issue stuff

i maintain it was nobody’s fault, but rather an unfortunate accident. i could have prepared, had i known to expect her. she couldn’t prepare, because she didn’t realize the chasm between us.

until Tuesday.

The Awkward Event:
the rapping came at the back door which was odd because it was a weekday and nobody who would use the back door knocks and i was on my feet, bewildered, stealing a glance at the car through the window as my feet hurried me to the back of the house. i registered that i was still in my slippers as my hands wiped themselves against my jeans and automatically reached up to smooth bedhead and check for offending particles in my teeth.

it was 3pm.

i caught bare shoulders and a stray bra strap in the mirror as i shuffled by and i was just struggling one arm into the paint-spattered hoodie i’d slipped off earlier when i heard the door open and she entered the kitchen just a second before i did.

hellOOOOOo. her voice announced her, jarred me; not an inquiring tone so much as a demanding one. where was i? it came up short as we both stepped into the kitchen via different doors.

i smiled, or i think i smiled. smiling is a reflex, right? i meant to smile.

she is one of my oldest friends. we greeted each other with an economic half-hug and stood in my back doorway.

what are you doing? i asked, intending more friendliness than my voice really managed and trailing off before the accusatory “doing HERE” slipped out.

not working, she grinned, shrugged. what are you doing?

my answer spilled before i could stop myself, but when it did, i let it sit for a beat, between us.


i am working. that is what i do when i am here all day paying other people to look after my children. this is where i work.

and all the while she was here – which wasn’t a long visit, she took the message – i know that beat hung in the air like my rictus of a smile.

The Internal Monologue:
the beat meant to say, oh, my dear friend.

it is *nice* that you’ve come back from Bermuda and have another week off from your government job and it’s nice that you’re keen to tell me you don’t even open emails for work during holidays because surely you can have just two weeks actually off even if i can’t quite fathom the concept of not opening email for two weeks, let alone unplugging entirely, and it’s nice that you get to engineer this complete separation between professional and personal life for a two week period.

i don’t get it, but i got to tell you, it sounds nice. really. it does. nicer than Bermuda, even.

the beat meant to say, i feel helpless because we have become different species, my friend, and i know you don’t mean to offend and neither do i. i swear on my mother.

but here we are. and i should have offered tea, and i know it.

it is the 24th of May, the Queen’s Birthday. the old rhyme my grandmother taught me ends, “and if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away.” i need a goddam holiday. but Victoria Day or no, there is no running away from the fissure between my friend’s life and my own.

so instead i offer this, a helpful primer on my kind.

print it out if you need to. share at will.

A Primer, to Facilitate Pleasant Relationships between Networked Humans and Those Who Love Them:

i am homo new medius: the networked human.

this is life, with a few tweaks and variations, for many of us in the 21st century.

maybe you are a networked human, too. or maybe you just know one. perhaps you have a friend or family member who has become swallowed up by networks and you no longer know how to interact with him or her.

please know that the gap is kinda painful on both sides. homo new medius probably cares about you, just as you care about him or her. but cross-species friendships and family relationships take special care and understanding.

Networked is Constant
first, it’s important for those of you who aren’t networked to understand that being networked is not actually a bad thing. it’s just different. it’s very different.

for some of us, it allows privileges like working from home or being part of our kids’ lives in more flexible ways than traditional jobs allow. for most, it’s an add-on to already busy job and life commitments. but it’s part of the price of being engaged in the culture or arts or education industries in the 21st century. business, too, though not all of them have caught on yet.

it also enables handy things like paying mortgages even with an Arts degree.

for many of us, it means doing what we love. it is a privilege, just a bit of an all-consuming one.

it tends to mean we work a lot. often on scattered and widely distributed projects, often using widely variant voices and skill sets in the run of a day. we do a lot of sharing of our work, because impression management and reputation-building are part of getting more work. we’d share your work too, quite generously, if you were putting any out there.

Networked is Time-Managed
being networked means that our personal/professional divides have long since blurred in ways you probably find baffling and disconcerting. we may have tried to explain this to you once or twice. we have probably given up.

it means the notion of a vacation in your sense of the term – unplugged not just from technologies but from the professional aspects of who we are – is as quaint and foreign to us as any other holdover from the Victorian rift between the domestic sphere and society.

it means that we are uber-connected, but that our relationships – particularly those not with young children, for whom many of us make special exceptions – have to be managed, because we are juggling multiple deadlines most of the time.

homo new medius can actually be decent friends, i swear. we’re often good communicators, though we prefer to communicate in-network. we’re usually pretty tuned into relating with others. it’s just, if you want our undivided attention so we can relate to YOU, you’ll need to give us notice, the same as you would for any other busy professional.

Networked is Always In Two (or Six) Places at Once
and so – and this is the Most Important Part of the Primer – while you may find us in our houses, that does not mean we are actually sitting around eating bonbons and watching Days of our Lives.

or if we are, we’re probably still working straight through it.

homo new medius can be found in a variety of semi-natural physical settings. we are also almost always simultaneously in at least one other online setting – at the very same time – working or sharing or learning or doing whatever it is that your particular networked human does.

our failure to respond to your unannounced visits or phone calls with unbridled pleasure and hospitality is not intended to be rude. it is, rather, simply, that you don’t recognize our work habits. you will not see us barging into your offices unannounced expecting to chitchat for no reason beyond the social. please accord us the same the respect.

Networked is Not Your Monkey
and yet, i know, you mean no harm.

to you it looks like we’re just home, piddling away on nothing. or Tweeting. to you, those look the same. sometimes they are. but not usually.

but when you assume they are, and you joke and diminish things you don’t understand while still demanding our time, you make us feel kinda like we’re in the zoo, required to explain our own personal brand of exotica.

if you want to visit your networked friends, please bring your own peanuts. also, do not expect us to drop everything at your convenience. that is all.

Pro Tip: if you would like to schedule a meeting outside prime productivity hours – when we’re usually still working but more amenable to taking a break – that’d be great. and if you ever want us to explain to you how this networking stuff works, just ask. we’ll mostly be happy to show you.

though beware: it’s catching.

Coda: i’m not advocating networked as The Way to live. today, a ticket to Bermuda and two weeks radio silence sounds absolutely beautiful. and i need to do a better job of carving out time for my friends and family who aren’t part of my online networks, because they’re important to me.

but we live increasingly in a world wherein the divides that used to operate between time-on and time-off don’t hold anymore, and while those of us who’ve made – for business or pleasure or some mix of both – the move to more networked practices are literate in how the other half live, the reverse is not so true. or is limited to the righteous annoyance (relatively justified) of all of us who’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone unable to tear their nose out of their phone for three seconds.

still. i believe that networked humans and non-networked humans CAN get along. i believe in a world of peace and love between those of us trying to learn to walk the blended personal/professional tightrope, and those who’ve chosen other walks in life. this is my missive to them.

did i miss anything? any other homo new medius out there with anything to add?


so 2011, you’ve been a good year.

a very good year, really.

if i were a Sinatra, ripe with mellifluous tones and suave Rat Pack suits, this would be the “very good year” of song and story. screw seventeen. high school graduation and cheap alcool are only so much to croon about; thirty-nine was actually interesting.

(i’m no Sinatra, of course. 2011 was kind of extraordinary, by my standards, but learning how to sing isn’t on my list of achievements for the year. maybe later.)

still, a lot of what i might have hoped for if i’d actually had my act together enough to articulate specific hopes for the year IS on that list. i’m kinda blinky-eyed in the face of this unaccustomed reversal of fortune.

generally, my standards for a good year are pretty simple: have i been fed and clothed and sheltered? have i learned? have i had my family and/or friends around me?

Boney M is one of my Christmas playlist standards: has been since childhood. one year, in college, my poor roommate misheard the lyrics to Feliz Navidad . the rest of us caught her at the residence floor Christmas party bopping around in reindeer antlers singing – at the top of her lungs – “at least no one died.”

yeh, that. i wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, indeed. at least no one died.

clearly, that roommate wasn’t a whole lotta help with Spanish homework. but when the rest of us recovered from spitting up our eggnog, we adopted the line. it’s been with me ever since, lo these twenty-odd holiday seasons, as i’ve looked back on the old years trailing out behind. a good year? any year i could answer “at least no one died,” i figured i had it okay.

this year, i lost one of my tall trees in my grandfather’s passing. the song stuck in my throat the first time i lifted my voice; i caught myself. then i thought, no. he was 91. i am nearly 40. i had the strange, stark privilege of being with him as he went. and hell, he thought the song was funny as hell. so i sang it loud and with joy this last month, my eyes just a little bit crinkled and wet.

it was a damn good year, like none i’ve ever really known. shit worked this year: all the long seasons of quiet hoping and trying suddenly seemed to reap positive reinforcement all at once. federal funding for my research, Voice of the Year at BlogHer, a local literary award, published in Salon. i even cracked the Babble list. i went to cool conferences and started a new blog and discovered that i can be a social media researcher and a writer and a professional educator, maybe all in one. maybe.

or at least i can try. i can see my way clear to try.

because there was still a lot of shit in 2011 that didn’t work: submissions rejected, inquiries ignored. hopes dashed. but for the first time in my life, those did not shame me, or scare me off. i just picked up the hopes, looked around for lessons, and kept going. it felt…good. real. par for the course.

the kids are healthy: cleared of asthma and the serious kind of heart murmur, respectively. we haven’t been to the ER with them once all year. they like their teachers. they mostly like each other.

and we do too, their father and i, even ten years and a half-finished documentation project into things. he still makes me feel less lonely, just by being in the world.

and we just bought the house my grandmother lived in when she married. her Art Deco wedding china is going home, people. and so am i.

2011, i’m dazzled and grateful and a little wary, because clearly the other shoe is about to drop and chances are good it’s made of cement.

everybody else seems happy to kick you to the curb, 2011. me, i think you’re the purdiest thing i can remember.

and yet all this positivity scares the shit outta me.

i’m a late bloomer in terms of this whole concept of “things going well.” yeh, i’ve had luck in the course of my days on this earth, but my particular talents and circumstances have never especially organized themselves into a coherent pattern that looks like what our culture likes to think of as an upswing, before.

my career arc has been…diverse. my choices haven’t emphasized stability or growth. and the blessings and joys of my parenthood have been punctuated by all that slipped through my fingers.

so this whole “things are going my way” rag? is highly unfamiliar.

it stands to reason, then, that – just as things really begin to look as if i’m gathering steam in my fortieth year, hitting my stride – that the world will end.

2012 is End Times, apparently. so sayeth the ancient Mayans. and their Wikipedia entry. goody.

and i figure i kinda win either way. maybe my luck holds and the coming year is happy and glorious and fulfilling and full of opportunity. in which case my unfamiliar streak of success becomes a little more familiar, and i slowly train myself to stop expecting an abyss to open up at any moment.

or, you know, an abyss opens up. and then i have the surprisingly satisfying comfort of being right, which is almost as nice as achieving cool things you set your mind to. maybe not quite. and annihilation would kinda take all the fun out of “at least no one died,” probably forever.

so i’ll keep working on positive thinking. and perhaps…as i look ahead to 2012, i need to very literally take a page from the late great Woody Guthrie, who had some lean years and some lucky ones himself. his New Year’s Resolutions for 1942  were posted today on Boing Boing.

i’m thinking #3 – Wash Teeth If Any – is the attitude i need to bring with me into the new year, whatever it may bring.

don’t let yer head get big, there, Bonnie lass. just brush. don’t fret about tomorrow, neither, and the possible impending end of The Long Count according to Mesoamerica. just brush what you got. don’t even count them chickens or assume there’ll be teeth tomorrow: live for today.

Wash Teeth If Any.

Love Everybody.

Wake Up and Fight.

thanks 2011, for being so good to me. for giving me the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be where the grass is green for a bit. i’m grateful. i’m hopeful for the coming year.

i’m not gonna forget the abyss is there, always there. i’m just not going to assume i’m falling when i might, maybe be flying.

either way, i’ll have washed teeth, i promise.

Happy New Year, my friends. i know 2012 owes some of you some serious makeup kisses after what 2011 wreaked. i hope it puts out. i hope we all find each other a year from now, non-annihilated and with shining smiles, singing “at least no one died.”



last week, in the midst of going on about class and education on the theoryblog, i waded blindly into a Twitter fracas about privilege.

i was befuddled. i’ve noticed lately that people seem to reaaaaally dislike the idea of privilege. as in, violently resent it. and possibly want to throw tomatoes at it. (not to mention the people using it. ahem. *waves brightly*).

during that Twitter conversation it also became evident to me – for about the sixth time, but i am the sort who needs to learn things a few times before i can retain them (unless they are related to calculus in which case you can spare your breath entirely) – that while i happen to find privilege a really useful concept, i do a shitty job explaining it. and also – maybe more importantly – explaining why i find it a useful concept.

after the conversation fizzled to a close and i – and probably everyone involved – had a mild headache, i sat down to look at the comments that had trickled in from my theoryblog post. my comments get emailed to me with the post title in the email header position.

i caught sight of them and i began to laugh, and laugh, and also maybe snort a little bit.

because if you want to talk privilege, the title of my post was dripping with it. Exhibit A: All I Want for Christmas Is a Nice Fresh Myth. yep. and with a particularly insidious version, no less, perhaps the most dangerous one of all to bring up in polite company: Christmas privilege.

get the tomatoes and the rotten candy canes, friends. i’m going there.

see this pile of cuteness above? this is Christmas privilege at work.

it is also my daughter adjusting her, erm, pants in the middle of stage. right before her black velour snowman hat fell down over her face halfway through a song. this little spectacle was one of the sweetest, loveliest stage shows i’ve had the pleasure of giggling through, proudly.

yep, proudly. yep, it’s still privilege. the two can co-exist.

please be clear, dear readers: this is not the Fox News annual War on Christmas (except that the Fox News annual War on Christmas IS actually Christmas privilege being whipped up into a defensive frenzy, but i digress.) i like Christmas. i like my children. i like my children in cute Christmas stage shows singing carols. look at those elves! that little Santa in the back! the angels on the wall! the kid looking for his parents! the one tying his shoe! they’re like Dr. Suess’ Whos, these tiny, funny, adorable people.

so why would i call it privilege if i don’t hate it?

because it is. the corollary between naming something privilege and shaming it – or being seen to shame it by those named – isn’t a necessary one.

but calling other people out on anything is usually a great way to shut down a conversation. so i’m calling mySELF out.

my name is Bonnie, and i have Christmas privilege. it’s unearned, and mostly invisible to me unless i look really hard.

but here’s how i can recognize it:
1. i know all the words to all the Christmas carols i hear on endless public repeat throughout November and December.

2. when i see ads with people in reindeer sweaters hanging stockings, i am equal parts non-plussed and reminded of my dear Drunkle Bill.

3. i get all blurry and misty-eyed about the idea of keeping Christmas in my heart the whole year through (even if i tend to forget by February).

4. i think The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is the pinnacle of animation as an art.

5. if i am at a Christmas-themed event, i don’t need to worry that my presence may make others feel self-conscious or defensive.

6. when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, i don’t wonder if they walked away kicking themselves for forgetting. again.

7. when our kids’ public school advertises its Spectacle de Noel i don’t think “i guess i should speak up and maybe explain OUR holiday to my children’s classmates too”. nope. i think “yay! real carols instead of stupid Silver Bells!”

(note to culture: Silver Bells and Santa and reindeer? still Christmas, people, just secular Christmas. secular Christmas is not actually any more inclusive than religious Christmas. you want a real holiday concert? you need to find ways to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and solstice and preferably all kinds of traditions that may not even include a December shindig in the mix.)

i don’t need we haven’t quite come to terms, at this juncture, with either secularism or pluralism in our culture. we try. it’s messy. understanding how privilege works actually makes it a whole lot less fraught, though. seriously.

the problem with conversations about privilege is that they tend to be dead serious. and they make people feel attacked. they criticize world views that many of us have held and cherished as normal for most of our lives.

privilege is, at its core, about the critical societal mass needed to hold the belief that any particular position is normal.

it’s about being dominant, or in the dominant cultural group, in a particular arena.

so, yes, Virginia, i have Christmas privilege. i’m in the dominant group. most of the people i know celebrate: where i am, it’s still the norm. and most of the people i know who DON’T celebrate it are still really very gracious about the whole Santa-down-the-throat quality of this time of year. even when i title December posts that are entirely unrelated to anybody’s holidays this time of year with kitschy Christmas-themed titles that allude to Chipmunks’ songs.

here’s where it gets touchy. do i need to be ashamed of my Christmas privilege?

in my opinion, no. it doesn’t make me responsible for every Clark Griswold atrocity that kneecaps the power grid this time of year, nor for the small but real feelings of alienation and second-class-citizenship that kids whose traditions don’t include Christmas may feel when every second adult they see during December assaults them with the shrill commercialism of “so what is Santa bringing YOU?”

i can watch my privilege, though. i can learn to see it, and to consider the ways in which it both includes and excludes other people. and i can try to focus on changing my practices to be more inclusive where i can. i can learn more about other people’s traditions, even if acknowledging that i don’t know makes me kinda uncomfortable.

we aren’t ever going to get beyond the nasty feelings that the idea of privilege brings up unless those of us who are dominant – in ANY arena – figure out how to work through our discomfort with talking about difference and dominance.

(dominance, to be clear, doesn’t mean you have it easy. it just means you can take certain forms of belonging for granted that others may not.  just like owning your privilege doesn’t mean you suddenly morph into some charmed creature who’s had everything handed to her. or him. it just means you know where your path has been smoothed by factors outside your control. knowing what those things ARE? tends to make living in a pluralistic diverse society a whole lot easier.)

most of us have privilege in some places and not others. i’m white. i’m taken up as straight. i speak the dominant language of my culture, and i speak it in ways that mark me as educated and middle-class. all these things mean that i am more likely to be advantaged – seen as neutral, normal, trustworthy, whatever – in a random encounter over someone who does not code the same types of cultural belonging. now, i’m also female, which isn’t necessarily the same advantage, particularly at a table of power if i am looking to speak. privilege is not a monolith. it’s a complex collection of unearned attributes that make certain situations easier because you fit the norm of the people you are likely to encounter.

if someone is white and poor and male and Christian and queer, or female and well-educated and wealthy and Hindu, or aboriginal and disabled and a successful small business owner, they’ll experience a different mix of dominance and non-dominance. even wealthy, able-bodied straight white males who celebrate Christmas have all kinds of personal obstacles in their lives. but they don’t face the same structural, societal assumptions and perceptions that, say, poor, disabled, gay, black female Jews might.

here’s the other touchy point. people with privilege – even LOTS of privilege – aren’t any worse or better than other people. neither do people with a particular form of privilege owe something to those without. Except – again, in my opinion – the decency of simply acknowledging and owning their privilege, doing the work so they can see it. if i can see how the way i walk through the world makes, say, participating in Christmas concerts easier for me than it is for you, then we may be able to come to a common understanding of how we can work together to create a concert that includes what both of us value, without feelings of marginalization or defensiveness.

so my kids’ decked-out celebration of Christmas privilege was not inherently bad. or something to mock, destroy, or ban.

but it isn’t neutral. it’s a choice among available choices in a diverse and pluralistic society. you see that elf above? the adorable one in the middle holding Santa’s hand?

i’m thinking next year maybe i’ll see if he’s interested in finding out more about Hanukkah from his Jewish first cousins. and maybe teaching his class something, or doing a little song.

making room for more than Christmas doesn’t take away from Christmas.

Christmas, at its core, is about the ultimate symbolic gift: the gift of a child to an undeserving people. while i may personally struggle with the idea of a God who gives his son as a sacrificial lamb, i do know that this time of year perhaps more than any other, i feel kinda like an undeserving people, blessed with the gift of two sweet small children, over-sugared and dressed in funny hats though they may be.

they are an unearned privilege, like so many of my blessings. it doesn’t mean i don’t work hard, to parent them or to provide for them or to succeed on a variety of fronts. but nothing i do makes me particularly worthy of the gift that they are: they simply ARE.

so it is with privilege, of all kinds. i try to see it because when i do, i am more grateful, less resentful of all the things i do not have or cannot change.

thus endeth my soapbox.

what say you? what do you think of concerts and Christmas privilege and the whole idea in general? feel free to toss all rotten tomatoes in my Christmas stocking. Happy Holidays, friends.


Toronto. Blissdom Canada, year 2.

i had fun. saw some of my favourite people, had interesting conversations, danced, got kissed by a yam puppet, and sat on a panel with Nora Young of CBC Radio’s Spark. i can die happy.

i also realized that social media is slipping through our fingers.

tonight, the night after the morning after the morning after, what i miss is the people. the sitting up late, perched on staircases or outside in the blue air, talking. connecting. cementing tentative bonds of recognition.

that’s what conferences are for: the connecting.

i like to think that’s what social media is for, too. (i mean, not ONLY that. i haven’t been asleep since 2006. i like the word brand, may gawd strike me down).

but after Blissdom this year, for the first time, i have real misgivings about the future of social media.

i think we mighta sold the farm, Virginia. and we didn’t even notice.

once upon a time, long long ago before anyone had invented the term SEO, there were days when social media was mostly about peers. finding ’em. creating relationships.

online platforms were a means of finding others and their ideas, of network-building, and sharing. the connections grew rhizomatically, like weeds, node threading to node without formal goal or overarching strategy. it was a bit of a jungle.

there were always metrics: ways to judge one’s Return On Investment for the time put in. eyeballs on one’s work always mattered, and some identities were bigger than others. so were their networks, and their reputations.

(this world was not a monolith by any means, Virginia: different communities and corners of what was then mostly called “the blogosphere” had their own etiquette, their own implicit rules around reciprocality.)

but it was mostly a world of what’s called produsage: the people who created stuff and shared it were also the consumers of other people’s stuff. that’s what the connections served.

it was more or less a peer-to-peer environment. connections were about interest, even when the people forging the relationship had platforms of different scale. yes, there was cultivation of fame for its own sake, and fawning over major profiles: all the things that metrics encourage. there were ugly things there, too, and inane things, and lots that probably made no difference to the state of the world in general. it was very human. but for all its flaws, it was full of potential.

it was a network model of being in the world, rather than a top-down organizational model. it was emergent rather than planned, and distributed rather than owned by any one entity.

this was, of course, probably rather bewildering to the entities used to owning things.

social media did some pretty crazy things for those of us out there participating. it flattened hierarchies by enabling and encouraging person-to-person connection and actual engagement. it foregrounded individual voices and relationships. and it represented a new way of relating to what had always been untouchable sacred cows: institutions, corporations. it gave us – often more theoretically than in everyday encounters – an agency we had not previously tended to consider possible.

an emergent model, of course, doesn’t provide very good salaries. this is where we get back to Blissdom, Virginia.

since about 2008, there’s been a strong push in social media to monetize, to leverage the platforms and networks users build for a share of advertising and sponsorship dollars. for many, especially for women, this has been an incredible opportunity to work outside the traditional institutional structures of 9-5, as freelancers and entrepreneurs. and especially for women whose social media content relates to domesticity, there’s been an incredible response from traditional mainstream brands with a vested interest in the domestic market.

just as social media was making the personal branded, it made brands personal. they were shifting their broadcast model strategies, we heard, and connecting, and changing.

great. financial opportunity AND agency to forge new paths. i gave a nod of thanks to the car company that drove me around gratis, and to the razor company – was it razors? or orange juice? – for the free manicure.

then i noticed that there seemed to be a whole swath of conversation that had nothing to do with what i do, both from brands and other attendees.

i was okay with that, at first. not everybody wants to be a personal blogger, or – mercy – an academic one. i like money. i can’t fault anyone for wanting to make some.

but it appeared that for a lot of people at the conference, the PURPOSE of social media is to enable individuals to connect with brands. for the purpose of furthering the brands themselves. end story. a path into the machine.

the first – and maybe second – generation of bloggers and social media personalities who worked to forge partnerships with brands and as entrepreneurs tended to do so from a base in peer-to-peer relationships. connections. voices.

some have had incredible business savvy and success, but most have been inclined to promote and preserve some of the values of both independence – from traditional power structures – and interdependence – on each other – that are hallmarks of social media. and traditional power structures have had to treat them accordingly.

there’s a shift occurring, a sea change in discourse. i heard it in the lunch lineups, over cocktail trays, in the tense conversation after the film screening. a significant proportion of conference attendees spoke about their social media goals entirely in terms of connecting with brands. not even primarily as brands themselves – in a sort of peer-to-peer relationship – but as consumers of opportunity, looking to become part of the major institutional system of major media and corporations.

forget agency and voices and relationships. if you are using your network solely to sell the message of a corporate entity, what you are doing is NOT social media, no matter your platform. what you’re doing is at best a marketing job, and more likely something akin to Amway.

i even heard it when i sat on the stage with Tessa Sproule, who is lovely and savvy and Director of Interactive Media at the CBC, but who largely appears to see social media as a way of engaging consumers with her brand.

this is not a two-way street. this is consolidation of power to the old familiar models, in which one can be employer or employed, but not really a whole lot else. the dream of a distributed, collaborative society of creator-consumers?

time to wake up, i think, my friends.

social media is, in too many fields, becoming simply a nice interactive tool by which the traditional corps and powers-that-be gain more eyeballs. they’re not so nervous, anymore. because increasingly people join social media NOT to connect but as a path to a piece of the pie: they’re there not to be public but to gain enough platform to be sponsored or spokespersons or stars, for the traditional monopolized industries.

what do we do about it?

i don’t think we take the pitchforks out. this isn’t about blaming or Othering the new generation. they want jobs. i’ve had jobs. that’s a glass house few of us can stand in.

but we need to ask ourselves what our role IS – and can be – in a social media environment becoming crowded with marketers, not creator-consumers.

we need to understand the potentiality of social media and what it offers us. for me, at least, that’s this space, and the theoryblog – rooms of my own. community. network resources via Twitter and G+ and even Facebook that interact and offer and share with me daily, on topics and perspectives that don’t have a market value.

that a cultural shift like social media has major forces aligned in their own interests against it probably shouldn’t be a surprise. maybe i’ve just been down too deep in the echo chamber to hear it coming. but i do think it’s important to start this conversation, among all of us who want to do more with our online spaces and voices and networks – all of which are very much an integrated part of our so-called REAL lives – than be part of a better bottom line for major brands.

what do you see as the future of social media? of blogging conferences? have we sold the farm?

give me hope, Virginia. connect. hold me.



we pulled up the garden in shirtsleeves this weekend, somewhere in the middle of multiple pumpkin pies. it was warm, crazy warm for Thanksgiving. after two days of hail, and winter jacket weather, it felt like Wonderland.

i ate the last peas of summer, warm green time-travellers hidden in withered, weathered shells. a few last tomatoes clung to the vines we ripped out: they ripen on our kitchen sill. the long and winding rope of the squash plant we tried to leave intact: its prickly, flowered length had just begun to yield. one tiny gourd, the only one of the season. that our benign neglect brings forth vegetables at all still amazes me, but this was not a banner year.

i almost missed the gourd entirely. Dave pointed it out: pear-shaped, green. we thought we might leave the little thing to grow a bit, yet. then a hasty tug.


it is on the windowsill, with the green tomatoes. it is too small to put out on the deck with the gourds and pumpkins we procured at a more successful grower’s this weekend: small as a chestnut, it would be gone in a gust of wind.

i do not know why i care. it’s a gourd. can anyone speak to the purpose of gourds? but it was there, and now it is here.

the small, failed things always get me.

i am all elbows these days. overwhelmed, gulping, i push out space for myself like a skater, gouging those who get too close. i feel cornered by time, by demands. i wing everybody close.

overwhelmed, i say, and the small voice comes out like a shout, an attack with expletives.

i want to sit down on the ice and draw a circle around myself, and say stop. let me catch my breath. let me watch and take it in, all this bounty, these things i should have been more thankful for today. please. let me stop.

sometimes i feel like a collection of small, failed things i do not know how to leave behind.

we make ourselves out of a thousand half-baked parts, cobbled out of context. some serve us well. some are woefully inadequate, and always will be.

they have histories, these things, invisible vines that tie us up, that choke us. and we protect them, elbows up, with the same strange tenderness as the small living things that do not reach their potential.

i failed at Thanksgiving this year.

yes, there were turkeys, two of them, and family and friends, and pie. an abundance. but abundance comes with work. with accommodation. with stress. and it is the last that dogs me: i wasn’t even responsible for either turkey, yet i found the sum total of it all too much. when we sat down to give thanks at the end of it all, i choked.

i wanted to say, i am thankful it’s mostly done. please do the goddam dishes. i didn’t. i *think* i said i was glad that everyone was there. i hope i did, because i was. i said something lame about the weather, too. but i felt like a small, failed thing by the time we made it to that table.

the math of stress that i learned in my youth – jobs to be done = exponential multiplication of pressure and panic until all to-dos are erased from equation – has hidden sums that i need to untangle. i do not know where to begin.

i understand them as a part of who i am, a part of the way the world is. and so the petty jobs add to petty jobs until the time available feels divided into shards. my elbows go up, to protect what space and time i can. overwhelmed, i squeak, and the mouse roars.

i do not want to be the sum of small, failed things, forever in their thrall.

but they are what i give thanks for, this morning after Thanksgiving.

because i may think i do not know where to begin, but they point the way. you cannot change in yourself what you cannot see.

i see the stress today, small and lumpy, kind of ugly. it hides in a tangle of late summer vines of historicity, never fully grown. whatever energy or purpose it was started for is stunted, now.

i look at it, and try to own how it grew. i tug, attempt to disentangle vine from vine.

this will be my winter gardening. a daily job. i want eventually to pluck these small, failed things, one by one, tenderly. i want to set them on my windowsill; reminders, but no longer part of the living organism.

until then, i have the gourd. i hope it lasts. i need to see it.

and in spring i will try again to grow something that thrives and feeds, and does not choke.




yeh, you. really. you.

okay, fine, not you. but you. and you. and me.

We Have Too Much Stuff.

all of us. i know this because last night i sucked half a century of dirt and dog hair into my lungs, and as God is my witness, before i expire from some dread disease caused by ancient vacuum mites it is on my heart to shout it from the rooftops.

Too Much! Clutter Kills!

i am thinking of having bumper stickers made, except they would sit in a box in some corner of my house and moulder, and i would trip over them, and that…well, yeh.

there is an estate sale at my grandfather’s house tomorrow.

i grew up in apartments, so this house is the last of the places i have known since childhood. my whole life, the very same.

i stand in the living room and i see myself in those grainy Instagram-esque Christmas 1972 snapshots, learning to walk on the moss green carpet. and i see him on the same green carpet in May, with the paramedics around us, and all the 39 years between. all equally vivid. it makes my eyes hurt.

yet as we dismantle and sort and clean, the bones of the house grow unfamiliar and strange. i see things i’ve never laid eyes on, things de-coupled from their stories and their contexts. and i am sad, sniffing about unmoored, a dog searching for its master. i look for my grandfather in the vacuum tubes and the tools and the dust and his 1931 First-Prize-winning hand-drawn map of Australia, marked Clifton, age eleven years, that we found in the back of the basement last night.

i look, but i find him again and again on the green carpet, until my brain clamps down and says no more. he is not here. he is gone. now you go, too. vacuum. wipe. sort.

my grandfather was neither packrat nor hoarder, and he was frugal for the most part and loathe to buy new what could yet be fixed or made serviceable. still, forty-five years in the same house yields Stuff, in copious amounts. stuff not touched or cleaned or seen for years. stuff with its stories forever untold, that none of us understand or can make sense of. stuff that my uncle and my father will take today to the dump, and pay to leave.

last night my uncle pried open the enormous canister of the 1967 Central Vac and i managed somehow to dump half of its contents on the basement floor. i inhaled things no human body has any business inhaling, including what i swear was the fur of a dog who’s been dead since i was in high school. you are welcome, eventual buyer of the family home: this is my body, broken for you. i think i have a hairball.

this is part of the circle of life, in our late 20th-century/21st century existences in this privileged part of the world. our elders grow old and die or move to nursing homes, and we cart away decades of precious things that have devolved somehow into crap, and make landfill, and squirrel a few items aside for another generation to deal with when we go.

there are a few billion of us living this way. the rest, we are taught to assume, aspire to it. we get pimped new stuff everywhere we turn.

the math is suspect.

before Dave & i die, we should probably clean the shed, for the sake of our children and the grandchildren who do not exist yet. but here’s the ugly truth: we don’t know what to do with the stuff in the shed.

it’s probably useful, if we could actually identify what’s in there or lay hands to most of it. same goes for the upstairs closet. we might need it. we don’t know. life is uncertain. there’s a hurricane on the way.

here’s the problem. stuff is stories. stuff is both aspirational and grounding, a tether to who we think we are.

even this so-called virtual, where we can trade in actual stories, is no antidote.

sure, i like the internet because my clutter stays mostly hidden, ephemeral. admittedly, my semi-defunct delicious account is a poorly annotated mess, and my laptop’s colonized with programs i ended up not using, but the absolute stunning beauty of the world of bits and bites is its immateriality. poof! now you see it, now it floats like a cyberjunk satellite in an orbit you need never encounter again. (this quality became a lot more appealing after auto-save was invented, admittedly).

and yeh, digital clutter is a marginal improvement, at least for safety purposes. paper burns, after all. i own more books than i will ever read in this life, even if you locked me in the attic for decades with nothing but books and a bucket of fishheads to sustain me. i have paperwork stuffed away in files that i vaguely suspect no one will ever look at again. every surface of my kitchen is plastered with folksy child-made art collages leaking glue and wasting trees left, right, and centre.

but. all of it, digital and trip-over-able, mostly gets in the way of living. it demands. it wants cleaning, curating, sorting, attending to. it wants time. it wants you to buy matching oven mitts.

someday, my children or their children or some poor sot will have to dig their way through what i leave behind on this planet when i leave it. you too. what the hell do i want them to find?

my grandmother’s Art Deco wedding china? my grandfather’s WWII documents? maybe, if i can remember to tell them the stories beforehand. maybe photos – whether albums or holographs, it doesn’t matter. maybe a couple of beautiful things that have some monetary value: art or antiques, perhaps, that they can sell or keep. that’d be thoughtful of me, if only i owned stuff like that.

maybe the blog. Thomas King said, “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” but really. are they going to read it?

at least it doesn’t require vacuuming.

…what about you? what are you keeping? what do you want to be keeping?

(and while i’m cleaning the shed: anybody need a free Supercycle ten-speed, circa 1984? it’s on the street outside my house: finders-keepers. huzzah).



when he hung the baby swing on the one branch in our backyard that could possibly be trusted with a swing, it seemed that summers yawned out ahead of us before we’d have to grapple with the fact that the playhouse – fondly referred to as the “babyhouse” since the August before Posey was born, when Dave & his dad built it by hand and Oscar appointed it the home-to-be of his incoming baby sister – sits way too close.

the trajectory of branch to baby house results in a nice resounding thwack of shoes hitting shingles. if child is safely esconced in the plastic bucket of a baby swing, all good. the fact that under the swing is a large unmoveable wooden garden box matters not. the rope is short. the child is contained. all is well.

but when the baby stretches and her big brother decides he too wants to careen through the air and thwack the baby house with his feet? on the long ropes of a big kid swing? there is possibly a safety issue in the making. there are possibly big THWACKS in the making. the prospect of falls begins to look ugly.

we bought a big kid swing anyway. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.

there was much anticipation.  it was shortly thereafter followed by cries of great disappointment, because we discovered we were quite right, and there is nowhere safe to hang a big kid swing in our yard. the swing came down fifteen minutes after it went up.

but this is not a story about swings.


we had a strange afternoon, yesterday.

when it is the first truly sunny warm afternoon of the summer and you have already reduced your preschoolers to tears with the giving and taking of big-kid swings, it can be wise to cut your losses. we got out of the yard, headed to the park and took a little walk in the woods. the children were happy. they were so happy, meandering through the thin little forest paths looking for pinecones and elusive chipmunks that they totally missed the man and the woman and the baby who blew by us as we emerged near the ballfield.

i missed them too, at first. i mean, i saw them, moved a little because he was walking so quickly, but i didn’t see them, except to register that he was tall and lean and her hair was blond and the baby was wearing something white, maybe a dress. i didn’t see their faces.

but as they passed us, me last in our little trundling foursome, she called out to the baby he was carrying. something in her voice made my spine shudder.

her words were benign. she spoke the baby’s name, said Mommy’s right here, it’s okay, honey.

but the baby was not crying.

and the woman’s voice was raw adrenalin.

i suddenly realized the intensity of their pace and body language. i suddenly realized that a group of men were hustling past us, in direct pursuit. the baby looked back at us, her head resting on the shoulder of the man i assume to be her father. she was being carried away. her mother kept pace, her words soothing, her tone a raw, pleading alarm.

i looked at Dave, who had clued in earlier than i, his body tensed. my ears caught the words of one of the men passing, who was clearly speaking to 911, reporting an abduction. we paused, both of us.

the human brain can do amazing things in moments of stress, even vicarious stress. i looked at Dave and saw him through a prism of three lenses, all the space of a heartbeat.

one saw immediate and practical potentiality: he is fast. he could help.

one noted his actual – and perhaps more practical – choice of actions, and approved: he is solidly and gently ushering the children away from the spectacle.

the third lens, though, was the complicated one, the one that made my breath catch with the gravity of what i spend my days blithely ignoring. he is my children’s father and i am more vulnerable to him than to anyone else on earth.

we are a relational species, we humans, none of us an island. we are webbed to each other by choice and by circumstance. you could say that when i chose Dave, i knew him well, in all his flaws and glory. i chose him after five years of knowing him: it was by far the most deliberate choice i have made in my life. but no choice – no matter how deliberate – is ever made with full knowledge. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.

what makes he & i so different from the two who passed us in the midst of their crisis, their unfolding judgement of Solomon?

most of us, if we are lucky, have our choices of partner or fellow parent turn out mostly benign. the people to whom we give this enormous trust may turn out to be imperfect, but still…mostly worthy. if we are lucky.

it is easy to say i trust Dave with my life. and still, staring at the retreating backs of those two parents in the woods yesterday, i was shell-shocked by the evidence of how much trust that really is, and how fragile.

we have lived through upheaval and loss and mundanity together. do i believe he will ever grab the children and run? no. nor would i. i would, genuinely, bet my life on these two facts.

it just hadn’t occurred to me before that i do so every day.

i remember realizing, in the broody angst of my teens, that traffic is an enormous dance, a game remarkable not for its occasional breakdowns and tragedies but for the massive compliance it usually manages to exact. to  we enter it daily, fastening ourselves and our loved ones into our little metal boxes, all of us more or less simultaneously performing the rituals and observances that keep us on our respective sides of the roads and the stop signs and the oncoming headlights and thus alive. on a dark road late at night, we may entertain fantasies of playing chicken, but we almost never swerve the wheel.

somewhere, yesterday, in that triad that must once have been a couple and some sort of family, whose story i do not claim to know, somebody swerved the wheel.

i stood frozen on the little path, as the father and baby and mother rounded the corner out of my sight and into the cleavage between whatever they might have been before that moment and whatever the law will leave when it is finished with them. the four men in pursuit began to run. there but for fortune, i whispered.

the police car arrived as we left the park. lights, but no siren. i hoped that meant that the men who pursued them had stopped him, that the situation was contained, that the mother’s voice no longer sounds like it did, primal and terrified.

our children were oblivious. we came home. we looked at pictures from the morning. Oscar noted plaintively how happy he’d looked on the big kid swing. thwack.

i agreed. he noted that he hadn’t hurt himself. i agreed. then i explained that if he did fall, or if Posey fell, it’s just not a smart place for Mummy & Daddy to have a swing like that. i explained that Daddy had committed to finding a new place for the big kid swing. he pouted.

i asked him if Daddy usually does what he promises. Oscar nodded. Posey echoed.

and then i took a deep breath and wished, that the two of them will be so easy and so lucky in their trust, all their days. that they will not swerve. that they will not be caught in anyone’s oncoming traffic.

i am four weeks into grad school. again. i’m a big, galumphing dragon in a small box.

you’d think four years of writing blog posts would’ve taught me to churn out little papers like a confetti machine. you’d think fifteen years as an editor and writing teacher would make it natural to graciously receive grades on what i write.


being subject to an education system – even as an educator – is an exercise in paring oneself down.

but i’m learning. learning to remake myself to fit the parts of the box i need. learning too to bide my time, find ways to hold on to the things that refuse to be crammed in. this education stuff is a messy business.

our kids live within it every day. it norms them, tests them, grades them, then reflects them back to themselves on varying scales of worth. sometimes it’s a gentle motivating process that teaches them to believe in hard work, and in themselves. sometimes there’s violence done under the surface of all those metrics and rubrics and judgements, even the ones delivered in vague velvet language. sometimes what kids end up learning is that they cannot win, because the box was not made for them. sometimes they learn that sitting down and lining up and writing the “right” way – even if this year’s right way is exactly different from what last year’s teacher said – is what the world rewards.

in our culture, the education system – from kindergarten straight through to the highest levels of scholarship – regulates all those within it by appealing to the authority of the “this is how it is” box. our concepts of learning and knowledge and appropriate behaviour and rites of passage are all tied in part to this box.

i want to unpack it.

# 1. the first thing i know about the box is one we’ve been hearing more and more over the past fifteen years: increasingly, the world has little relationship to the view from within the box. it’s true. the box is based on industrial era values. we no longer live in an industrial society,  not really.

i am old enough to know that in 20+ years of various and sundry jobs, i have not once been subject to a letter grade. i am old enough to realize that there are many ways of writing and publishing, even within academia: that the world today rewards a very different set of skills than the compliance inculcated by the “teacher as ruler of the classroom” model. i’ve also spent enough years in education to know that most of the people who work in this system are good people, working hard, with good intentions.

but the box frames the way they see the world. it frames the way we ALL see the world. and ourselves. in many cases, for the rest of our lives. and yet we do not know how to challenge the box and its lack of fit because it is the package encasing too many things held dear. our concepts of what it means to learn are so tied to the box that we usually fail to think outside of it, when it comes to trying to “fix education.”

we need to think about the box. it’s so normalized as to be almost invisible, but the part it plays in shaping our kids is huge. and when we ignore it, we make it more powerful.

# 2. because the other thing i know about the box is this: it’s arbitrary. and, in part, irrelevant, both to learning and to eventual success in life. there is actually no other system in our culture that holds people to such an externalized and narrow frame of judgement as schooling does.

this doesn’t mean i don’t value education, or think we should throw rotten tomatoes at schools. but i do think we need to think more intelligently about them, as systems. and we don’t do that well, thanks to the box.

one of the best things i learned the last time i was in school is that everyone in our culture is an expert on education. it’s resoundingly true: you can see it each time the topic comes up in the media, particularly as regards reforms or any questions of what teachers should do. everyone and their pet dog in the court of public opinion has an authoritative perspective on precisely how schools should work. only nurses, maybe, get half as much helpful input on how to practice their vocation. but nurses are lucky: not everybody hangs out in hospitals. we all go to school, at least long enough to master schooling.

we are all experts, in our way. but what we are expert on is our own relationships to the box.

no matter how i gnash my teeth, the court of public opinion on education distills down to second-hand efficiency models borrowed from industrial-era business: testing. standardization. metrics and money and accountability for teachers, who end up wedged by the calls for total quantification of schooling into classroom manager roles more stringent and regimented than those of military drill sergeants.

this is the box at work, loosed from the control of the system and turning back on itself to attack its own maker for not being more of what people took from the system in the first place. the calls for increasingly quantifiable education are calls for a simulacra of what we think we remember of the box, of what it made us think school was about. and the master’s tools, people, will not dismantle the master’s house. (*thank you, Audre Lord*)

we need to think about what we’re educating for, and what we value, and fight for that, not replicate whatever we think education was trying to do to us.

the final thing i think about the box is the one that’s new for me.

#3. i don’t think it’s the quantifiable part that’s the problem. the messiness of education is not the fault of numbers. measuring things, even outcomes, can have value for good teaching and good education. the problem is blind belief that human systems have meaning outside of us.

for years, i had quantification, based in counting and measuring, confused with positivism and objectivism, based in the belief that some things are simply true, even when they’re human-constructed.

thanks to my forced and rather painful immersion in quantitative research, i’m learning that while measuring often reflects a belief in the absolute truth of numbers, even when there’s obvious evidence of human impact on outcomes behind those numbers, the connection between quantification and positivism is not absolutely necessary.

i’m also noticing that there’s a lot of positivism and objectivism even in aspects of education without numbers. maybe we grade kids on a scale of A, B, C, D, F. maybe the grading is important, to show how closely their work accords with what we’re trying to teach. i’m not anti-grading. but i don’t believe grading = Truth, not outside the societal conditions that construct those grades.

what happens with grading, too often, is that both for students and teachers, and then by extension for parents and society at large, the grades come to have a meaning far larger and more lasting than the deeply human process in which they originate. we amplify the subjective act of a teacher or school system choosing test questions and seeing how little Johnny performs his mastery of those particular questions – which is a process that can tell us things both about Johnny and about the system and the testing process itself – into a supposedly objective picture wherein we believe that we know something absolutely True about Johnny and his capacity and his future success, or about what his teacher was teaching. but we do not interrogate the testing process, or the marking process. and we treat the results of that testing as if they tell us something objective, something divorced from its roots in human systems and fallibility.

the box tells us we can do that, somehow. that’s how the box justifies its own meaning and existence, and how it replicates itself generation after generation.

i find it crampy. i wonder how it will shape my children. i wonder how it’s shaped yours. and you. and you. yeh, you.

i wonder if i would have done better as a veterinarian, or a hairdresser, or a poodle groomer. but i still can’t think how i’d be happier than digging away, trying to understand this strange societal enterprise we call education.

tell me what you think. do you see the box? am i tilting at windmills?

it ought to be perfect.

there are steel rails installed, by the toilet and the shower. the LaZBoy throne has been replaced by a marvel which – at the touch of a button – deposits him from its egg-carton-cushy-foam seat onto his feet, and gently. there is a hospital bed in the master bedroom. nurses come daily, to take his blood pressure, check for bedsores, make sure he is nourished and cleaned and supported.

my grandfather is home. after almost four months of hospitalization and convalescent wards, he has come home well enough to stay.

he ensconced himself on the fancy new recliner and with an ancient Zippo, lid aflame like an Olympic torch, lit up the cigar that he kept in his bedside drawer the entire time he was gone.

and then he asked for the keys to the truck.

during the long days of January and February, when he lay in bed, one arm swollen to the size of a football, and his skin and circulation breaking down faster even than his heart appeared to be, he was confused a lot of the time.

i would visit, and he’d ask how my father was, even though my father was there every day. he asked his own room number over and over again.  he seemed unable, a great deal of the time, to hold his moorings: the day-to-day that had been his life for years appeared to slip from him. we did not talk about his house or his job.

what we talked about was the Lysander.

my grandfather, a farm boy from PEI, was a British agent from 1939-1949.  he spent WWII and the early years of the Cold War between Camp X and Bletchley Park and occupied Europe, with homebase in NYC.

he spent half his war in planes.

in lumbering matte-black Lysanders, unmarked, navigating by moonlight, they flew perched on trunks of plastic explosive. they smoked as they flew. they made their way over enemy territory, readying themselves to parachute behind lines to Tito’s resistance, to the Free French.

the Lysander was an ungainly thing, but it could take off on ten feet of runway or less, a hulk of engines and fabric rising into the sky like a fat bird. during WWII, its main role was with intelligence, dropping agents and doing photo reconnaissance. it was no good for bombs, too slow for fighting. but it was steady, reliable. it could be flown by any agent who made it alive to the pre-agreed point of takeoff. and a Lysander brought my grandfather home safely.

in June, an airshow on PEI will feature a reconstructed Lysander, air-ready. before the heart attack in January, my grandfather was contacted by the organizers. would he like to fly in the plane? he would.

he thought, i think, that he’d like to fly the plane again.

and so all through the confused days of the winter it was the Lysander we returned to. he did not worry – aloud – that he would not make it to see the plane, but rather that he would not be able to climb in. that he would not be well enough to go up in her.

mostly, though, he told me that he could fly her.

he last flew a plane only three years ago, with his equally octegenarian buddy. the event made me wonder if i ought to warn the whole of Prince Edward Island to take to their basements while the cast of Grumpy Old Men ruled the skies.

but it is different now. for the first time in his life, his body has failed him, showed its vulnerability. he knows he will not fly the Lysander, ever again. and he curses being old.

there is a service that brings meals, as do i, and my stepmother. but the restaurant he ate at daily for 21 years – the one that burnt last spring – has reopened. my father brought him back the first time, while he was still on the convalescent ward, frail but triumphal. he was welcomed like a prodigal.

the diner is down the road from his house. and he drives. when we arranged last week to meet there for supper, he said, “i’ll meet you there!”

i balked. we can pick you up! i chirped. we have extra seats in the new car!

“oh, i’m good.” his tone brooked no argument. “i drive down most nights.”

he is perhaps no more dangerous a driver than i. i do not know. i know the idea of him behind the wheel still makes me terribly nervous, Cassandra attuned to all the doom the horizon can hold. it is not him i fear for. it is the someone else the candy apple truck could run into: the lives – theirs, his, all of ours – that such a tragedy would eat away at. if he is no longer independent, then we are all complicit.

this week, he will take his provincial driving test again, for the first time in seven decades. they have endowed family doctors with the capacity to order driving tests for seniors, finally. after having watched the fierce struggle between my mother and my grandmother fifteen years ago, when it became clear that at eighty-nine, the latter was no longer safe to commandeer her Datsun through the streets of Charlottetown, i am grateful that my father does not have to fight the same battle with his father.

but i fight it in myself.

i fear he will ace the test, come home with a bright, shiny license and no place for any of us to stand and caution. and i fear what will happen to him if he does not. i grieve the idea of him trapped in his house, waiting for others to wait on him.

he is ninety. he will never fly his Lysander again.

i know there is no such thing as perfect. and still, i feel cold and cruel for wanting to take his truck too.

a Sunday afternoon. after a morning spent almost entirely in motion and frequently in peril of minor injury, the wild Josephine has been bagged – sleeping-bagged – and corralled in her crib with an entire safari of stuffed animals. there is silence.

except for her brother.

Oscar no longer naps, a fact against which my time-jealous mind still rails.  i am in the Denial stage of that particular grief. we moved past Anger, thank gawd, as fighting the inevitable in a loving yet despairing manner is a miserable experience that i firmly believe should be saved for one’s children’s teen years. we’ve also left Bargaining behind, when i realized that nothing short of tying the child to his bed was going to keep him in it. sigh.  Acceptance is still a long way off.

i like the trappings of kids: PlayDoh and toy villages and Lego and fingerpaints and books and jumping on the couch like Spiderman. my problem with naplessness is that playing PlayDoh and Lego and Spiderman with children is an experience rather akin to being low-totem maggot in Basic Training: you do what they tell you, or ain’t nobody having any fun. and that damn Spiderman always ends up leaping on me. ouch. and oh, my exhausted, cluttered head. so the respite of naptime remains a bygone golden era that i hearken to, most longingly.

when they both napped, i had guaranteed kid-free time twice a weekend. kid-free time means i get to slip interruption-free into the pipe and slippers of twitter, and ease myself from there into the writing, reading and research that is my perverse notion of relaxation.

in words, i make myself.  in crocheting my ass to the couch, i create the illusion of a room of my own inside my life.

my solution, since Oscar stopped napping, means even the couch is getting crowded. Dave sits on one side of the French doors between living room and our office-slash-playroom, at the desk, and i curl up, fetal and content, with my laptop. in the crook of my arm perches Oscar, with his laptop.

yep, we’re borg. looks on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Oscar is the inheritor of Dave’s old 2005 iMac, the little white workhorse that could. it’s been dropped twenty times, easy. its cord is held together with duct tape, and it sometimes freezes while loading games from, but mostly it works well enough to operate as the household Mother’s Little Helper that engages Oscar while Posey sleeps and mommy and daddy work.

he plays memory on the KidsCBC site, and watches old Cookie Monster clips from my childhood. he’s mastered dragging the mouse around the screen and clicking, and he can work the volume controls and start a DVD by himself. increasingly, he’s able to sound out the first letter of commands and guess what his options are.

today, i heard him muttering a little sing-song ditty at his computer, one that was half-ABCs and half-admonishments.  i asked him what he was saying. he looked at me as if i were unbearably slow. i’m having a compooooter probwem. it’s the ALPHAbet, mum. it’s a probwem.

he was putting his keyboard in Time Out for being all qwerty-like and out of order.

and i stared at my sworn enemy, the blank screen, and thought, it’s always the damn alphabet, son. if you’re ever gonna write, you may as well come to terms with that struggle early on.

see what leaps of cognition parental negligence can create? hell, i was in college before i realized the alphabet was at the root of all evil.

in my professional life, i am an educator.  i teach. i research. i write strategic plans for academic programs. and i think about how social media are changing the world we’re raising our children to live in.

in other words, i tweet with my kid next to me on the couch.

and he sees me type, and laugh, and click on avatars of people he’s even – in some cases – met. he sees the pictures of your kids that you broadcast over twitter. he sees the articles and posts you share that i pore over and – with the articles – make notes on, even though he can’t read them. he understands that mommy and daddy’s work is based on a whole bunch of people – real people, with kids whose names he remembers – and that crazy alphabet. he knows all these things are somehow magically connected inside computers.

he is not yet four, and i’d venture he has a fair grasp on knowledge in the early 21st century.

he’ll start junior kindergarten in September.

and a lot of what he’s learning here on the couch – both in terms of skills and the modelling we do here in borg central – is likely to get drilled right out of him the minute he hits school.

schools are, by nature, antipathic to online networks and connections. it’s not just that our litiginous society suffers paranoid delusions about people being out to prey on our kids; it’s also that schools themselves have all the swift reinventive capacity of the dodo bird. plus pesky things like, y’know, limited budgets.

but it’s mostly that schools are structured to replicate a model of behaviour and authority where power is located in the central figure of the teacher, and students are valued for their compliance, not their knowledge.

lining up, listening quietly, waiting one’s turn…these CAN be useful skills in almost any life context. they are only inherently useful in an industrial society where the goal of schools is to turn out good nose-to-the-grindstone workers.

in our society, which rewards assertiveness, innovation, self-marketing, and an internal locus of authority for critical thinking, they can be detrimental to students if they end up being the main message kids take out of their schooling experience.

i’ve worked in and around schools now for fifteen years. i think most schools try hard, as do teachers and administrators.  and i value a great deal that schools do. i can’t imagine a field more frigging fraught and complicated and interesting than education, this great sociological experiment.

but neither can i reconcile this couch and the classroom as i know it, even when i stretch my brain. possibly it’s just another form of Denial.

but as both a researcher and a parent of children slated to hit the system running in another year and a bit, i’m curious. what does Acceptance look like, in terms of 21st century education? what does having your kids in school – or not, as it were – mean to you? how do you reconcile the ways of knowing, learning, and connecting that we do out here with what happens in classrooms? does it matter to you? and are we doing our kids a disservice by not only ignoring crowdsourcing and connected learning during the schooling years, but calling them plagiarism?

liven me up, here, people. ’cause i’m not getting a nap.

Next Page »