Over the last couple of weeks, I traveled 8, 496 miles by foot, by plane, by car, by thoughts and dreams. I’ve moved into a new role where I travel to do workshops, and I’ll be honest: I love working with teachers so let me show real affection by writing grammatically fraught sentences about my new jobby job.
Before I arrived home, I hadn’t cooked a meal in 18 days. Ridden a bike in 17 days. Seen my mister and our beloved pup in 16 days.
But then again I should see the positive: I hugged someone I haven’t seen in 15 years.
For the first time 14 years, my friends went backpacking without me (don’t hate me y’all, I’ll make it up to you). I suffered 13 days without good coffee. Oh, I tried 12 different new hoppy beers. Traveled to 11 different states. Did not sleep well for 10 days. Helped facilitate 9 very different yet similar workshops. Lost the concept of an 8-hour work day.
Laid on a beach for 7 hours only to scorch the hell out of my skin. Visited 6 different academic institutions. Laughed out loud alone 5 times in public. Told the same joke 4 different ways. Bought 3 cannoli from my favorite deli in Boston’s North End and ate them all while people watching. Got seriously lost 2 times because of a dead cell phone.
All for one thing: I love talking to teachers and teacher leaders about open education.
Teachers fill the hole where the students used to be as my colleague/friend Alexis says.
I’m still processing this trip and another one is about to begin, so let me tell you a story instead.
I had a magical weekend in Rhode Island at Newport. I got blistered by the sun, but let me go on.
I went to First Beach alone at night to listen to the waves and a drink a beer. Tiny little crabs covered the beach. The sound of the tide was deafening. Saw the blinking lights of sail boats on the horizon. Heard sounds of beach parties in the distance. Laughter from a couple I tried to ignore as they walked by. Stars.
I grabbed some hours to myself in Newport because I’ve always wanted to check out that slice of America. Lovely. Hectic. Touristy. Humid. History-rich. Hot. Expensive. Nice place to visit. Beautiful. It felt glorious and lucky to be close to an ocean that won’t give you hypothermia when you walk into it. The Pacific, as much as I love the Northwest, does not fulfill the need that I have for warm waters. Hot springs. Baths. Showers. Beaches of the Atlantic.
Being at the ocean felt particularly wonderful since I had been reading Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.
Finnegan witnessed the surfing craze of the 1960s in America while growing up in Hawaii and California, and he went on to travel the world chasing waves while discovering his inner rider and writer. I envy him. Not for the time period with which he lived, but for the days he lived just chasing waves. His memoir is a bildungsroman from male middle class America. Having never surfed before, I’ve always been intrigued with the beauty and the grace of riding a wave. As a fan of the “arm-chair travel writing” genre and, wait for it, the memoir, I fall for a writer who can make me understand his passion. His love. His motivation. His vision. Her passion. Her love. Her motivation. Her vision. You see. You know this.
Finnegan’s book reads like a really lovely long New Yorker essay.
There is one chapter that I love from Finnegan where he reflects on a picture that frustrated him because the photographer captured the moment after the moment that felt special to him.
Did you catch that? The moment after The Moment.
What he owned. What he cherished. What he wanted to remember. For fans of Roland Barthes, the photographer celebrates the studium while Finnegan mourned the absence of the punctum. To another viewer, I’m sure both could be present. Or absent.
Finnegan describes The Moment he wishes was captured:
[he] disappeared into that wave. That was a shot that [he] coveted: not this moment of anticipation, was the heart of the ride. But pictures are not about what a ride felt like; they are about what ride look like to others…[this shot] shows a dark sea; my memory of that wave, meanwhile is drenched in silver light (p. 314).
What the ride looks like to others. The wave. The surf. To others. What the photo captures. What he remembers. His memory of the wave “drenched in silver light.” Gorgeous.
He goes on:
Style was everything in surfing—how graceful your moves, how quick your reactions, how clever your solutions to the puzzles presented, how deeply carved and cleanly linked your turns, even what you did with your hands. Great surfers could make you gasp with the beauty of what they did. They could make the hardest moves look easy. Casual power, the proverbial grace under pressure, these were our beau ideals. Pull in to a heaving barrel, come out cleanly. Act like you’ve been there before. Make it look good (p 334).
It’s easy to see his New Yorker essay style here:
gawking at the transformation of ordinary seawater into beautifully muscled swell, into feathering urgency, into pure energy, impossibly sculpted, especially edged, and finally into violent foam (p. 335)
He claims that surfers are oceanographers, and there is pure no science to understanding the sea. At this point in the book, he’s really hit the sweet spot of helping a non-surfer see how surfing is music, science, art, and skill (p. 335). Although he is not comfortable with calling surfing a religion, he’s at his best when explains how he learns to see the ocean during his best days surfing. How the ocean is never predictable. Never the same. Never easy to predict. Never easy to claim. Never still.
And guess what? All I could think about was the art of teaching and learning. How many teachers are facing the same challenges. How there is no pure science to understanding how to teach. How learning is never predictable. How technology feels like this unpredictable wave getting in the way of teaching. How there is an ocean of choices.
As I’ve met teachers all over the country, I can’t help but put myself into their shoes. How I want to leave them thinking, I can do this too.
Nobody has summed up this feeling for me better than the recent post from Sean Morris:
Pedagogy is an agile business, and it is also the demesne of compassionate labor. Without agility and compassion, the management of technological infrastructure doesn’t support learning.
…we forget that the most valuable technology in education is people, and their willingness and capacity for invention, discovery, and reinvention.
With the right kind of eyes, you see the people first, not the technology. Always. Yes.