A Room To Write

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

White Wall

This blog has long been my space for writing about education, schooling, learning and various permutations of those academic words. Now that I am two years out of college and my world is separated from the academic and student life I find myself at a crossroads. What do I do with this space? What belongs here? It seems like it shouldn’t matter but, I find that I am unable to bring myself to write about other ideas.

I don’t necessarily want to write about things radically different but, I do spend time reading on a large variety of topics and it doesn’t always connect back to “higher-ed” or “ed tech”. I am still on the same journey I began as a freshman in college, a life-long journey as a learner but, I find myself on the move to a different caravanserai.

Part of my struggle to write about something else in this space is the fear of leaving the “conversation”. I’ve sat at the proverbial table with many people whom have thoughtfully considered my ideas and commented and critiqued them. I’m afraid I’m leaving a conversation I’m not fully prepared to leave. Who will listen to me when I get up and go?

I’m not so worried about this space getting lost. Everything would be aggregated to my main site or whatever site I choose to treat as my hub. But I feel at conflict with myself. I want this to be a monument to my young adult thinking but, it saddens me to think that my writing in this space would come to an end.

I have other spaces to write and there is no limit to the amount of new places I could create. Is changing this space like redecorating a room or like attempting to convert a bathroom into a kitchen?

The Bubble

Bubbles are made up of the communities we inhabit both in the physical world and on the internet. Bubbles exist in the relationships we have with people and in our minds. We all live in a bubble of one kind or another. There is nothing wrong with bubbles really. Humans have thrived because of bubbles. We want to form tribes. We want to know what is right and what is wrong.

Living in bubbles means we run the risk of becoming an echo chamber and fearful of outsiders. This insularity can often be seen in internet communities (see Reddit for some fascinating case studies). While the internet is great for supporting a plurality of views it is very easy to situate yourself in a very specialized bubble.  On the internet you can set your life up in such a way that you only hear what you want and avoid real dissenting opinions. Additionally, you can have a whole community of people around you that support it.

When I catch myself sinking into black & white or groupthink I stop to take a look at my thought process. I try to emulate a professor I had in college who, when given an answer to a question that she had posed, would analyze and examine it without judgement. She’d ask for clarification, more probing questions and ultimately get the student to work through their own thought process and question their own assumptions. It amazed me every time she did it. So, during those moments I’ve sunk down into uncritical thinking I try to wrap my mind around an opposing viewpoint. I ask myself, “What is their thinking here?”. Not the straw-man argument that people argue against but, “what is their real argument?”. Most importantly, once I begin to answer those questions I refrain from drawing conclusions about that argument (a task that I still have trouble executing successfully).

This mental exercise is not necessarily so I switch my point of view but, it usually brings me back to a point where I can see that most issues are not black & white. There is a lot of gray area in life and I need to be ok with that. Once I loosen my grip on ideology and “being right’ and allow myself to doubt and question I find a lot more freedom. I find I understand people better too.

J is for the Jazz

Before confusion sets in let me say the Jazz is not Jazz music. While I do enjoy all types of music this is about a different kind of Jazz.

Jersey, Cleats and Nostalgia

I played for the Jazz from 1996-2002, ages 8 to 14. That is a lot of time in kid years. Soccer was my life when I was growing up. It was my identity.

There are many memories, some more vivid than others, that are stirred up as the fall weather makes its appearance. There were the countless hours I spent in my dad’s Saturn driving to games all over Jersey. The myriad of tournaments we played in, where often the highlight of the day was getting to eat junk food, a hot dog wrapped in tin foil and a can of coke. There was the breakaway on a rainy day where I shot the ball and promptly slipped on to my back in the mud. As I spun around and stared at the gray sky I remember hearing the cheers from the sidelines. As soon as I heard it I knew my shot had found the net. It was like a scene from a movie.

I’m thankful for all the things being on a team taught me. The value of practice, perseverance, responsibility, teamwork, self-control, graciously winning and losing, and the list goes on. I’m still learning many of those lessons.

I’m especially thankful that my father was the assistant coach for all those years. It didn’t occur to me until a few years after I played my last game how lucky I was to have him there (even when he drove me crazy). He sacrificed time and energy to be at all the games (and many practices). I wish I could tell him how much it means to me now but, I guess the best thing I can do is do the same for my own kids someday.

I is for Ithaka

Killarney National Park on Bike The first time I heard C.P. Cavafy’s Ithaka was at my father’s memorial service. My mom chose it, as I recall, because it was a poem my father admired. It was fitting for the man he was, a man who viewed life as a journey, whose reward was the journey itself. That is one lesson he passed on to me (and one I’m still trying to learn).

I come back to this poem often. It reminds me of the kind person I want to be, the kind of journey I wish to take and how at this very moment I am already on the road.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

(Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard – Cavafy Archive)

Road to the Shore

H is for Home

Once again I am back at my 26 in 26 I started three years ago. I’m still working my way through the alphabet of things in my life that I am thankful for. Maybe by the time I’m 30 I’ll reach the end of the alphabet.

Sending Letters From Home

Home. If we are lucky home is a word associated with good feelings. Most of my life home has been a small suburb of New Jersey.

Jersey is home to the cul-de-sac I ran up and down during my childhood summers and distant memories of countless skinned knees and scars. It holds the foundations of  the schools whose halls I walked for 13 years. The lessons of the teachers that changed me. It is filled with the fields I played hours of soccer on and all the goals, fouls, wins and hard fought losses that go along with them. The bridge I had my first kiss and the cafeteria of my first dance. The roads I spent countless hours driving nowhere in particular with my friends. The final resting place of my father and the garden he grew.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a good home. With cousins who lived two houses down from me, best friends who lived three down and grandparents who lived  just a few more miles away.

Even though I live in Virginia now and consider it my home, Jersey will always be where it all began. Its soil holds the roots of my story.

Yellow & Red

Science, Cell Phones and Community

Most of my time in college was spent in humanities and social science classes. I was a History major that had a propensity for wandering into all sorts of disciplines, mostly untrained. Usually it was the topic that drew me into a class (Anthropology of Food, Aesthetics, Bible as Literature to name a few) but, I was also interested in learning how to see things differently. Every discipline has its different lenses for analyzing the world.

I didn’t spend much time in traditional science classes. I took Physics for my gen-ed and ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would (I lucked out with a truly wonderful professor). It was around my sophomore and junior year that my interest in science began to reignite. Most of my interest was in a popular science reading kind of way but, you have to start somewhere. I was drawn to certain characters, like Richard Feynman, who introduced me to the wonder and the joys of science.

During my senior year I started to understand the value of being science literate and I made it a goal (and it is still is a goal) to become as science literate as possible. I started studying biology, astronomy, nutrition science and whatever else piqued my interest. In my quest to become educated I found that the more controversial and political topics are often fraught with bad science. I’ve briefly talked about my interest in food chemistry and the problems I encountered there. Another topic that also interested me was radiation.

Now radiation is kind of a vague statement. Worries and discussion about radiation began again after the earthquakes caused nuclear crises in Japan. With nuclear radiation on the front page it was clear that there was ignorance on radiation in general (I count myself among the ignorant). People started producing helpful infographics to help put things in perspective. Around this same time I was working with someone who was worried about cell phone radiation (and all sorts of electro-magnetic radiation) and it got me interested in what the science had to say about it. Cell phones and cancer is a very popular news item. In fact, not too long ago the IARC classified it as category 2b, which is possibly carcinogenic to humans (you’ll also find things like coffee, picked vegetables, talcum powder there). Spend a little time googling it and you’ll see lots of fear-mongering about the dangers of cell phone and electro-magnetic fields (EMF). So, how does one go about finding good information?

One thing I learned during college was the value of finding scholarly communities. Once you start spending time on a topic you start to see who the scholars are in a community, what general consensus is on a topic, scholarly criticism going back and forth. The more time you spend looking closely at claims you begin to see what is trustworthy and what is not. One of my favorite science-based blogs is Science Based Medicine and they did a wonderful break-down of the IARC classification of cell phones. While this isn’t a journal it is a good place for people to go to have complex ideas explained. The articles are written by people who work in various fields they write about (of course you can’t automatically trust credentials but, it doesn’t hurt). The articles cite their sources and are more than self-referential blog loving. One of the nicest features of it being a blog is that the comments are open and it is there you’ll find good discussions that allow for push-back and also clarification. I won’t explain in detail what science has to say about cell phones right now (go read the post and the comic below). Long story short there is currently no strong evidence that we need to be worried about cell phones. We don’t have any plausible mechanism for cancer (cell phones are non-ionizing radiation) but, science is rarely settled, so in the future we might see long-term effects or effects we didn’t expect (maybe super human powers?! probably not). At this point the most dangerous part of owning a cell phone is driving while using it.

When learning about topics, especially things I am unfamiliar with, I value finding the communities around the topic (those with good and bad reputations) and getting to know them. It makes it a lot easier to see the flawed arguments or it raises the skeptical senses a little sooner when you see certain red flags.

For your viewing and educational pleasure a comic from Sci-ence.org about cell phones and radiation:

Write to Know

(More writing about writing)

The refrain, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” has been running through my mind. I spend a lot of time thinking and reading on lots of subjects but, I don’t spend much time writing. The closest I get is chat conversations online. There is a part of my brain not content with consuming endless information. Conversations with people helps to relieve some of that cognitive dissonance I feel but, I know writing is important to the process.

Questioning

 Even when I agonized over almost every paper in college there was a part of my brain that knew that writing was key to understanding. I still think about the paper I wrote that addressed the question, “What is art?” because it was one of the most difficult papers I ever had to write. The more I wrote, the more I was able to see the flaws in my arguments and understand more clearly what I was trying to say. I think I came out of the paper even more confused about the definition of art but, it was a satisfying confusion after a long struggle with many different ideas and arguments.

I continue to try and commit myself to writing, even if it is for my eyes only, because I know without it my thoughts are ephemeral and incomplete, and reading subject to the faulty memory of the mind.


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