Archive for the 'Life' Category

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?

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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.

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

The Fig Tree

ثمرة التين , fig fruitsEither my freshman or sophomore year I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. To a certain degree Esther’s mental illness was something I could identify with and the turmoil of my thoughts at the time often found companionship with her words.

Luckily, that time is behind me now but, there is still one passage that has stuck with me. I think about it often as I now attempt to figure out the next step in my life. It so clearly illustrates my feelings and my fears about that next step. I’m working towards figuring it out but, in the mean time I’ll share the passage with you:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the top of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olypmic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Fellow-Passengers to the Grave

For Christmas, a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Zedzap

From There to Here

I was eighteen when I arrived at Mary Washington and I was ready for a new adventure on my own.

But leaving one place for another does not mean you leave who you are behind, a lesson quickly learned. I spent many lonely nights walking the streets of downtown Fredericksburg wishing I was somewhere else.

Sometimes during those late night wanderings I would stop at the top of one hill near the school. From the location I could stare up and see the lights of dorms and eventually the light of the new bell tower. It was from that spot I could see how the school sat high upon Marye’s Heights. I would stand there, in that spot that gave me the view of campus that was so vastly different than what the up close view impressed upon, and stare at it imagining I was somewhere else.

Night Lights: Campus View

Much time has passed since those late nights and now when I do walk it is rarely in the same painful stupor that pushed my soul to roam the streets.

I have not moved that far from my first new home in Russell Hall. I’ve been in other dorms, other off campus housing and now in an apartment on the slopes of Marye’s Heights. It didn’t occur to until a week or two after I had moved in but, I now live in apartments that sit near the spot where I spent so many nights staring up at the school. This realization held a weird narrative beauty. How strange it is that I now live on the hill that so many nights had seen me wish I was not living at all. If my life were a novel this would be the moment in the story where the main character realizes that the pain of the past had healed over, things have come full circle. Life isn’t perfect (is it ever?) but, I am thankful for those odd moments when the narrator in my brain makes me take note of how I find myself in the same location. It is in those moments that I realize what great distances I have traveled.

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.

Ascending On Beautiful Foolish Arms

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Thoughts have been flowing through my mind so rapidly the two weeks. End of semester, end of year, end of decade reflections. Life, perhaps slowed down by the winter chill, holds still for closer inspection. I see the grieving, joy, anger, peace and more that this semester, year, and decade has wrought. I do not live my life perfectly but, I strive to be better (don’t most people feel this way?). I’ve come to learn “all experiences can be positive if you learn and grow from them…no matter how bad they may seem at the time“. If you choose to learn from your experience it means being honest and taking the blame for what has gone wrong, maybe it is an age thing or a generational quirk but, this is a hard lesson to learn, “we tend to try to avoid pain generated by the knowledge that were not doing the right thing”. That pain is often felt when I take a look at my grades and is preferably ignored having my choice. Part of it is rebellion against all the years of formal education where all people ever asked about was my grade rather than asking what I learned. The other part of the pain is lack of focus and having to learn to suck it up and do what needs to get done even though I don’t particularly enjoy it (or agree with it). School is the irritating grain of sand in my oyster shell.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by bgblogging

I have had many patient Teachers in my life who showed me the way rather than shoving the answer down my throat. My stubborn nature thoroughly rebels against being told “how I should do x,y, z”. These thoughts always seem to bring me back to my father who “taught by his actions. He showed me how to live…He showed me how to work…He showed me how to die. He didn’t tell me how to do it, he showed me”. I am my father’s child. More than any other lesson in my life, the lesson of my father motivates me to demonstrate in action what I believe. And when I am not at peace I know it is because I am not living my life rightly. I often come up with excuses to avoid the truth but, as soon as I acknowledge the truth the peace returns. I know what I must do.

Sometimes I just want the answer but, like Dorothy, I know I must learn the answer for myself. You could tell me the melting point of wax but, I much rather have the tools to craft my own wings to fly towards the sun and discover the melting point of wax for myself. I do not aspire to fall from great heights like Icarus but, sometimes learning the truth for yourself includes broken bones. And maybe I have more broken bones when it comes to school. School magnifies my flaws. Succeeding in school requires several skills I have resisted developing  (some skills have been resisted for good reason others out of bitterness and laziness). I know what I must do.

Maybe I am just tired of a world that insists on giving me advice on everything, like horoscopes with their vague general statements, empty words. I am not discounting words of wisdom by any means but, I am overwhelmed by the myriad of talking points this world throw at me. I have to wonder, if we silenced the talk for one day what would we discover?

Textual Death and Tangible Plaques

While wandering through the paths of the internet I ended up on the wikipedia page of Quentin Compson. I have grown attached to Quentin after taking a Seminar on Faulkner and Morrison last spring. His suicide by drowning in a river in “The Sound and the Fury” is one of those moments when you wish you could reach out to this fictional character. So, it delighted me (in a morbid way) to discover that in Cambridge, Massachusetts there is a plaque on a bridge over the Charles River:

“Quentin Compson.
Drowned in the odour of honeysuckle.
1891-1910”

This was not created by Faulkner or some piece of legislation. Just some unknown people who brought the fictional death of Quentin Compson into the real world. The sign has been stolen, replaced and photographed by many people. There is nothing extraordinary about the plaque, just a subtle blurring of the lines between the narratives we read and the narratives we live.

I’m not sure what it is about this plaque I find so compelling. Perhaps its “graffiti” nature of the plaque, the fact it was put up by an amateur who wanted to pay homage to a fictional character; a character that so many people have studied (including myself) and have felt a connection with. A bit of the fictional world seeping into reality and leaving its mark; reminding us that the boundaries of reality are permeable and moveable.

The Blog Post I’ve Wanted To Write For A Year

I’ve struggled for a long time to understand why every semester without fail that after the first week or so of classes I’d lose the fervor and excitement for school. Where did my love of learning go? Where was my motivation? Questioning

There have been many days (and long nights) where I wrestled with these thoughts and wrestled with whether I should be wasting my time wrestling with these thoughts. Was my mind wasting time thinking up excuses to avoid work by thinking about my lack of motivation? These nagging questions will not leave me alone though and there are many things that came together for me recently that I need to share. The threads are hard to follow but, I hope you will be patient.

This is a very blanket and vague statement but I believe that the current system of schooling encourages selfishness and an individualistic nature. Learning as demonstrated by our schools seems to be a one man journey with an importance placed on achieving the number one spot. In school you learn because it is important for you to make the the best of yourself. I do believe it is important that there be some internal motivation but the lack of emphasis on community has always left me feeling empty.

Plants Grow on Rocks in the City I will admit I am a competitive in certain aspects of my life (such as sports) but schooling has never been one of those places. And as a human I can not help but be selfish in certain aspects of my life but in terms of schooling I’ve never desired to learn for me and my own advancement. The times I’ve genuinely enjoyed learning were those moments that brought me a feeling of closer connection to and contact with my community of learners.

For example, I spent a good part of the ’07 fall semester reading the poetry of Yeats and others because I felt that brought me closer to certain people in my learning community that I respected. I ended up forsaking some of my “real” work for absorbing the reading material my learning community suggested. Lets just say that that semester ended very poorly for me grade wise. But a whole world of poetry I had never experienced had been opened up to me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was reading new works but, I was experiencing them in a brand new way.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to those in the caravan who travel with me during this stage of my journey. All of this leads me to say that this strong desire to learn alongside and from these caravanistas does not limit itself to a school context but reaches far beyond. There are many people in my community that I want to talk about but for this post talking about DTLT will have to suffice because it represents so much in one group. Wingshot Descent into Clouds

I easily have the best student employment on campus as a student aide for DTLT. Those who have come before me and currently work with me probably will vouch. I’ve worked at DTLT since the fall of ’07 and I have always looked forward to going to work. Everyone there pushes me to think and challenges me when I need it (which is constantly apparently heh). I have freedom at my job and an expectation that I am responsible with that freedom. I have learned so much more than I thought the job would ever teach me. I get to be surrounded by people pushing the boundaries and doing work that is not found at most universities. Many of the things I have learned on my own while working at DTLT were influenced by my desire to be a part of the community and to contribute the way the staff of DTLT do to their mission. In my mind spending time learning the things they are learning about is my way of honoring their work and the people of DTLT. They probably don’t even know the extent of my insanity on certain things.

Sun Slipping ThroughI’ve never worked so hard to get myself into the lives of people because of a strong desire to know them. As time has gone on the people of DTLT have become my family, a home away from home, and I love them as such. For whatever bizarre reason these people mean a lot to me and so my desire to learn from them carries from work to their lives at home. I know these people and I know their families. Sometimes I feel like I am performing a grand experiment as I observe how each family works and all the millions of intricacies that can occur within one family. I love their kids like they were my siblings. And I want to show their children that people outside their family can come into their lives and love them for seemingly no reason. In fact I can think of no greater joy in my life right now then to be able to love these families well and even though it makes little sense to me why I feel so compelled to do this, I don’t question it, I just do it.

After saying all that I turn back to the question I started off with, where does my motivation for school go every semester? Well, when the solo journey of classes is put up against the community of DTLT is it really that hard to understand why my focus wanders elsewhere? When I have this tangible and meaningful community of people to learn from why would I spend anymore time then I had to on my solo class journey? Again, this is not to say that classes are a complete waste of time, they certainly are not and I have some more thoughts on learning and classes but that is for another post. In short, schooling does not provide the community and meaning-making I desire and in addition, I can easily find that community and meaning-making in abundance in other places of my life.

Maybe I am no closer to a solution to my problem but at least I feel like I understand it better now, perhaps I finally see some sun shining through in what forever seems like a dark cloud hanging over me.


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