Category Archives: All the Way Open

Oh, George, you took the words right out of my mouth

I went to see George Strait in concert many, many years ago in Boise, Idaho. It was the mid- or late 1980s. He was (and still is) lovely, and he can sing so beautifully, so perfectly country. The concert was wonderful. And I fell asleep. He stood on the stage with his band at his back, white cowboy hat on his head, and played the guitar while he crooned. And I nodded off.

George Strait, playing guitar and crooning (2008).

George Strait, still playing guitar and crooning (2008). Image source: Wikipedia.

That’s not to say I don’t adore him still. I do. I just recently discovered a CD of his hits and loaded it onto iTunes, then saved a few on my “Bring It On 2013” playlist. I’m listening to him croon right this minute (he looks good in a black hat, too). “You’re Something Special to Me” is playing as I begin writing here. George and this song have got to be the equivalent of Frank Sinatra singing when he was younger, like this with Tommy Dorsey, “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Can’t you just see the women swooning for both/either? I can.

In fact, as I started thinking along these lines, heaven help me, I recalled a Looney Tunes cartoon where a Bing Crosby-like rooster and a Frank Sinatra-esque rooster sing to help the chickens lay more eggs for the WWII effort. It is called, I swear: “Swooner Crooner.” If you ever have a chance to watch it, dear reader, you’ll see how I feel about George Strait (except for the egg laying bit–that’s just, ahem, gross).

I’m so sad I fell asleep during his concert, but he lulled me. JUST like he’s doing right now. I am being lulled this instant. I just want to curl up into his voice and remember how good I have it–how grand and filled with joy my life is–because it is.

As I approach 2013, this George Strait song reminds me of all the special people I have known and loved and who have loved me, have gifted me with their love. Life is hard, but when love is the thing we remember fills the core of our lives–what ill could bring us down?

I’m just happy I found you again, George, you are something special to me.

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Filed under All the Way Open, Celebrate Like There's No Tomorrow, Digging Deep, For Good, Music is Love, What I'm Thinking

I’m mad for MOOCs, or will MOOCs make me mad?

I’ve just re-read “The Year of the MOOC” by Laura Pappano (NY Times online). Besides feeling terribly hip and trendy, I’m so glad I stumbled onto this again after a week or so of vacation. I needed to get my context back for what I’m doing and what goals I need to set for myself. The spring semester is nearly upon me, and it will whack me upside the head in a hurry if I don’t step lively.

Context. It’s starting to come back. I’ll need to re-read Facebook posts and other blogs and get my Twitter self in order soon, but it’s coming back.

One thing I’m doing to get my context groove back is to think about why I’m doing this MOOC thing. Why, oh, why did I think taking on a MOOC was a good idea while teaching two new preps, running a grad writing center, a comp program, revising comp 2 curriculum, planning for a summer basic writing bridge course, writing two articles, and planning for three practicum for teachers for the spring (and planning a class trip to NYC and then a summer abroad class)? Why? Because it’s just 3-5 hours a week for five weeks. And I could learn something vital. I need to learn to be vital actually.

Goal number one was: I hoped to see what all the MOOC fuss was about. I’m intrigued by pedagogy because I’m a teacher, and I want to always try new ways of learning and teaching so that I can bring the max goodness to my own students–whether there are seven or 7,000. And what does that mean anyway to teach a small town’s worth of folks? What does “teach” mean, then if the instructor isn’t all hands-on?

While I wanted to know what MOOCing was all about from a teaching perspective, I’m also a voracious learner, a life-long learner, and my interests vary from the NFL to string theory to Jane Austen to the zombie apocalypse. I hope to never stop being a student. My purpose in the world is to learn and pass that on. It’s an educational Buddha thing–and if I don’t play by those rules, they revoke my educational Buddha card. And that would suck. So I had to be a student in a MOOC. (And artificial intelligence or Python wouldn’t have been good courses for me to try.)

But what do I really want to know from this particular course? I don’t know. That’s right. No clue.

Learning objectives for the credit version of this course are these (or so I believe–if you’re taking the course at U of Edinburgh, EDUA11149):

EDUA11149 course objectives... a bit fuzzy, but you get it.

EDUA11149 course objectives… a bit fuzzy, but you get it.

If you want to see previous credit courses and student work, you can check here. The professor for those credit courses is one of the instructors for the MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures that begins January 28, 2013.

These objectives make sense for a credit course. For our MOOC, the instructors suggest that we’ll be doing the following:

On this course, you will be invited to think critically and creatively about e-learning, to try out new ideas in a supportive environment, and to gain fresh perspectives on your own experiences of teaching and learning. The course will begin with a ‘film festival’, in which we’ll view a range of interesting short films and classic clips, and begin discussing how these might relate to the themes emerging from the course readings. We will then move on to a consideration of multimodal literacies and digital media, and you’ll be encouraged to think about visual methods for presenting knowledge and conveying understanding. The final part of the course will involve the creation of your own visual artefact; a pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of any of the themes encountered during the course, and you‘ll have the opportunity to use digital spaces in new ways to present this work.

Okay. I like that. It’s like… not work. It’s like… fun. But then I’m not entirely new to e-learning or digital culture, but what I want to know is what others think. I need to know beyond my own concepts, definitions, and experiences. I need to know beyond what I know. I’m so over myself in that way. Bring on what others think and know. I need that. AND that’s why I need this MOOC.

Harry Houdini--all tied up.

Harry Houdini–all tied up.

I feel like Harry Houdini sometimes when I wander into that dangerous place where I think I know something. I feel like I could be all chained up, bound, and tied together, but I’d be able to work my out of that spot through a box submerged in stormy seas, because I really know how to do that in a given situation. But what if I get cocky? Don’t escape artists die who start to believe their own press? I don’t want that. Nobody wants that.

If I’m mad for the MOOC because it will expose me to thousands of ideas from thousands of people, or if I’m mad for the MOOC because it will being me closer to the ideas of a few other people, I’m okay with that. Either way. If I’m mad for the MOOC because it means I have some new way to move past the things that bind me, and give me new ways to escape my own chains, that’s a good thing. But could a MOOC drive me mad?

We’ve already seen that it’s overwhelming to get all connected, and the thing hasn’t even begun. Still it feels manageable by being connected to a few folks, like Houdini with only a few handcuffs on, and by being part of a group who has members willing to answer questions, set up the environment where we learn from each other, and generally act as decent and caring citizens of this new community.

One of the frustrations with MOOCS, Pappano writes in her NY Times article, is that there is so little contact with the instructor(s). Already our cohort has proven that invested individuals will jump in and “teach” as needed, share ideas, give advice, tell what’s what, create a “place” (or a “school”) where we can navigate our own learning experience. We already have blog groups actively writing and reading each others’ posts. Amazing.

If I weren’t totally into learning for the sake of making life exciting and grand and new and wonderful, a MOOC might make me stark-raving mad–because it could be intimidating. Or if I was expecting teacherly attention…I might be sadly disappointed, but the thing that makes me squarely on the side of “I’m mad for MOOCs” (so far) is the peer connections, the peer learning, the peer teaching, the peer guidance.

Sure, we’ll get lectures or directions or activities for the course, but my goals now include whatever I need to do for the class and being part of the peer network I’m smack in–that seems to already be one of the best parts of this adventure.

What will this mean for my goals as a professor/teacher/instructor of freshman through grad students and in professional programs? Not sure yet, but I can tell you this: a MOOC does not have to be a big ol’ open online course with 190,000 students in which students cannot learn because there is not attention for each from the teacher, it can be a course for me, something I do with a few friends, and a chance for all of us to change the way we think and work as humans in the midst of other humans doing the same thing.

Oh wait. We’ve already been e-learning and creating digital culture. Boo-yah.

Now. That said. I do have questions about the relevance for higher education credit, and especially for my field, writing students (actually for literature–I can see some possibilities for a MOOC). And the more I think about MOOCs and writing studies, the more I think there could be some dynamic introductory business handled through a MOOC–perhaps to the good of all who still buy into the lone-supergenius-writer-artist-starving-and-striving-and-drinking in an attic somewhere, suffering endlessly for that genius. Pshaw, I say. Let’s MOOC that myth to death.

In the meantime, I’ll be learning about what a MOOC is and can be from the instructors, by observing how they manage this course, but I’ll also learn from my fellow MOOCers. And the more I MOOC, the more I’ll understand. In the future, when I’m asked about MOOCs, I will be able to suggest how a MOOC might or might not help my school, and I’ll know something other than the definition of the acronym.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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Filed under All the Way Open, Epic Win, First Blog Boo-yah, High Five, MOOC Journeys, Writing with Heart

NO! No! Don’t leave me alone with words, please! Not that!

I spend a lot of time alone writing. It’s easy to do. I work well by myself. In fact, I’ve grown to really like quiet time as a writer. I can still write in the middle of noise, chaos, and seemingly disruptive activity, as long as I am not interrupted (give me a coffee shop with no one I know around and I can crank out the text). I trained myself years ago to work in the midst of conversation, phones ringing, loud music, and a lot of visual disarray. However, if someone speaks my name or actually makes me stop thinking, I’m often peeved. I want concentration and when I lose it, I can be irritated–it can feel like a burr under my saddle, and I’m as likely to pitch a fit as anything.

And worse yet. My train of thought gets derailed a lot easier these days than it used to. I know that is partly because I’m torn between several obligations that really tug at me which include small humans dependent on me, cherished colleagues, students, writing deadlines that matter to me, and more. I feel a tension in my upper back that rarely abates. It’s the muscles that hold up my arms and connect in complex ways to my hands and make them function as writing tools on a keyboard. I recognize the pain from having to hold my arms in second position FOREVER in ballet classes as a young woman. I certainly don’t have a physical center like I did then, but I can feel the similarity in the action after 10 hours at the computer–I ache.

I’m not complaining–really–this is so much better than dancing with a dicey hamstring and two broken toes. And there’s something incredibly deeply satisfying about dancing around with words on a page, making something of nothing for a reader which doesn’t put my body in harm’s way… much. And there’s no music to stay in time with. That’s a relief, too. Can you imagine if I had to write to the accompaniment of a live band? So much pressure to keep up or slow down. And how would I account to the conductor/musicians for jumping around and changing my mind, backspacing, adding/deleting? What a nightmare.

Writing makes me sore after awhile. Truly, it actually hurts sometimes, but it’s so much less painful than ballet slippers (torture devices), I can’t even explain–no words for that sort of pain. Even writer’s block isn’t so bad. I just walk away and think about something different knowing that the words will come. Sometimes talking is my way out of a rut. Usually a few conversations and a thing I need to write will just come to me. Miracle. And then, tension, pain–all gone.

And while I do most of my writing by myself, the act of thinking which inspires the writing, almost always comes from conversation, collaboration, my interactions with others. I couldn’t be a writer without my friends and colleagues. I need someone to talk to, to listen to, to think with (as much to work as I need it to break me out of a dismal place of non-production). I need collaboration in order to think. I don’t think very well by my lonesome. Sure, I come up with some whopper-cool ideas when I’m alone, but that generation is made possible by others–in books, in passing, in quick emails, glancing at magazine articles, and more. It’s the exchange that makes me what I am, or rather, enables what I can do in text.

It all really comes back to my core belief that education is worthless until it’s shared. The years and years I spent filling my intellectual baskets with knowledge were going to be wasted unless I shared in some way. I might as well just tump over my baskets if I’m not going to share, throw everything out–it’s no good to me unless it’s good to someone else. I chose to be a teacher of writing, and the reading of writing, because I couldn’t stand to be alone with knowledge. Too dull otherwise. I love reading and learning and thinking alone, too, but I also need talking with friends, students, colleagues, too–which means so much to me as a writer. The eighth rule of open source software development is: talk. I’m so hip to that. (Caveat lector: if you talk too much to yourself, though, others will wonder, and eventually, the others might lock you up. Sssssh.)

So. I want to be alone with words, but not all the time, not exclusively. I don’t want to eliminate the human factors that keep me alive and kicking and questing. I want words to enrich me, because they do, but collaboration is the most important element in making me want to write and think and spend time writing. It might could be that my experiences with Writing Spaces (which I’m missing a lot right now–I’ve been on a hiatus of a kind this fall–not intended, but there it is) have changed who I am, or I was changing anyway and that experience only revealed that which was happening or going to happen: me writing a lot and all over the place and finding a way back into writing after years of doing it but finding little joy in the experience.

Or maybe that’s not what I mean. I always found joy in writing, but rarely did I find joy in writing and not sharing with someone. I love having others read my writing in workshops. I felt that I learned so much from having many readers with many ideas inform my text. When I lost that, I really missed it. Editing is a collaboration I missed, too. I love to muck around with the words of others–with them as collaborators–to find solutions to communication. Being with others in the midst of words and ideas is glorious, as a writer or an editor–it’s like a stunning kiss.

The kiss that is always more than a kiss.

Do you remember the last time you were kissed like this? That’s what writing can be like, the fooling around with language, the kiss that embodies so much more than a kiss. Writing can be breathless, unexpected, thrilling–and such work can leave you dazed (in the best possible sense). Writing as a kiss can stand for so much more–the writing kiss is a metaphor for the collision of ideas with words, with images, with oneself and others. Silly romanticization of writing? Oh, so what. SWAK.

If you’ve ever been kissed by words, you know what I mean. You can stand back and gasp at what you’ve written and think: wow, I did that. I wrote that.

You read someone else’s words and are moved to laughter, tears, sadness. Did you ever read anything and whip through pages with your heart racing, in your throat, choking you so you could hardly breathe? If you haven’t, then you really need to step up your reading game. Try LOTR, Harry Potter, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, The Hunger Games, and anything by Robert Ludlum (the early stuff).

As a writer, the wordly kiss is so much better when you can also stand back and say: I wrote those words that thrill me because I talked about this idea, or that idea with my writing group, or ran that phrase by this friend who loved it, or told that friend about what I wanted to consider through writing. I shared and I got feedback that empowered me that made it possible for me to think beyond where I could get alone. That’s how it’s done, baby. SWAK again.

The kiss in the above photo (sometimes referred to as “The Kiss”) was taken in celebration of the end of WWII on 14 August 1945. It appeared in Life Magazine shortly after it was shot. Of all the iconic images of postwar celebration, I like this one the best because it reminds me so much of writing. The kissers are not totally discernible just as the process of writing is sometimes not discernible. But one thing is clear: it’s a grand kiss. And if writing could always be like this, everyone would want to write–shoot, everyone would write all the time. (It’s not always this earth-shaking–I know. Sometimes it’s like a kiss where noses bump and someone goes for the cheek as the other heads for the lips: awkward.)

Perhaps, I protest too much about not being left alone with words in the title of this post. I might be a bit like Br’er Rabbit, a trickster, in this respect. If you threw me in a patch of words, I would be just fine. I might, in fact, find a way to turn it all to my advantage, mine some terrific metaphor from the depths of the word pit, and celebrate with a fabulous kiss in Times Square, or by writing a blog post that links “The Kiss” with collaboration and talking about writing. Or lacking that, I might just be able to hack my way out of a wet paper sack with a sharp pen.

I could totally do that. But I’d rather do the hacking with someone rather than without.

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Filed under All the Way Open, For Good, Writing hurts so good

Dear Open: I have been changed for good

Dear Open Movement,

Over a year ago I wrote about how I was transformed by my collision with you. I had an moment last night that is oddly linked with how I feel about you, the commons, Writing Spaces, teaching, learning, friendship, love, and more.

I watched an episode of Glee last night at 10 pm on Netflix. Why I did that I have no idea. I am not a Gleek. I’m not anything because I rarely watch television while it’s happening. I have about a ten-year lag most of the time for watching something popular, but I have seen Glee several times (the Rocky Horror Episode I watched three times on hulu.com), and I love it. I love musicals. I used to sing and dance in musicals–and never was quite as happy as I was when part of a cast, even in a dinky town in a dinky production (you know it’s part of who I am to want to be part of a commons rather than working alone, though I love being alone–you get that). I haven’t done much of the singing/dancing thing at all lately (for a long, long time), but it’s not a thing that’s ever left my soul, though the act of doing it has left my life. So I’m a fan of Glee when I get to see it.

(Not like how I feel about you, Open. You are part of me all the time. We’re simpatico, one, inseparable, in it to win it, together, linked, connected at the hip.)

There is no good reason that I watched the last episode of the second season. I might have been scrolling through the options and was tired of 19th century British dramas. Or perhaps I was weary from watching hipster comedians riff on various issues of the day or their lives. I couldn’t find any SciFi I wanted to see. I desperately want to re-watch Farscape, but that’s for my Christmas holiday (and about a 90 hour commitment).

The Glee episode is titled “New York” and aired originally on 24 May 2011. (I was busy then. I’d just come back from a conference in Michigan and was into the second day of the summer session… and still dealing with the fallout from the spring term–no television for me.) In this season finale, the kids in the glee club travel to New York City for the Nationals–a sing off for show choirs. In one moment of sheer silliness and loveliness, two characters sneak onto the stage of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, to sing “For Good,” the last song of the musical.

I haven’t seen the musical Wicked, but I have read the book and another by the same author. Beautiful writer, beautiful story, beautiful concept. Naturally, I know of the musical and its success and have a six-degrees-of-separation connection with the woman who first played Glinda. As much as I’d like to see Wicked, it’s never been in my path. I’ve heard one of the songs sung a few times: “Defying Gravity.” A student did a brilliant presentation on that song and Victorian poetry in a class I taught a year or so ago.

So… I don’t know a ton about Glee and know even less about Wicked (the musical), but something compelled me to watch that episode. To say I was stunned by this song is to undervalue the stun factor. “Tasered” is a better word to describe how it felt. Like many things I do, I jumped in, all in, all the way, all the way open and embraced the moment for what it was: fully cool.

I woke up this morning and knew I had to write and share this with you, Open. It’s important for me to be open about this fully cool moment with you as I know you’ll appreciate it.

I’ll never find time to follow a show or go to a musical… or not this year. But this simple homage to Broadway and to music and to learning was just right, right now.

The way I feel about you is the way the characters in Glee and Wicked feel about each other. I thought about that all the time they were singing. The way you and I collided, leaving me breathless and wrecked on the shores of the future, was nothing short of spectacular, the doings of Fate. I’m still reeling. But “who can say if I’ve been changed for the better” by knowing you? I’m sure that you happened into my life for a reason, to teach me, to help me grow, to make me see the world differently. In return, I will give to you in some way, always. When you need me, you only need call, and I will be there. I am who I am because I have known you: “because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Quoting the lyrics of a song is weak sauce, some might say, sentimental claptrap (even if it’s a Tony award-winner). Some might even say, “don’t quote, but paraphrase or summarize–use your own words, man, you’re a writer” but sometimes the words are perfection that someone has already said or sung before. Let’s not ignore the history of writing in general, or the writing of mash notes, in particular, eh? Mashing up songs/poems and letters is not news. I say I’m living the serendipity dream, the open dream. I’m remixing and mashing up (literally a little “mash,” right?), and doing my dance. I’m always doing my dance, thanks to you.

You get it, don’t you, Open? You get me and like me anyway. Thank you. You’re so exquisitely open.

Yours truly, ever open, E.D.

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