Holidays, Time Off, Fairness, Studies, and Self-Confidence

Have you ever noticed how stressful the winter holidays can be, what with family obligations, spending money, getting off schedule, meeting the expectations of others, and on and on? What about when we see other people who seem to buy or give nicer or more thoughtful gifts, get more time off than we do, or greater bonuses? Don’t even get us started on how even more doctoral student colleagues earn themselves time off with great strides in writing and research and progress! 

Ever make you think that life is not fair, or everybody has it better, or just somehow I am doing the wrong thing? The holidays can certainly bring these emotions and more up in us, and I think it is worth reflecting on.

Well, I started to think about some of these things when I returned from a long holiday weekend (I took a vacation day Friday and Monday was a holiday). The city seems so empty, did everybody really go off to Paris or the South of France, as I imagine happens when somehow the crowds I am used to are not around and I have to go back to work?

Mind you, I like my work and studies and such, though somehow everything seems more difficult when we are alone, and not of our own making.

How about how quiet online communities, such as #phdchat, seem to be during the winter holidays (including Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year’s, and such), nothing like time to catch up while having nobody to reply back!

Of course, this is simply not true. There are so many people around all the time, in-person as well as online, that it is an exaggeration to claim that nobody is around or I am all alone. Take the winter holidays; even when we seem to have it worse than others, there are always people who have it worse off than we do. Sure, some people may have organizations that give them the entire week off, or supervisors who invite their students for holiday gatherings, though I suppose all that comes at a price, often one that is easy to miss when we feel in a rut. Misery indeed loves company, and the holidays seem to breed both.

After all, even vacation taken now may mean less for the spring or summer!

Even with our endless media telling us what gifts to give or receive, I have still never seen anybody give or receive a Lexus, regardless of the size of the ribbon and how perfect everybody and everything in the ads appear. Hey, Madison Avenue, that is not my life, and quite honestly that is OK.

Can any ad or product or statement or statistic ever fully capture our lives? If no, why do they affect us at times?

Thinking of my research, how often am I convinced that every other doctoral student moves faster through their dissertations or theses than I do, or that everybody else somehow gets better funding packages or has more travel budgets or extra help with supervision? It is so easy to miss that we each move at our own pace, each have different skills, resources, access, and developing understanding of our work. Some people move faster and make better progress, and some don’t.

As a matter of fact, some give or receive better gifts, while other receive less. Or none. Some people have a bonus week off, and some cannot find any work at all. Some make speedy research progress, and some cannot get into a program or afford to stay once they start or have supervisors interested in their work. 

While this may seem a rambling post that has perculatd for the past week, suffice it to say it is really rather focused. Life is not fair, and while we each have our own challenges, we also each have our own benefits. I suppose it is valuable for us to focus more on the latter than the former. It somehow is easier to see what we want and don’t have than what we have that others may not. In other words, we are all different, and in this great diversity life seems to be this exciting experience. We have what we have, and what we do with it is up to us. There will always be people who have more, and there will always be people who have less–financial, educational, social, healthful, etc.

Happy Holidays all, and don’t let Santa, whoever or whatever that may be to you, make you believe that everything else is better; nothing can be further from the truth.

Slavoj Zizek and Rhizomatic Learning

As Dave Cormier is speaking about Rhizomatic learning this week in the #change11 MOOC, I thought about this recent interview Charlie Rose had with the philosopher and cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek.

While I know that Dave’s work on rhizomatic learning does not have the same critical lens that Zizek uses, his way of seamlessly moving from one topic to another, approaching human experience from different perspectives, speaks to me about what may be possible if we extend this discussion (as learning opportunities surround us) to other areas of learning and experiencing the world. In this way it recalls Dave’s thinking:

The rhizome metaphor, which represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge, may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target.

I wonder how rhizomatic learning fits with cultural studies, and if in this way it has a certain interdisciplinarity about it?

Glass, Gandhi, OWS, and Social Artistry

We finished week 7 of the #change11 MOOC, this week with Nancy White who spoke about the concept of a Social Artist, someone who teaches and supports learners by using creative and sympathetic means to patiently encourage them to establish and follow their own goals while being connected with a larger and increasingly complex and chaotic world. Jenny Mackness and I talked a bit about to what extent technology is also a component of social artistry, and I don’t think Nancy’s wonderful discussion (the first is listed here, though I cannot find a link to the one at the end of the week) could have occurred without technology. Thinking about how John Mak expanded on some initial work Jenny presented, how could a social artistry develop without some connected or networked world (or am I perhaps mixing the active social artist with one that is developing and nourishing the role?)?

Let me change direction for a moment and consider this in 2 events of this past Friday.

Friday night I had the honor of being able to attend this season’s Metropolitan Opera premiere of Satyagraha, the Philip Glass opera about the life of Gandhi (or part of it at least, including elements in his earlier life in South Africa where he developed his worldview). With Glass’s style of repeating a few chords in ways that are soothing and hypnotic and energizing all at one, along with this dynamic production that used visuals and technology to tell the simple story in a way that brings it to life to a contemporary audience in a fresh way, I had a profound sense of how important Gandhi is as an historical figure and as an icon for standing up for one’s beliefs, supporting the freedom of action and self-government of an oppressed people. I saw this opera the last time it was at the MetOpera in 2008, and it affected me even stronger this time around. Perhaps I knew more about Glass’ intentions, his music, and the complicated production that tells a story without allowing us to refer to the libretto.

Could Glass’s style add to social artistry, by offering a renewed sense of how historical action is just as relevant to our lives today? I kept thinking about Occupy Wall Street (OWS), something I have not been able to get my mind around (who ever heard of a protest without clear and simple demands?). Even when I was finally in the financial district in New York earlier on Friday, I snapped a few photos as a reminder, not knowing where or how this will develop. I did not initially make the connection between their work and Gandhi, though after seeing the opera later that night (yes, the irony between high art and its associated costs is not lost on me), I have since been thinking about the OWS protests that have spread around the world.

None of this would have been possible without technology, and while the Met Opera’s production was planned long before OWS began, the connection between the two is uncanny. As a matter of fact, without hearing so much about OWS online for several weeks, I would not have even known it was happening. Leave it to corporate media outlets to not investigate its claims more fully, but that may be a sign of the protest itself and best left to more discussion at another time.

I wonder if that is also a role of a social artist, to bring an awareness of human experience and help others see connections that may easily be missed and then process them together to lead to action to improve elements of society? Could this be what Nancy White showed in the interactive slides and periods of silence she allowed and promoted in her 2 #change11 MOOC sessions this week?

I am a Nancy White Groupie

I will confess to you, dear reader, that I am a Nancy White Groupie.

No, I don’t follow her to see her on stage (who can keep up with that schedule, even to those places I cannot at times find on a map), nor do I toss my unmentionables (I have nothing that is unmentionable, BTW) to her across time and space for her benefit, though I would gladly share chocolate with her when I am able (or drinks when she visits New York). As a matter of fact, I have not even seen Nancy F2F for some years now (how she remains young while I grow older is the magic of memory and avatars, I suppose), though thinking of her always brings a smile to my face.

It is that smile that I want to consider.

I am not saying this because she had a screenshot of a Twitter conversation (yes, a real discussion, cf. Jenny and Jenny again) I had with John Mak (after an interesting exchange on his blog) during her #change11 MOOC session this past Monday (recording and slides etc. are here). I am saying this because she has a way of engaging people that gets creative juices flowing, even when it is about the most challenging of topics.

Take her session this past Monday. She asked us to consider change, especially related to creating a space for change. I was entirely engaged during the discussion, including the interactive whiteboarding she championed (see a screenshot to the right) that I watched without writing on. I could not write on this board because I was struggling with processing what she asked us to consider. I watched others. I was actively engaged in writing in and reading the chat stream (little surprise?) Because I like to think more than I like to draw. Because I believe reflecting on is an interactive and engaging activity. Even at the end of the session, I was not clear exactly what happened, what we (I) learned, nor what to do with it. Even here near the end of our week with Nancy, I struggle with her notion (or a notion she shared) about #socialartist. Even through some DM messages yesterday, somehow Nancy brought a positive spin to it. She didn’t leave me where I was–she encouraged and guided and urged me on, all with what I can only imagine being a smile on her face of knowing that we have to experience change ourselves–she can not tell us what will happen, but rather guide us to the edge and then steward us across.

Through all of this, Nancy makes me smile. I feel reassured and encouraged as she engages in online discussion and interactivity with a group spread across the globe. I don’t think it may matter to her how we react and engage; I think she cares more that we do react and engage. Perhaps in that variety of ways of approaching this lumbering issue of #change11 Education, Learning, and Technology, the issue is not so much about doing this or that right (as if there is a right way to experience education, learning, and technology), but that we move past our comfort zone, as only there will change (of the status quo) live.

Perhaps that is the (or a) point; change comes whether we want it or not, but if we engage in learning that pushes our boundaries while engaging in some aspect of community, the change may benefit from our shared exploration and thus be more fully realized. Borrowing from our actor-network theory colleagues, our learning network constantly changes, with technologies coming and going along with the people around them. This change really is the only constant. What can we do with all this change, especially so our voices get heard and we become part of it while not getting rolled over by it?

Ahh, that is what I think Nancy may really be getting at . . .

The Wonders of Avebury

Having spent several hours in Glastonbury, on to what became one of the highlights of my September trip to the UK – Avebury. A world heritage site of what I believe to be the finest example of megalithic monuments, Avebury has left a lasting impression on me. Before I went on the tour, I confess I had never heard of this site. What makes it such a rich experience is that I felt the energy in the stones, and even experienced dowsing (see the second picture) with the energy in the stones causing the copper rods to turn and then turn back. This I would not have believed had I not experienced it. My visit to Stonehenge was wonderful, but Avebury was . . . powerful.

Avebury had a peacefulness and sense of nature (see the sheep?) about it, with a good number of people walking amidst the stones, touching them, soaking up the energy of the ancient builders of the site. I feel a sense of spirituality I have not felt since I last visited Chartres Cathedral in France, and thus it is now on my list of places I need to visit again.