"That’s the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always
makes one a little giddy at first –"
"Living backwards!" Alice repeated in great astonishment. "I never heard of
such a thing!"
"– but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both
"I’m sure mine only works one way," Alice remarked. "I can’t
remember things before they happen."
"It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.
—from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass
Sometimes I find myself forgetting how powerful this is: all the writing and thinking, the supportive collegiality, the construction of a personal learning network. All these vital interactions and shifts. And, strictly speaking, it’s not a matter of forgetfulness—more like losing the habit of attention.
I started this blog a little over a year ago, and it’s been a life-altering experience. I’m writing more, reading more, thinking more, staying awake, paying attention, seeing the world, making friends. You know the drill; you’re doing it, too, in your own space and in your own way. Sean Law, author of the excellent Slam Teaching blog, brings up John Gardners’ notion of writing "for keeps" in a recent comment on Beyond School.
He’s talking about student writing, but isn’t for-keeps authenticity
one of those powerful ingredients in our e-blogosphere conversations? And
not just in the permanence sense of being published and
forever accessible, but also as it more subtly connotes being valuable, of
contributing to a shared effort, of being worth keeping—and keeping in mind.
Writing Higher Edison has exploded my static, linear, old-school conceptions of professional life, relationships, you name it. And as new possibilities float to the foreground, the solid, prosaic edges of my *real* work-life sometimes blur and fade into a surreal background. Trying to simultaneously pull both sides of the new/old duality into focus has often left me with a case of 21st century existential eyestrain. Bifocals, anyone?
Vocationally speaking, this duality has meant living a double life, a cloak-and-blogger existence. I’ve had one foot in the e-blogosphere’s discursive, exciting chop and churn, and the other in my regular teacher ed world, where the spirit is willing but the flesh is hemmed in and overtaxed. The incongruities are enormous; the dissonance verges on deafening.
The otherworldly weirdness of this tension was captured perfectly for me by Steven Hall’s 2007 novel The Raw Shark Texts. If you haven’t read it, you should. In its dizzying wordplay and metatextual pursuit (dare I say shark hunt?) of the nature of meaning, memory, and identity, it does what good novels have always done: reinvent the form, and with it our conception of how to tell a story. The book also challenges our conception of what a book is supposed to be, do, look like, feel like. The main character, Eric Sanderson, is relentlessly pursued by the Ludovician, an aggressively ravenous conceptual shark that feeds on ideas, words, and memories. As he tries to piece together his forgotten past—his ruined memory may be the result of an earlier encounter with the Ludovician, or of a dissociative disorder—he finds himself in the shadowy company of the Unspace Exploration Committee, a group dedicated to mapping the unseen, interstitial areas beneath the consciousness, landscapes, and spaces of everyday life. Steam tunnels, lost warehouses, ducts, caverns, and passages, all stitched together into an underground shadow-reality—unspace.
My blogging self has been spelunking in exhilarating unspace caves for the past year; upstairs, Life 1.0 grinds impassively on. I’m not alone. Others have written about trying to bridge the two worlds, about working for change from within the system. Graham Wegner’s recent parable is just one version of this many-times-told story:
How can teachers appreciate the magnitude, the networking, the
collegiality of the teachers already online, the sharing and the whole
deal if some schmuck does the hard yards for them? How can they be
totally committed to creating a unique learning opportunity for their
students if they themselves haven’t invested some virtual blood, sweat
He’s right about the virtual blood, sweat, and tears, and the huge payoff that investment can bring. What kills me is that even though I know this stuff by heart, even though I’ve experienced "sharing and the whole deal," I still. . .sometimes. . . forget. Forget to practice, forget to act, forget to be awake and involved. Lesson learned? Not sure yet, but it makes me stop and think twice about committing rash acts of blog evangelism, or at least about tempering my message.
In an end-of-year reflection and meditation on what 2008 will bring, Carolyn Foote asked:
Once we’re part of learning networks and part of a global conversation
about education, how will that change our professional endeavors?
Carolyn’s question goes to the heart of the issue I’ve been endlessly circling in this post. My comment:
Carol Bly once said that once we’ve learned something, we can’t go back
and unlearn it. We’re stuck with the new knowledge and all its
implications for our worldview, however discomfiting that may be.
You’re right. . . once we’re part of a global conversation, there’s no
going back to the old ways.
I’ll be plugging gamely away at the implications of Carolyn’s question for the rest of 2008, I think. We’re already a few days into the new year, so I’ll add my toast to the hopes-and-dreams pool before it’s too late.
Here’s to building bridges and telling parables. Here’s to virtual blood, sweat, and tears. Here’s to opening unspaces to the sun. And here’s to remembering—in both directions.