Everyone I know on Twitter was at a conference last week, or will be at one this week. Everyone. Men, women, children. I even saw dogs at the POD conference. Swimming dogs. Like I said, everyone.
I've been wondering about conferences for a while. I love conferences. I really do. And, I think that perhaps we're arriving at a crossroads where it's time to reimagine conferences. Here are some questions I've been pondering:
1. AFFORDABILITY: I remember a time when I could get a gallon of gas for 99 cents and conferences seemed affordable, or at least more affordable than they are now. I was talking to one of my professors recently, and she said that many of her graduate students are getting priced out of higher ed conferences. I scoped out a spring 2020 conference, and my best estimate is that it will cost $2000 when all is said and done. That's bananas.
Who can afford to attend conferences? Who can't? My sense is that a lot of decisions are made at conferences. A lot of programs are designed and developed. People carry ideas back home to their campuses that they've generated at conferences. Whose voices are included in developing those ideas? Whose are left out? I was reading recently about double digit enrollment drops at some Massachusetts community colleges. I worked at a community college during single digit enrollment drops. People are fighting to keep their jobs, living through furloughs, and wondering about their futures. That's not the best time to ask for $2000 to attend a conference. Of course, add adjuncts and other independents to the mix. Are their voices included?
2. ACCESSIBILITY: Long-distance travel over several days is either not an option, or an extreme challenge for many people. I'm thinking of disabled folks, moms, caregivers, and people of color who we know have a ton of demands on their time in navigating the academy, leading diversity initiatives, providing emotional labor, and mentoring students. Even if people can afford it financially, is conference travel a realistic option for everyone in higher education? Again, I think a lot of voices aren't at the table. They should be.
3. LOTS OF FUEL: If you haven't heard, the world is on fire. Members of the Society for Neuroscience recently started a petition to start reducing their carbon footprint by considering the impact of their conference travel and offering virtual attendance and participation options. It would seem that higher education and its related conferences have an opportunity to do some good work in this area. How can we all reduce our carbon footprint?
4. HIERARCHIES: In the middle of thinking this all of this through, Tressie McMillan Cottom was tweeting about #DATUM2019, a recent unconference.
So where do we go from here?
In addition to Dr. Cottom's suggestions, I'm curious about the possibility of more remote conference options. When I started in higher education in 2002, online education for college students was just starting to take off. We've obviously seen tremendous growth in our online course offerings for students, but it seems to me that our higher education conferences haven't caught up. I see tons of other online conferences for business development, psychology, yoga, wellness, etc. Why aren't there more online higher education conferences?
How can we recognize the value of sharing space and of being social, while also making conferences more equitable and accessible? How do we mitigate our negative impact on the environment? How can we make sure that all voices are included at conferences?
What if we threw out the existing models and started from scratch, based on who and where we are today? What would that look like?
How can we reimagine conferences?
I say this about online education a lot: I critique it because I love it, and I want it to be better. The same goes for conferences. I love the idea of getting people out of their daily routines in order to share, celebrate, and ideate. I critique them because I love them, and I see a world of opportunity ahead of us if we're willing to challenge each other to see things differently.
I don't know about y'all, but the time change last week kicked my butt.
I'm really big on routines, so even though we "gained" an hour, the change in routine was hard for me, and I think for a lot of us. This isn't just me being a routine person; circadian and ultradian rhythms are a biological fact. Anyway, I'm definitely on the side of getting rid of daylight savings time. It's just bad science.
That said, sometimes being exhausted can lead to a breakthrough; After waking up at 4:22 a.m. yesterday, I was so tired by the middle of the day that I had to surrender to the fatigue. It forced me to do a bit of contemplation about how I spend my time and the things that I can control. I remembered an article that a social media friend had posted online with tips from Adam Grant on starting a to-don't list.
I wrote last week about my scrum board, and how I use it to prioritize projects. It includes an entire "TO DO" section which is already filling up with ideas. Sounds good, right? Maybe not. Grant says, "To-do lists are the human equivalent of a hamster wheel."
Grant identifies four things we should put on our to-don't lists.
I don't invest any time in online games, though now I'm kind of thinking about it. I'm much more likely to overextend myself in my work life. I'm pretty good at setting work aside in the evenings and most of the weekends, in order to spend time with my family, but I could certainly use some improvement here.
Points #1 and #2 are two things that I can definitely work on, and oh, what the hell, I'm going to add a "TO-DON'T" section to my scrum board.
Here are a few other TO-DON'Ts of mine:
Don't be afraid of resting. Don't be afraid that if you rest, you'll never start again. Everyone needs to rest. Rest doesn't stop you from doing what you love, it helps you stay active in the long run. Play chess, not checkers.
Don't try to do it all yesterday. Life is short, yes, but it's also very long. You've got time.
Don't worry so much about disappointing people, because as Seuss said, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. I was working on a team project last week, and realized we'd been trying to do too much in too little time. I spoke up, and guess what, everyone else was feeling the same way. Don't assume that speaking the truth will anger people; it might just do the opposite.
What's on your to-don't list?
Full disclosure: I'm not an expert on agile AT ALL. I hear people talking about it all the time, and I nod and smile. Best I can tell, agile is an approach to business that focuses on efficiency.
But what I am an expert on is washi tape and markers and stickers and buying office supplies.
In that vein, may I present to you, my scrum board! (I covered the details of the cards because they are top secret plans to save the world, and I don't want them falling into enemy hands. Sorry.)
If you want to connect with a real expert on agile, check out the work of Rebeccca Pope-Ruark. She wrote a book called Agile Faculty and she wrote a great blog post about scrum boards.
My blog post will cover Scrumming (verbified it) Karen Style.
My understanding of a scrum board is that it supports an agile work process. Whatever that means. Let's just get to the fun office supplies.
I scored a board at Michael's over the weekend for only $10 using a much sought-after 50% off coupon. I used my husband's tools to drill stuff into other stuff, strung a wire across the back of the board, and hung it on the wall in my home office.
There are typically three categories on a scrum board: TO DO, WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS), AND DONE. I decorated some paper with those titles using stickers, markers, and washi tape and pinned them to my board.
FYI: I've seen a lot of people using dry erase boards and post-it notes for their scrum boards. I've found that post-it notes fall off, and then my dog eats them, and that doesn't seem very agile, so I went with a cork bulletin board and push pins instead.
Then, I started filling out cards with tasks (I cut 4x6 pieces of cardstock in half for the cards). I used different color markers and my favorite Papermate Inkjoy pens to list my tasks on the cards.
Here are a few epiphanies I've had about scrumming:
1. Don't sleep on the DONE category.
When I first started researching how to set up my board, I couldn't understand the DONE category. Why take up space on my beautiful board with tasks that are DONE? Why not just throw the DONE tasks in the trash? Since then, I've moved five tasks from WIP to DONE, and it was freaking fantastic. I'm realizing that the DONE category is really about reinforcing positive habits and celebrating success. Rather than just staring at all that I have TO DO, I can remind myself of all that I've DONE. This helps to motivate me to do more. When I look at my board and imagine moving a task from WIP to done, or from TO DO to DONE, it inspires me to keep going.
2. The visuals are powerful.
It's really hard to make decisions about where to invest our time, isn't it?
I've caught myself, since hanging my scrum board, glancing up at the WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS) section. Right now, for example, I have eight big tasks that are WIP, including paid work and creative projects, both inside and outside of higher education. This is, of course, in addition to being a human who takes care of a little human and is a partner to a big human, and who has a canine shadow, and who needs to take care of her human body. Eight is great. Eight is more than enough.
Before agreeing to any additional tasks, whether they're my own or someone else's, I really need to look at that WIP column. Do I have room for anything else? If I add something to WIP, am I willing to subtract something else? I can also choose to wait, and take on that new task after I've moved something from WIP to DONE. Rather than just thinking this through in my head where things tend to spin around in circles, being able to visually see it is really helpful to my decision-making process.
3. My ideas are in one place.
Oh my ideas. I have a few. Thousand. What I love about my scrum board is that it's a safe space to store my ideas. I went through all of my notebooks and asked myself whether an idea was board-worthy. When in doubt, I put it on the board. It gives me a sense of peace to know that my good ideas won't get lost in the shuffle. When space opens up in the WIP section, I can look at all of my ideas in one space so that I can prioritize which one is most important to me.
I also much prefer having my ideas where I can see them rather than hidden in a notebook. Writing ideas in a notebook means they won't be completely lost, but it's so easy to ignore our notebook ideas. I see my TO DO ideas every day, and it helps me to feel closer to them, as if they're more likely to happen and it's just a matter of time before they come to fruition.
If you've been looking for a way to prioritize your projects, a scrum board might be helpful. My biggest tip here is to make it your own. Do you want a virtual scrum board or one you can touch? Corkboard or dry erase? I've also seen people getting creative with the three categories. My sense is that keeping the basic model in place and then making it your own is the way to go.
I've had a close eye on the California wildfires for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, my dear friend from college lives in Petaluma. They are just south of the mandatory evacuation zones. Her little boy's birthday is today. She had the flu over the weekend. Life, right? And she's also worried about their house burning down. Life in 2019 in California.
I've been checking this map, probably too often:
Is this the new normal?
As I always do, because higher education is my work, but it's also in my blood, I am thinking about the college students who might be impacted by the fires: those who attend traditional, land-based classes in California, and those who might be online students, taking courses at an institution thousands of miles away.
It's really hard to concentrate on anything when you're worried about your basic safety. It's hard to focus when home doesn't feel like a safe place.
Which got me thinking about our students whose homes don't feel like a safe place for reasons other than these fires. Whether they tell me or not (some do, some don't), I know that many of my students live in a state of constant stress because of racism, domestic violence, homelessness, and hunger.
A colleague of mine (Hi, Andrew), recently connected me with Cia Verschelden's book, Bandwidth Recovery. Have you read it? It talks about the cognitive impact of trauma and toxic stress due to racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like. I'm thinking about this book today, and wondering about students who were already in precarious situations before the fires.
I hope that professors and other higher education staff are taking care of themselves and each other. Period. I also hope they're doing that caring work so that they can better care for our students. I hope that educators are working with students on deadlines, and being a source of support rather than a source of stress.
I am thinking a lot about our disabled students living in California.
There's so much here that it feels hard to wrap one's head around it. There's the horrifying realization that the impacts of global warming that we've been warned about for years have arrived. We're in it now. There's the personal impact, worrying about friends and loved ones. There's simple humanity, empathizing with people just because we're sad and scared for our fellow humans. Of course, there's also the grief of watching the natural environment suffer and die, and worry about animal life.
When things feel that big and impossible, I try to focus on something small, like writing this post, texting my friend, donating to a cause, or recommitting to my purpose of making higher education a more humane place to live, study, teach, and work. It's not enough, but it's something, and probably better than staring at a fire map wondering how the hell we got here.
I typically write from a blog ideas list that I keep in my "big picture planner." Planning posts ahead of time works sometimes, but other times, when I reach the planned post, it no longer feels relevant.
Maybe part of the fun of blogging is to allow for days like this? Maybe just writing until something appears can bring forth valuable ideas that people might enjoy reading?
Just now, as I was writing this (trying to avoid writing this), I popped on Twitter to find this piece on EdSurge: A 'Golden Age of Teaching and Learning at Colleges?
The pictures of brain scans associated with the article caught my eye. I've been using and studying brain-based teaching techniques for a long time. The article is the transcript of a podcast with Matthew Rascoff, an AVP of digital ed. A couple of things jumped out at me:
A recent edu conference had the unfortunate acronym of H.A.I.L. I don't love this. Hail is nasty stuff that falls from the sky. Or, it's a sort of creepy, totalitarian greeting (e.g., "All hail...). The "H" stands for Harvesting. Harvesting Academic Innovating for Learners. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we should generally avoid the word "harvesting" when talking about students' brains. Words create worlds. Words matter. Higher ed is in need of new words (e.g., distance education, soft skills, non-traditional learners). I left this article grateful that I consider myself a word person, and hoping that all institutions and innovation efforts will make sure to have a word person at the table, to think through the possible implications of their word choices.
Rascoff said, "I think we’re doing such a bad job of telling our story right now." I do agree with this. As an industry, we've got work to do. I think about online education in particular. Horror stories abound, but those of us on the ground can fill books with success stories. One of my personal goals is to continue to spread the good news about online education. There's that, and there's also the fact that we need to do better. We're failing too many of our students, both online and in traditional education. We need to tell better stories; we need to do better. Both are true.
I think many of us are sharing good news about higher ed as individuals. We need to come together more to tell these positive stories. How? I'm thinking about it. I have an idea. I DMed a couple of colleagues about it last night.
Rascoff also said that we're in a "golden age of teaching." Are we? No. No, we are not. Again, there are pockets, often big pockets, doing amazing work grounded in the art and science of teaching and learning. That said, I fear that the norm is still passive learning, not just in higher education, but across K-12 as well. I hear stories about schools with no recess, no art, and no music. I wonder how many kids are being taught right from the textbook, with assessments that most closely resemble autopsies, and no active learning or formative assessment in sight. I suspect that we are still teaching people of all ages from the model of a fixed mindset. Again, there are huge movements to improve teaching and learning in American education, but we've got work to do.
Yes, as Rascoff said, "We know more about how people learn than we ever have in the past." Our knowledge of the human brain and how it learns is, at this very moment, greater than it's ever been. And, at the very same time, most of our field believes in neuromyths, like the existence of learning styles.
What comes to mind is the John Naisbitt quote, "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
Again, we have lots of work to do. That's almost always my final thought on these twisty education conversations. We have a lot of work to do in connecting teachers (at all levels) with information about how the brain learns best, and in supporting teachers in making that shift in their classrooms. We have to help them transfer that information into knowledge and action. We've got to do it all with a deep respect for students as people, not as brains waiting to be cultivated or harvested. We need the resources to do this work.
Right before my summer vacation, someone recommended a book to me: Tara Sophia Mohr's Playing Big.
Now, if you know me, heck, even if you don't know me, I've probably given you some book recommendations. I love to read, I love books, and I love connecting people to great books. A colleague recently told me that he doesn't think books can change someone's life.
In my experience, books do change lives, and they've certainly changed mine. What's also been true for me is that the right book appears at just the right time. I've had books on my shelves for years, and then one day, I feel nudged to pick one up and read it, only to find the exact message that I needed to move forward from a challenge.
Playing Big was the right book at the right time. I read it over the summer, often from the hammock or on the beach, took notes on it in my Moleskine notebook, and plan to write more about it over the next year, because it's PACKED with wisdom.
A big part of that wisdom is about how women can unhook from external praise and criticism. We are, of course, trained from birth to be good, to be nice, and to not rock the boat. That earns us praise. When we start playing big, guess what happens? We're breaking the rules, so we receive criticism, which for many of us, is excruciating. It's so uncomfortable that we often swing back in the other direction and start playing small again.
This idea made me think a lot about my writing. I have been actively writing, learning about writing, and submitting my work since 2012. Not as long as many, but I am doing the hard work on a daily basis. Of course, like a lot of women, I think, I've been writing in my head since as long as I can remember; I just gave myself permission to put those words into the world in 2012.
And since then, with a ton of work, and mountains of rejections, I've started to see my words make their way into the world. I don't want to say that I'm lucky that various publications regularly publish my writing, because again, this has been a long road with no luck in sight, just work, faith, intuition, rage, and more work. But the point is, my writing is getting published. Great, right? Yes! Please keep publishing my writing. Please keep reading and sharing it. One of my favorite things in life is when someone emails me, out of the blue, to tell me that something I wrote a few years ago, something I've often forgotten about, spoke to them or helped them see the world differently. It's the absolute best.
And, I realized while reading Playing Big that I didn't have a lot of space in my life for writing that was just mine. I had wanted to start a blog about education, wellness, books, writing, and life for a few years, but I was scared. I was scared to look dumb, basically.
If an editor reads my work and deems it worthy, then I feel confident(ish) putting it out into the world. If there's no editor involved, if it's just me, how can I know my writing is good enough to share?
That's why I'm blogging this fall: because I've wanted to for a really long time, but I was scared to share my writing unless an editor approved of it.
Writing this blog has been like an exercise in believing in myself. Every week, I put fingers to keyboard, and speak as honestly as I can about whatever I want. If I want to write a blog about post-it notes (not a bad idea....), I can. If I want to write about self-doubt, I can. It's mine. All mine. Which of course feels like standing in front of my high school's graduating class with no pants on, but mostly, each time that I post, I feel a little bit more clothed.
My hunch is that the more that I do this, the more that I share my writing with the world without someone else's pre-approval, the braver that I'll get, and the more willing that I'll be to play big. I've also come to realize that it's just fun; it's quality time with myself, usually on a Monday morning, to do something that I love. To generate something rather than to cut something down. To create. To take a risk.
That's why I'm committed to blogging this fall, and while it's not my primary goal, maybe another woman who's been playing small will stumble upon these words, and decide to take her own risk.
I had to take a sick day yesterday, like a real one where you stay in bed and watch an 80s movie and try not to think about all the work that you have to do. I am fully remote in my work, which makes sick days particularly challenging, because my home office is twenty feet away from my bed, beckoning to me to come do all the work.
I feel better today, and I'm really grateful for that. I'm working on never taking these good days for granted. I noticed, though, that when I sat down to look over my schedule this morning, I was in attack mode.
My rationale was that since I didn't work much yesterday, I needed to work twice as hard today. Isn't that funny that this was my first instinct? Because when you think of it, doesn't it make more sense to take it slow today, since my body is still likely trying to return to its balance point? I took a breath, and let go of attack mode. I decided to move at a steady, sustainable pace instead. So far, so good.
I'm realizing that after a gorgeous break this summer, where I spent an inordinate amount of time in a hammock, I came back to work in August like this guy:
I think we talk a lot about getting burned out in jobs we hate, but not nearly enough about how doing work we love, with people we love, also requires us to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. That's been true for me, at least. I love the work I'm doing, and I want to do more. Which is a good problem to have, as they say, but if I don't take time out for rest and relaxation, it won't be sustainable.
Sustainable work: slow and steady. I want to learn more about that, write more about that, and find others who are having that conversation.
As I was writing this post, I saw a professor post on Twitter about taking a sick day, and felt a little less alone. Higher education, in general, can be a tough space to share our human frailties. Writing this feels weird and vulnerable, and I came THIS CLOSE to stopping myself, and writing something confident and bold and focused and strong instead.
But I want to hear from more people in higher education about the art and science of being human, and I've learned that if you want to see more of something in the world, you have to be willing to start with yourself.
I posted about goal setting, time management, and planning on Sunday night. I have a plan to do more work in that space, as I love talking to people about those topics, sharing what I know, and learning from them. The past couple of days have been a reminder for me that always, always, within that conversation about working toward our goals, we need to remember our bodies and spirits, instead of just focusing on where our minds want to go.
One of the goals that I set this summer was to blog consistently, every Monday. So far, so good. I've planned out post topics through the end of December. This week's post was supposed to be about turning 40, but I sort of covered that last week. In short, it wasn't a big deal. It was a good day. Birthdays are weird.
That left me with a hole in my blogging plans this morning. As I was thinking about what I could write about, I remembered one of the reasons that I decided to start blogging in the first place: because while I do love to see my work published on a broader scale, the outlets that bring that broader scale often take time. If you sit down to pour your heart into an essay in March, you might not see those words in print until May, or even until the following March. It's the nature of the beast, and I've made peace with it. But the beauty of a blog is that I can comment more efficiently on things that are happening in my life, or the world, right now.
On Friday, I posed a question on Twitter:
I had been out for my daily walk with my dog, and as I do on those walks, I was thinking a bit. About the world. About men. About what I can and can't control. About higher education. About feminism. About how much work we've done and how much there still is to do.
When I posted this, I expected to grab a few names of cool women who might lift my spirits a bit. I've since lost count of the numbers of responses this tweet received. Over the weekend, I thought about this post quite a bit. I just wrote a bit about those thoughts, and deleted it all. I'm going to write about my hopes instead.
I hope you made a friend.
I hope that everyone who engaged with this tweet found a new Twitter friend. Life is hard. The world is on fire. I hope you found someone who gets pumped about the same things that you get pumped about, or angry about the same things, or who has a similar job title, or whatever. As a fully remote worker, the friendships that I've formed online sustain me. I hope you found a source of support. We need each other.
I hope you sought out diverse connections.
I scrolled through as many of the responses as I could, clicking on tons of handles, and was intentional about following women of color. Not only will I have the chance to connect with them now, and learn from them, but I'm also in a better position to amplify their work. One woman I followed, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, recently shared an essay she wrote on the rules of diversity. I read it over the weekend, and it is hard and good. I hope you'll take a minute to read it, and sit with its lessons. I hope you will think about who you choose to follow on #followfriday.
I'd be remiss if I didn't share this important tweet from Beth Godbee. I hope you'll follow Beth as well, and think about her tweet.
I hope manels and their equivalent will die out.
Women's work in the #highered space, at conferences, and in our trade publications is underrepresented. It's unacceptable. It's annoying. And in the words of Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette, we don't want to hear about it anymore.
I hope that women (and men) in #highered will get louder about calling about this lack of representation. I hope they'll submit their work like crazy. I hope our trade publications will do better. Parity is the goal. Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Education, do we have parity yet? Why not?
Here's a list of #highered publications accepting submissions They pay.
I hope we will all refuse to sit in front of another manel. I hope that those of us in positions of privilege will ask what conferences are doing to ensure diverse representation before we agree to present.
I hope we'll continue this conversation.
What's next? I was left wondering about creating a shared online space for us to support each other and amplify each other's voices. I've been following @WomenEd, a group of women leaders in education based in the U.K. They've been hosting "unconferences" for women. Could we do the same in the U.S.?
And not for nothing, but we're doing some pretty effing amazing work at Women in Higher Education, so stop by our website, subscribe, and support our mission to "enlighten, encourage, empower and enrage women on campus."
I hope to continue this conversation.
I hope you have a great week.
Today is my first day of school (again). Tomorrow is my 40th birthday.
I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. I take breaks now and again, but I always return to the classroom. While I am constantly leaning on my own, there's something about formal education that works for me: probably the structure most of all.
After years of studying, using, and then teaching others about brain-based teaching strategies (aka neuroeducation), I found myself craving that structure. One day, my husband, son, and I were sitting around talking, and I asked them if they could study any topic in college (in the future, for my son, or in the case of my husband and I, if we could have a do-over), what would it be? At the time, my son was obsessed with presidential history, so his answer was "The Presidents." I think my husband chose graphic design. My answer? Brains.
I poked around for a couple of years, exploring various programs, and nothing seemed to click. I need something online to fit into my schedule, and because I thrive in online learning environments. Most of the programs I found were focused on K-12 education. Then, I stumbled upon Drexel's certificate in neuroscience, learning, and online instruction. There's a strong higher ed emphasis and I actually met the lead professor at the OLC conference years ago. She was presenting on brain-based teaching strategies, so I made a beeline for her, of course, and we had a great chat. When I realized she led the Drexel program, it seemed fortuitous.
The simple idea behind brain-based teaching is that the brain is the primary organ of learning, so understanding how it learns best helps to make us better teachers (and I would argue, better humans). I remember once that my yoga teacher training instructor said to us that if you're a curious person, yoga is a great thing to study, because you'll never reach the end; there's always more to learn. I feel that way about the brain. I'm a very curious person, and a lifelong learner, and I'm quite sure that the brain will keep me busy for years to come.
This term I'll be studying the Neuroscience of Learning. Here's the course description:
This course introduces neuroanatomy and processes associated with learning, memory, emotion, and perception. The course examines the relationship between stress, trauma, sleep, health, and aging on cognitive function as well as adaptive cognitive function. Current and emerging research in cognitive neuroscience is explored to inform educational practices to meet the needs of diverse learners. Topics include neuroplasticity, neuroimaging, learning cycle, effective differentiation, and self-efficacy.
Neuroplasticity. One of my favorites. To me, it's the science of hope. The hope that everyone can learn, grow, and change.
Birthdays always feel weird to me. Like, it's just another day, but it's also not. I try not to overcomplicate it, but...I'm an air sign, y'all. Overthinking things is written in the stars for me. So there's some stuff swirling around, but one thing that always grounds me is learning. My humungous textbook arrives tomorrow, and I plan to ring in forty with some cake, my best boys (two humans, one canine), and the joys of studying and annotating three chapters from Brain & Behavior with my favorite highlighters and colored pens.
I'm also taking a watercolor painting class at the local community college tomorrow; there's something very healing about sitting in a room for two hours and painting a flower. No one uses their phones. Since this is a day class, it's me and three older adults, all retired, so we talk about things like birds and butterflies. Speaking of brains, mine screeches for much of the class: "You have seven hundred things you could be doing right now! but I just keep painting my tulips. Maybe forty is the age when you learn how and when to ignore your brain.
I'm not going to get too weird about setting intense or specific goals for the coming year, but one thing I know is that I'm going to keep learning, both inside and outside of the classroom. I'm going to make bad art and put myself in front of timeless art.
Here are some pics from our visit to the MFA this weekend:
Life is good.
Years ago, I read something that said that before we add things to our lives, we should think about what we're going to subtract. If not, we'll just keep adding more and more until we reach the point of complete overwhelm.
That concept has stuck with me for a long time, and I try to share it with my students, many of whom are starting their first terms in college. "You just added a 10-20 hour per week commitment to your life. What did you subtract?"
Too often the answer is sleep, which won't work. Our brains, hearts, and spirits need sleep to be healthy and strong. I have learned to protect my sleep at all costs, and I encourage others to do the same.
If not sleep, then what? Time with our kids? A social life? Our fitness routine? There are no easy answers here.
The question of subtraction applies to anyone who wants to add something new to their lives, whether it's a college course, new job responsibilities, a relationship, or a gym membership. Adding things is great, but what will you subtract?
I saw this quote from Chani Nicholas over the summer, and I think it speaks to this tension of doing the math in our lives. We are an addition culture. Do more. Be more. Experience more. If all we do is add, we're going to bury ourselves in new experiences. I'm all for adding things to our lives, but I wonder if we need to become better at exploring the power of subtraction.
I'm committed to blogging once a week for this academic year. Thanks for joining me on that journey. Check back Monday-ish for new posts.