idea is a failure at scale. When I hear “What we need is a repository filled with discoverable learning objects that faculty can search to build their courses” I instantly crave whiskey, gin, vodka, IPA, and/or a nap. I start to sweat a little and a small vein pops on my forehead. I stop listening and try not to put on my ranty-pants, but FFS, enough with the repository-as-solution. Just stahp.)

Here’s the thing.

Two teachers at Nassau Community College who are part of the brilliant SUNY system gave me one of the best ideas to date.

I watched them get super-excited about SOS’s Biology I and II and their Anatomy & Physiology course. I showed them the attributions. How to search. How they can use their LMS to customize for the upcoming year and then we can work on a two-year plan to create their ideal course. I struggled in all of my science classes as a student and I sometimes weep for my younger self that I didn’t have teachers like the ones that I got to meet this week.

After they shared what they think will work, they said, we still have to take this to our textbook committee. Faces fell. Arms crossed. Eyebrows scrunched. A cold wind blew through the computer lab. They stared at me. Blinked. Silence.

That’s when I asked my question.

“What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

They said they needed a letter of recommendation about the course materials they are planning to use. An executive summary about who wrote the course, what other schools have used this course, data on whether it improved student learning, discipline-specific endorsements from colleagues within their system. One endorsement with somebody important from SUNY could go a long way since these are course materials not from a traditional publisher.

We need a short letter that the committee can read that will substantiate our choice, they said. Data on how this course helps retention. A blurb about student engagement. How it works with their LMS. How this is not just random information curated from the internet.

Accreditation standards and documentation of course materials quality is a concern with their committee. How can we explain to them why this is a good option for our students? I felt deep pangs of empathy. Oh, I get it, I thought.

Put yourself in their shoes going to a committee that has no idea what OER means, how Creative Commons licensing works, and no paper text to pass around the room. Those ladies helped me identify a barrier that I hadn’t even considered.

They need documentation that this isn’t just their idea—they need a community of voices to support them with a committee who understands little to nothing about how all this works. All  of the information exists for them–somebody just has to curate it and put it in a medium that has some gravitas.

A letter of recommendation goes a long way. Even in 2017.

I’m getting bloggy here with this idea so that I don’t lose my thoughts as I put together something more useful and hopefully more professional for my busy-as-hell SUNY heroes. This type of letter is not hard to write and it could make the difference between students saving a lot of money and not. Between having money for food and not. Between staying in college and not. Between using OER in the fall and having to wait another year. Or three.

Okay, this is a really half-baked post, but I wanted to share my best workshop question and the sweetest little idea I’ve gotten from teachers. If you have something I can use, then please share. Maybe this is something you already know that’s needed, but it’s a nice reminder to me that all of my best ideas about open education have come from the teachers themselves. Sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and listen them.

For now, I’ll just conclude with a quote I used to read to myself as an undergrad when I felt like an idiot in my classes. When everyone else seemed to get it but me. When I thought everyone was smarter than me because they had so much to say.

Mary Wollstonecraft, tell it, sister:

The beginning is always today.

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Ski To Sea 2017 Race Report

Another Ski-To-Sea is in the books, and thanks to my little network of rad lady friends, I was on Team CorePhysio. We placed 2nd in the Whatcom Women’s Division, 30th overall, and if we had joined the Competitive Women, we would have gotten third place! Wow.

If you have ever been called a “competitive woman” (it’s usually never a compliment), then you really need to race or join a team. Just try it. It’s the only time you’ll feel completely at home with who you are. Women who race are so kind and supportive. I promise. Plus, it’s just really fun. Especially if you work in a male dominated field. I’m taking a break from getting bloggy about the jobby job, so if you’re an EdTech/OER/Teaching and Learning/Professional Development reader, keep in mind that I named this blog using the words “blatherings” and “bikes.”

I usually write this kind of report in a my training journal, but I’m going to put this on the interwebz just in case it helps somebody else–especially a woman–prepare for next year’s race. I scoured the web looking for videos and accounts of racing my leg, and the reports of the cyclocross leg were pretty sparse. It’s a new-ish leg for the race, so that wasn’t surprising. My goal for next year is to inspire more women to race. More on that later.

If you are unfamiliar with this race, let me sum it up quickly. It’s 93 miles from Mt. Baker to Fairhaven park with seven legs. One person (two for the canoe) races per segment and passes the race chip from one leg to another to register an overall time. It starts with a sea (ha!) of cross country skiers and the race instantly gets sorted by the fastest on skinny skis. The downhill skiers or snowboarders boot pack it up the hill so that they are in position to get the chip from the cross-country skier. That skier passes the chip to a runner who then passes it to a road cyclist who passes it to two canoeists who pass it to a cyclocross racer who passes it to the kayaker. Leg by leg you go from Mount Baker to Bellingham Bay all in one day.

The truly badass ride their bikes AND their equipment to each leg for the Car-Free division. It all ends (as the party signs say) in Fairhaven where kayakers ring a bell. It’s an all day event for both the partiers and the athletes. And I love it. I haven’t been around for this festival for three years because I’ve been at a work-related conference in Texas. This race helped me realize that I’m never missing another again, and I want to get more involved.

Some folks joke that it’s the Bellingham Olympics and the businesses who sponsor teams take it very seriously. There are teams with deep traditions of winning and there are also folks who race just to party with their favorite friends. It’s a wide spectrum of racers–mostly men. And I’d like to help change that–women, you need this day. I promise you.

Racing is not easy, but it’s so fun to be out there trying.

I lucked out this year. I have a friend who knew a team captain who needed a cyclocross racer. This amazing lady captain put her faith in me based on this recommendation. Since I volunteered on April 10 to be on the team, I tried to get my act together fitness-wise as best as I could in six weeks. OMFG.

Teams sometimes shift because of people’s lives, and there can be last minute team member additions, and I was one of them. I needed to get my shit together. The weather in the NW did not cooperate this wintery spring and I spend a lot of time on the road for work. I’d rather watch paint dry than workout in a hotel gym (or any gym for that matter), so every second I had free, I rode my bike or ran. I walked five miles in Chicago’s O’Hare airport every time I had a layover during that time (god, I hate that airport). Then I got an infection from a tick bite and caught a head cold, so for about 9 days, I was trying to recover from being sick while trying to be smart for the jobby job. I’m not making excuses for my current state of fitness–I’ll own losing it all in the last year and half because of work, moving twice, traveling for work, and drinking beer.

I only bring up this list for my own record, and to highlight what a miracle my race was for me personally. My desire to NOT disappoint other ladies motivated me to go faster on the bike than I normally would have. I turned myself inside out for 13 miles to protect our team. I lost two places (we went from 26 to 28) during my leg, but that was awesome for me. Two dudes passed me, and they were ripping, so whatevs. One caught me because my chain bounced off in the grass. Whatevs.

I’ve only competed once at Ski To Sea though I’m quite seasoned at the after-race beer garden party. In my younger college-gal days, I joined parties of folks who would drink before the beer garden party and then we’d stumble back to the pre-party location and drink some more. I have many cloudy memories of several Ski To Sea race parties and stumbling around Fairhaven talking to friends.

Before getting (somewhat) serious about fitness and getting the bug for competing, I loved the Ski To Sea party. Once I figured out how fun it was to train for the race AND then party, I decided I’m in forever until I can’t race anymore. When I get too old or when my body gives up, I’ll volunteer.

My first time racing, I was the runner for my team, and I trained like mad to not completely suck. Being the runner is hard because it’s mostly downhill. You run down Highway 542 for 7 and half miles, and then you have a half mile of gradual uphill to the DOT chalet. That last half mile is the hardest. It’s so hard to transition from downhill to uphill–I felt like a gazelle who morphed into a rhinoceros.

Then you stop running and you’re trapped in that area until your skier and snowboarder friends can pick you up when the highway reopens. I was pretty close to hyperthermic by the time I got a ride home, and my time was subpar though not completely embarrassing. I lost quite a few spaces for my team since our team time is based on the overall chip exchange. Still, I clocked a 1:02 which shocked me for not being a runner.

My team that year got into the top 100, and my favorite moment of the race was cheering on my friend Katie the Kayaker with my mister and her beau. We yelled ourselves hoarse as she was paddle to paddle with this dude who looked mortified that a woman was beating him. It was awesome when she rang the bell before him.

This year was a surprise that I was not asked to attend the conference during the Memorial Day weekend (thank all the gods we are starting to hire more people), and I had planned to support and cheer on the ladies who were racing for Jack’s Bicycle Center, my shop sponsor. They had a killer team together, and I was thrilled for them to do well. Getting on Team CorePhysio was a surprise, and I’m so thankful that I got to work with and for these ladies. But holyhotdamn was it stressful. Especially riding/running the beach.

Two days before the race, it occurred to me that my “break” from work was just as stressful as my jobby job. The Monday after the race I was booked to fly out in the morning to help put on an important workshop and there was going to be zero time to work that weekend. I put in a lot of time at the desk to prepare for work-so you know–my heart rate was up for like a frickin’ week.

In addition to all the work, I had to purchase a new cross bike and get used to it before the race. My CX bike is beat to hell after four years of racing and one year of rainy work commuting in Portland. My trusty CX steed is on its last legs, but I had just dropped a lot of coin on my mountain bike. What to do?

As soon as the next paycheck cleared, me and the mister went down to Jack’s to purchase an already discounted 2015 Kona Jake The Snake. They gave me an even sweeter discount because I’m on their lady team, and we took home my lovely bright green bike that I have named “Dr. David Banner.”

I’m not a physician nor am I a scientist but I “am searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have.”  Holygod I loved that show as a kid, and I’m pretty sure that Dr. David Banner taught me the life lesson that if you don’t like how things are going and you completely blow it, just hitchhike the fuck out of town and start over. A lesson that served me well in my 20s and 30s. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Okay, where was I? Oh, right, Ski To Sea.

My most poignant memory of the race day was a moment I shared with a stranger.

Here’s the thing.

The kindness of strangers at races.

This may be a memoir I might write someday.

I was cheering on dudes at the barriers at Hovander Park and relishing in the moments being back with my bike community. The CX community in Bellingham is filled with dudes who are nice, sassy, smart, and fun to be around. And the women are even better. As I was watching this whole race come together feeling really proud to call these people my friends, I noticed this woman standing next to me crying.

I said, “Are you okay?”

Yes, she said, I just visited the grave site of my husband. We raced Ski To Sea for years together. I can feel him here today. I wish I was 20 again. You ladies who are doing this race leg are really strong. She said a few other things I didn’t quite hear.

She cried harder. I noticed she had lipstick on her teeth. I hugged her. I thought about how much I’ve missed racing with my mister this last year. Life without him? Unthinkable.

I’m sorry for your loss, I said.

She hugged me harder. Thank you, lady. Now make sure you kick some butt out there, okay! I love bike races!

Then I heard my team’s number. Oh my gosh, I have to run, I told this woman. I’ll come down to the beach to see you off, she said. You must one of the fast people.

Ho-lee-mother-of-fuck. I’m not.

As I ran down to the beach, one of my friends heckled, What the hell are YOU doing down on the beach this early? I said, my ladies are kicking ass, yo.

Go INDRUNAS. Go Alyson. Get it, Alyson. Go Alyson. You got this, lady.

The crowd got really loud. I knew a lot of people. I felt really loved.

I ran down to the beach and realized I was one of two women waiting for their teams. The dudes who were on the beach are super fast. (If you’re from the Ham, I was waiting WITH Jeff Cummings, that badass grandpa who makes CX look easy. WTF, right?). Some dude had on a aero-dynamic helmet. He had giant quads and a skin suit. In other words, I had no business being on that beach.

Then I saw my canoe ladies paddling their arms off. COREPHYSIO WHOOOOHOOO OMG LADIES! WHOOOOHOOOO,  I yelled. They hit the shore and suddenly I had to help them run with a very wet canoe. When the hell do you ever run with a canoe? I haven’t even been in a canoe for over 20 years. Holyshit the sand was tough to run on. My ladies had that blind stare of exhaustion from paddling for two hours. The crowd by the start line was yelling. Hit your chip on the bull’s eye, some guy said. GOOOOOOOO Alyson go gogo gogogo gogogooooooooo. The crowd was awesome. I had to pull back tears as I hopped on my bike and looked at Mt. Baker in the distance. I was HOME. Racing. Yes. Yes. So much yes. Home.

Then I took on the course. Heard the voice of my mister in my mind  like Obe Wan Kenobi to Luke, “Go wide on that gravel turn. Use the grass. Others will crash. Take the line in the grass. Stay upright you will.” I did!

Once I hit full stride on the double-track, I saw a woman I know chasing me. She was not in my team’s division, but I couldn’t let her pass me. No matter what. I love her art, by the way, and she’s a super sweet person. I just really wanted to make sure she didn’t pass me.

By the time I got two miles in, I thought I was going to puke. I was breathing really hard, and all of the Ski To Sea volunteers were super sweet about cheering me on. I was the second woman to come through the course all day. OF ALL THE WOMEN. OMFG. The volunteers were awesome. Ski To Sea brings together over a 1,000 volunteers, and I want to personally thank the folks who thought I would be the 2nd fastest OVERALL. Um, ah, nah, not me, but thank thank thank you for cheering like I was.

The course was super hard and technical. But really fucking fun. Ryan Rickerts and Jeff Cummings (and others, I’m sure) did their best to make a true CX course and it was challenging. Those guys are not messing around when they set up a course with the topography between Hovander and Zuanich. This was no grassy city crit. I had to dismount my bike seven times and tripod twice. I had to wear spikes to run up “Mound Ferndale” (a little steep hill in a field). If you are reading this blog post thinking about racing for the first time in 2018, do the pre-ride. It made all the difference for me. Do the pre-ride with a good cross racer if you can so that you can talk about lines. Have fun talking about the course. Always have fun. You’re riding bikes!

My mister and I scoped out hard parts of the course. He coached me to go fast on the pavement. Tried to mock me into bunny hopping curbs (I’m scared I’ll flat and case my back tire). When to lean into a turn. When to press hard on the pedals. When to recover and when to pin it. How to weave in and out of pot holed dirt roads.

Earlier in the week, other women I know did a pre-ride, and I couldn’t make it because of work. I put a lot of mental energy into that pre-ride, and I was WORRIED. The beach was so hard. A roadie could go so much faster than me on the pavement. What if I flatted? What if I had a mechanical? And should I ride or run the beach? That damn rocky slippery beach. What if I lose a lot of places for these women?

On the day of the race, I decided to run the beach. I’m not a skilled “sand spinner.” The beach was filled with rocks, slimy little rocks, and pebbles. They made you dismount before hitting the beach, so you lose all the speed. So I picked up my bike and ran. I was so in the Pain Cave when I heard, “C’mon Alyson. GOOOOO.” My lovely sweet mister, 200 yards in the distance, was cheering me on. “You look so strong, babe. Go! It’s only another mile. C’mon babe. Go.”

I was so pissed that he was there! Of all the spots on the course to spectate! Fuck you, I thought. I don’t look strong. This is the worst section of suffering. I’m dying. Dammit.

Then he said, “You can still hold her off if you pedal quick to the finish. Go! Go! Go!”

Oh! Right. Good advice. Okay, I love you again. Sorry I just cursed you in my mind. Click. Click. Shoes on the pedals and I went faster. She was not going to pass me now.

One mile from the finish line to the kayaker hand-off the crowd thickened. “Yay, a woman!” I heard. “You’re almost done.” And another “There’s a woman,” I heard again. “You’re almost there.” I heard. “AL-Y-SON. YOU. ARE. KICKING. ASS.” This is a family event but I tend to befriend the crass and zero-fucks-givers-of-the-world.

Photos. Banner of the finish. High-fives. My mister all smiles. My CX friends dirty and tired. My kayaker ran to my bike and ripped the chip off my wrist like she was stealing jewelry. I laughed when I saw her running towards her kayak with her pigtails bouncing. I was too out of breath to wish her luck.

On my ride back to the house, I thought of that woman I met at the start of the race.

I reflected on how few women were in that field at Hovander and how awesome it was to see the ones who were there. My little bike team is all about helping more women race. Helping more woman build confidence. You can compete and be a woman. You can be a competitive woman. You can be on a bike and have fun. You can own being a competitive woman in a culture that tells you that’s a bad thing. It’s not; it might just be who you are and that’s fine.

Smile, have fun, and press hard on the pedals. Go fast on the snow. Glide quick in the water. Turn the pedals quick on the pavement. Look at those ladies below. Strong. Happy. Proud. Relieved. Confidant. Badass. Positive. Super badass ladies on the land, water, and snow. And look at little ol’ squatty me up there with them! If I can do this, so can you.

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If this post ends up in somebody queue who is stalking all the CX race reports, then I’d love to meet you. I’m hoping to organize an informal pre-ride and I’ll post on the social media, and if you can make it; join me.

We’ve got a year to scope it out. See you at the beer garden? You bet. Always.

For now, get on your bike and enjoy the summer. Cyclocross season is coming!

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A Love Letter To My Mountain Bike

A handful of types of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and nonexistence and swarm in space, even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies; of the innumerable stars; of sunlight; of mountains, woods, and fields of grain; of the smiling young faces of the young at parties; and of the night sky studded with stars (37-38). ~Carlo Rovelli

I’ve been writing for weeks while I’ve been on the road for work, and the quote above is from my journal after reading Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Lately I’m drawn to small thin books that I can read between cities on flights for work. I’m not so sure I can summarize the seven lessons insomuch as I can identify where he used some lovely language to describe the unknown. The best science writing, to my eye, completely devolves into poetry when the writers try to explain the unknown. The Unknowable. Rovelli writes about time as a “Tangle of problems where we are still in the dark” (p. 63).

Sounds like a memoir title to me (wink). All I could think about was mountain biking as I read this book. Mountain biking came into my life thanks to a ex-boyfriend who loved climbing steep fire roads and then bombing down single-track known only to locals in Whitefish, Montana.

He told me: It’s just like hiking on wheels. You’ll love it.

The problem was I didn’t own a mountain bike and everyone we knew who could lend me a bike was at least a foot taller than me. I’d watch him roll away on his mountain bike and come back home hours later silly-happy-dirty-muddy-smiley and I decided I needed to give this bikey hobby–wait for it–a spin.

I paid for my first mountain bike by layaway. Every two weeks, I’d walk part of my paycheck to the bike store during the winter so that I could pay it off by the spring. This was before I had access to credit cards (thank heavens) and I paid down that bike with every extra cent that I had. Once the mud season was over in Montana and my bike was paid for, I fell in love with mountain biking even though I’m sure most of my early rides were more like hike-a-bikes. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved being in the mountains. I loved–and still love–the long slog of climbing and climbing and climbing on the dirt for a view. Being on a bike in the mountains rivals backpacking for me as my favorite outdoor activity.

I’d eventually have that forest green Raleigh hardtail bike for seven years, and I moved it everywhere with me. It got me to work when my car broke down (repeatedly, dammit). It helped me meet two major loves in my life. Eventually I traded it for a hand knit scarf and a matching hat to woman who became one of my best friends. I still wear that scarf and hat. That green bike was my first two-wheeled love, and like all bike geeks, I quickly fell in love with my next upgrade.

My first major upgrade was a Kona NuNu, and I road that hardtail for another six years. When I bought that bike, I remembered seeing a significant change in demeanor with my Mister–the obsessive excitement of buying a new bike (a manic condition I’ve seen many many many times over the years). How this kind of a bookish word nerd transitioned into this wicked smart bike dork. How he instantly turned into a ten year old boy excited for a new toy. How I could learn to mountain bike from somebody who clearly knew what he was doing and cared enough to teach me. I learned how to mountain bike on that Kona and I’m thrilled that I bought it from the shop that now sponsors my bike team.

When we moved to Portland last year, we gave that NuNu frame to friend who is going to build it into a beginner bike for his gal. That Kona was really special to me, but I quickly got over it when I rode my Giant Anthem for the first time. Once again, I was completely won over on the first ride on the upgrade. Fickle love, I know.

My Giant had disc brakes! I finally found a seat that fit. Really fly hand built wheels. A stiffer better fork. But really, it was the change from 27.5 wheels to 29ers that changed my riding. From that moment on, I fell hardcore in love with the 29er. Those bigger wheels rolled over roots and rocks like I was on smooth dirt and I felt fast. My first cross country race was magic on that bike, and I could feel a major improvement in my riding.

For my birthday this year, my mister put some sweet purple handle bars, purple headset, and little purple pegs on my crankset. It looks totally murdered out with a dope touches of purple–to use the slang of the Brahs–which totally makes sense to write that way when you’re a middle-age woman.

That Giant always felt a bit too tall for me, but I loved it anyway. As all of my friends upgraded to more Enduro-type bikes, I kept it real as the lantern rouge in the back of the pack on my cross country bike. It just wasn’t in the budget to upgrade. That Giant Anthem has been a trusty steed in the northwest, and I hope to sell it to some lady or small statured dude who will love it as much as I did.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. I want to personally thank Pivot Cycles for hooking me up with THE perfect bike. The COO of my jobby job and fellow shredder, Tom Chapman, connected me with the good folks of Pivot. I’m now the proud owner of a Pivot Mach429 Trail and it’s so badass. After a confusing exchange between my local bike shop and team sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center, a Pivot dealer, about a bike for-Indy-who-is-really-Alyson-QoD-teammate-and-Scott’s-wife, my bike was in the mail. (Having two names can be tricky sometimes).

Thank you so much Tom, Pivot, and Jacks! After my first ride on this bike, my cheeks hurt from smiling and I have a deep crush on this bike. Having access to the “Amigo” deal has made me a Pivot fan for life. It would have taken me many many many many moons for me to save up for a full-priced bike from Pivot, so I plan to do what I can to represent Pivot in the land dominated by Kona and Transition–two NW bike companies that I adore.

Speaking of racing and Pivot, my friend and racer for Homegrown (the male bike team sponsored by Jack’s), Ben Shaklee, just won the Single-Speed mountain bike national championships. Congratulations, Ben! Rainbow stripes AND a Pivot? Hubba hubba, Brah, you’re silly-speed flying. During a team ride awhile back, Ben rode next to me on some uphill to have a chat, and you could tell he was struggling to ride that slow while I was turning myself inside out to ride that fast. But okay, where was I? My Pivot. Allow me to pivot back to my bikey upgrade love letter.

For my EdTech friends, I just went from something licensed CC BY NC ND to full-on Public Domain! Anything is possible. For my professional development friends, I just upgraded from drop-in consulting office hours to a fully funded two day-workshop with a marketing budget. For my backpacking friends, it’s like upgrading from all Army surplus to titanium light-ass gear. For my bike friends, you may know directly that I’m not worthy of this bike. And I know you’re jealous as hell (wink).

People often think that I’m better than I am as a mountain biker because my Mister is such a skilled rider. He flies downhill in ways that terrify me; he spends half of every ride waiting for me. He shames me (in jest) for not riding something, and on my worst days on the bike, he’ll ask me if I stopped for a sandwich. Years ago when we were still dating, he took a lot of time to teach me very basic skills on a bike. I’m forever grateful; he’s a great teacher. I have to thank him for building my bike for me AND agreeing that we should postpone on several household projects so that I could afford this beauty.

For the first time ever, I have a bike that has the perfect geometry for my hobbit-like stature. Think Gimley meets Smurfette and you get the sense of my squatty nature. I have short legs and a squatty torso. See photo below for evidence and proof. As Jay-Z says, I wuz who I wuz ‘fore I got here.

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Me: photo credit unknown

The small Mach429 is the best frame I’ve ever thrown a leg over. I have almost two inches to the top tube as standover, and the cockpit feels like it was costumed designed for me. As of this post, I’ve almost put almost 100 miles on it, and I can feel the brakes getting stronger and settling in perfectly.

Even the stock seat is comfortable and a keeper which has never happened for me. Saddle sores have plagued me for years, so the combo of the WTB saddle and Hoo Ha Ride Glide will keep my lady parts happier.

I had originally planned to transfer my cool Chromag purple bars to this bike, but when the mister took the stock handle bar from the box, we ooohed and aaahed over how light and stiff it was. In fact, we dorked out over all of the parts as my Mister built it in our shop. We have a garage where no cars go so there was plenty of space to lay out the bike part by part. Totally fun for us while drinking a beer. Even the handle bar grips fit my meaty little paws, and they are so pretty with a splash of blue.

What about the fork you ask? Bottomless. Buttery. Stiff and responsive on the berms. Light and bouncy on the roots of the NW. Makes babyheads feel like pebbles. The fork made me want to sing the first time I went over the medium-sized roots over boulders.

And yes, a dropper post is a game changer. Who knew that getting the seat out of the way would help with cornering and going downhill? Everyone but me! A good lady friend gave me kudos that she was impressed that I could ride some trails without a dropper-post and has been telling me to get one for years. I didn’t know what I was missing, and I now agree that’s it’s a must for riding downhill. I just need to remember that I have it on trails I’ve been riding for 15 years without one.

The biggest joy has been getting a PR (personal record–I admit to being a Strava dork–whatevs) on the Bob’s Full-Pull segment (I love Bob’s, it’s one my favorite trails). I’ve been riding that trail for almost 15 years, and I know it well. I can’t believe how the smooth and fast this bike can go downhill. I’m just in awe every time I ride it.

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Here it is on the Wonderland Trail with Mt. Baker and the Sisters in the distance. The photos below are yours truly on Lair of the Bear. Shortly before the tick bit me, that bastard parasite, but let’s focus on the bike love.

 

Like I said, I’m still getting to know this bike. It’s so powerful and efficient that it blows my mind. I dream about riding it. I used my shop sponsor discount to buy blue Crankbrothers Candy pedals that look really sweet, but they have a bit of a platform on them which is upgrade from the eggbeaters that I love for racing cyclocross. Everything is new. Being back on my home mountain in Bellingham while being able to do work that I love makes me feel so lucky. The other night I worked until 7pm and still had time to ride my mountain bike and drink beer. Woot!

Originally I was going to weave brainy stuff from my book reading about Physics but I just need to post this and move on. I had big plans to connect my love of mountain biking to meditation and yoga. To teaching and learning. But then I got an infection from a tick bite, got really sick, and had to go on medication that made me ill for 10 days. Plus I couldn’t drink coffee or alcohol and I had to avoid the sun. Pretty much a death sentence for me. And holyhotdamn I have so much work to do that I feel bad pausing to get bloggy.

But really, the daylight’s a-wasting and there are trails to ride today. Right out my backdoor. Mountains. Yes.

Here’s a quote of Rovelli’s that I know is about physics, but it works for those of us who love the bike:

“…on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking” (81).

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