September 1, 2013
So Day 2 begins bright, clear, and infinitely Edmontonian (if that really qualifies as a descriptive.) After the first night it would only be logical that I’d be empowered through my walk along the hotel hallway, my meet+greet, and my convos with my cohort members, right? One would think….But instead, the victories of night one seem to wear a bit thin upon morning’s light and the day comes instead with the grim realization that no matter what happy, euphoric feelings I might have had last night now the “real stuff” begins with the first full day of classes.
And so I dress in my best funky business casual, trek to Starbucks for my fix, and meet the rest of my cohort in the hotel lobby for the 4 block walk to the 12th floor conference room that is home for the next week of orientation. While walking, I talk quite a bit with Dr. Debra Hoven, an Aussie expat who was actually one of my first Athabasca touchpoints way back when I was first thinking about applying (in fact, I still remember being in a fitting room at the Gap, trying to overcome my stripe-phobia when her email explicitly stating that she thought I would be a good fit for the program lit up my inbox). Dr. Hoven is vibrant+engaging and her ability to ask questions that both pierce and affirm is amazing. She’s such a real person and as I was talking to her, there was a little part of me that was quite starstruck, but even more there was a large part of me thinking that if there was room in the world of academia for someone with such a vibrant, big-world, practical view of life, perhaps this wasn’t such a far out idea for me…
After getting to our conference room home, we all assembled around the u-shaped table and began the most-of-the-day-task of introducing ourselves, telling about our backgrounds, and talking about our research interests. To the whole room. On a microphone. For 5 to 10 minutes.
Oh wait, did I mention that I have a death-like phobia of speaking in front of people? And that this ridiculous phobia has been with me for like the last 15 years and it’s so deeply engrained in me that it’s pretty much threaded itself into my core identity? Glad I didn’t mention it because I’d supposedly left it at home along with all the other crazy bad stories of personal inadequacy that I’ve acquired the past many years. But then it came up again and the thought of speaking for so long about everything and then some in my past and what brought me to the program pretty much made me begin to pray for a power outage, or a sudden bout of stomach flu, or really anything that could get me out of the room and out of the building and not reveal so much deep, deep insecurity in me to these people I was trying so desperately to impress.
But alas, nothing so lucky happened (meaning my oats and coffee resolutely stayed put in my colon) and little by little students intro-ed themselves and my name came closer and closer to being the “next one.” I reminded myself of piano recitals that I’d aced and that I was strong and that I was free and that I was chosen. But…when the moment comes, honestly I’d trade all those positive platitudes for just 30 seconds of being able to freeze time so I could zap myself into another locale and not face the dragons that feel just way too large for me to ever slay. And then it was my turn and just like the bravery of the previous night, I turned on my microphone, took a deep breadth, and began to tell my story.
I told about how I was a graphic designer….how I was an artist and a visual person but I’d become a bit disenchanted and how I’d entered the DE world for my MFA and how through that experience I’d, fallen in love with graphic design, but more unexpectedly fallen head over heels for DE. I talked about how I was now teaching DE and how it was amazing to see my students “get it” but know that the field as a whole discounted DE and even more that I was worried graphic design DE was becoming a commodity and losing it’s purity and indeed manifesting into a watered down field that lacked authority. And I wanted to stop that flow because I know DE had worked for me in profound ways…and because the system has worked, I know it can work but unless it has a champion and some solid empirical research, it’s going to be a flash in the pan and it’s going to be essentially dead before it even begins. There are students who have valid creative vision and yet they are so far removed from the mainstream that they’ve lost the ability to view themselves as vital to the scheme of things…they’ve failed too many times to ever think that they can indeed make it but it isn’t them that is the issue, rather it is that they’ve fallen prey to a system that inherently doesn’t validate their unique vision and contribution.
My voice shook a bit and I lost roughly 80% of the liquids in my body through the stress sweat leaking out of my pores for about 8 minutes, but in the end, I did it….I spoke about the issues that actually do burn inside of me and keep me awake some nights and cause me no end of frustration during the day and also the issues that excite me to no end and make my life feel like an adventure for good…And when I finished talking, it was like a piano recital and an ice cream sundae and the best martini ever all rolled into one. Best of all, my cohort members seemed to respond and they and the other profs seemed to nod at the appropriate moments and ask further questions about my own experience and my own ideas as to how I could be a pioneer in the field and make it a better place.
Going into this orientation (and indeed this experience as a whole) the idea of not packing with me all the personal emotional baggage and insecurities was very much at the forefront of my mind. 31 is a wonderfully young and flexible age in many ways, but when it comes to your record of failures and hurts and neuroses, 31 can feel very very old and cemented…and this speaking out one has been rooted in me like a tree. But then I spoke up…and it wasn’t particularly eloquent, but it was effective…It wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but it was okay. And that in itself was a massive victory. Just as I walked down the hallway the night before, today I spoke about ideas that were important to me and I identified myself as an advocate for my students and for DE graphic design learners everywhere. And in speaking out, I felt the soul-crushing dragon that continuously screams that I will never be good enough or eloquent enough or worthy enough begin to diminish. My cohort was okay with me not being fully resolved or fully polished or fully actualized…and in their acceptance it taught me a bit more to be okay with the journey, and in their grace toward me, it taught me a bit more to open grace to myself as well.
You are strong. You are free. Your voice matters.
These are the phrases to put on repeat.