Posts from the ‘801 Orientation Week’ Category
August 19, 2014
So, one year ago this happened. It was August, and I was wearing my lucky gold dress, and I had super short hair, and for the first time I met the cohort which marked my life in such profound ways this past year. When this photo was taken my heart was racing and I was repeating to myself over and over that this whole thing was a good idea and legit I was about three steps away from bursting into tears or turning right back around and driving back to Chicago because I was so scared of what was next and all the unknown about this journey. And then in a act of courage that still amazes me, I did none of that and instead walked like an extrovert into a room of strangers with quaint accents and…the rest is history. Read more
September 10, 2013
September 7, 2013
…and then Thursday came. Presentation Day. The event that was set in motion way way back at the end of May when we first met as a group. 6 hours. 4 presentations. Game On.
Going into the Orientation week, this was hands down the thing I was most scared about. My confidence in my own public speaking endeavors ranked just about equal with my confidence in my own ability to survive a shark attack…totally zero. But, with super courageous acts in the not too distant past and the accompaniment of two other cohort members who I pretty much completely trusted, I did the brave thing and didn’t fake stomach flu but rather stood up when our turn came, faced the audience, and began to speak.
And it was amazing and fun and speaking to my fellow cohort members wasn’t like speaking to strangers who were secretly planning on how to verbally assault me but rather was like having a large chat with friends who had, unexpectedly, become very very dear to me in a very short time. My voice was strong and clear and steady and listening to myself I began to believe that maybe this whole EdD business wasn’t a fluke…maybe I actually was meant to be exactly at this spot at this time…maybe it was possible.
Our presentation was highly interactive and Rossetta, Lynne and I acted more as round table discussion hosts than as all knowing image experts. The cohort too couldn’t have been more supportive of our ideas and process. They rallied like champions and even got into heated debates of their own, furthering everyone’s learning. There was one moment where the three of us stepped back, smiled to each other and silently shared a deep deep exhale knowing that our crazy ideas and the careful planning we’d poured into the process all summer long worked.
September 6, 2013
Day four dawned bright and early with a bus pick-up at 7 a.m. so we could make the two hour drive up to the “real” Athabasca campus in the lovely yet somewhat remote village of Athabasca, Alberta. The ride, as all bus trips inevitably end up, was filled with lots of laughter, debriefing about the previous two days and our newly revealed dissertation supervisors. The ride only further convinced me that Athabasca is really pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but the fields and wide wide open sky did provide a valuable sense of rest compared to all the noise and input of the past several days.
After a brief campus tour (which ironically is like almost any other small college campus with the odd distinction of having no resident students) we settled into the newly constructed Centre for Distance Education building and conference room (which is LEED certified and feels a bit like you’ve been tele-ported from the prairie states of Canada to Southern California) and learned how to research, write for grants, and leverage what really is a world-wide network more than willing to support our efforts. I was once again amazed that I was here…in Canada and in Athabasca and part of such a diverse and supportive community.
September 3, 2013
Day 3 promised to be a bit of a step back in intensity. As a cohort we were beginning to be comfortable together and see each other as real, multidimensional teammates rather than anonymous competitors. The profs— through their personal stories, jokes, and casual demeanor—also managed to climb off their academic pedestals, and become real people with all the crazy quirks and joys of new friends.
Through the morning and afternoon, we heard more from the Athabasca faculty, took many more notes about groups to join, sites to visit, and how to become our own librarians of a vast personal catalogue of research readings. The day finished with an early close and a communal troop back to the hotel.
In the evening, I met with R + L for final presentation prep. We talked through our slides, divided up who would speak about what, and decided last minute to create and bring in an animation of a pizza (because what academic presentation is complete without an illustrated pizza getting created right in front of you as a metaphor for how community happens? : )
But there was one snag….about a month earlier I’d come up with the stellar idea of not just giving people a boring printout of our slides, but giving them a super dynamic and interactive booklet with which to follow along, take notes, and hopefully give our group even more bonus points for creativity. I designed it all and it looked pretty hot on screen but I hadn’t had a chance to produce it before coming out. In my mind, Canada has printers. Canada has Staples. No worries….right?
Hahaa…if I learned anything from my MFA, it’s that print production is indeed a fickle mistress in the States. This booklet extravaganza taught me that the same holds true in Canada. This evening began what could be called “the tour of Edmonton sponsored by Staples” as I began the trek to see just who could print the booklets in a way that stayed somewhat true to the design. Ahh graphic design….such a great way to learn patience…and apparently research mall culture no matter what your locale may be!
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.
August 29, 2013
So tonight I got back from Canada. Which means that tonight officially ends the “oh my goodness, I can’t do this crazy thing called a doctoral degree because everyone will see through my facade and call me a fake” phase of my life and officially begins the “hi, I’m lisa and I’m working on my doctorate” era. One week ago, I met new folks, I made fast friends with them, I presented in an academic setting. The whole week (and especially the presentation) was way way more successful than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. Worthy of an identity shift, you might ask? Yes, indeed.
I want to write about it all because I want to capture this experience in something more concrete than my own leaky memory. This is a massive time in my life and I have a premonition that I’ll look back and my current reality will feel so foreign and so different because I’ll have actualized in ways that I never dreamed possible. And in that actualizing, I’ll forget where I came from and just how it all happened, and minimize the power of grace+transformation.
This writing is really just for me and my own mental catalog but as I’m seeing more and more, my story isn’t just about me and all I’m learning isn’t just for me to ingest. So, it’s my hope that if you’ve stumbled across this through some random search terms or have been following the crazy journey of a self labeled introverted-misfit named Lisa, you’ll be encouraged and dazzled a bit by how the impossible really can happen….and how people can grow into the strong and free creatures who everyone but themselves were able to see. I’m not “arrived” by any means, but I do know in a way that fills my core and radiates to every part of me, that it isn’t just romanticizing to say that I’m different than I was 2 weeks ago…something in me has shifted fundamentally and I will never be the same…and I am not afraid of the change. So here’s the story of the first week of orientation for Athabasca University, Cohort 6.
It all began on Sunday night at the first “official” social meeting. We as a cohort were to meet in a hotel conference room for an evening social. In attendance would also be some key profs and staff from Athabasca. I remember leaving the safe nest of my hotel room and walking down the hallway all alone in my lucky gold dress and thinking that I could turn around…I could go back to my room or out into the Edmonton night and no one would know…no one knew me or would miss me. I could go back to Chicago and tell a quaint story about how it didn’t work out and everyone would hug me and tell me better luck next time and I’d be comfortable in my shell of safety. Or…I could walk into the room like a courageous extrovert with my hand outstretched and my smile engaged and most of all, my heart open to what ever might be next. Needless to say, I did the latter (though not without some serious heart palpitations) and once I stepped over the threshold, I was committed. Going into the week, I thought that the hardest thing would be the presentation on Thursday. Oddly enough, now I think the hardest thing was the walk down to the social on Sunday because that act in and of itself meant that I was committed…it meant that I was “in” and I was known and others also began to trust me with small bits of themselves. Before the social event, I was totally anonymous, without responsibility and without a solid network. After the social, though the ties were slight at most, they were there nonetheless and I was no longer anonymous.
I know I may be making a bigger thing out of one night than it was, but I think in many ways it is the initial jump and risk and opening-like-a-flower before you know the outcome that may be the most courageous and underrated acts in which we engage. And I think it might very well be in these humble moments that our identities change and shift in ways we only comprehend when looking back with a long vantage point.
The night was a blur of handshakes and intros and explanations that yes indeed I had driven in from Chicago. With my parents. And my 6-lb yorkie.
Everyone sat together around tables and awkwardly ate little finger foods and drank wine or water (I instantly regretted not having Canadian money for the cash bar because I can’t remember the last time I did anything this socially risky without a healthy does of fermentation on my side.) I was the trivia leader for our table and my own voice rang out with a surprising amount of authority as I corralled my table mates and marshaled discussion. Who was this new Lisa? I’m still not totally sure, but I can say 100% that I really like her. And then things were wrapping up and I was having an actual conversation about food and travel with a cohort member and it wasn’t scary, rather it was exciting and fun and energizing. As I walked back to the room, I was flushed with excitement and pleasure and pride that I’d done the walk and said yes and opened myself up to not just the experience but the 11 other people I’d committed to for the journey. That night I shifted from isolation to connection as the cohort became a community and the connection was an embrace that melted the thick shell I’d been hiding under.