letter eleven: anxieties and possibilities

"Anxiety is a necessary component of a truly creative experience. How do we as teachers recognize and support our students as they struggle with the anxiety of being deeply engaged with a creative pursuit that is becoming increasingly personal and encompassing? As fellow travelers in the creative process we must acknowledge the dilemma, the potential for suffering, and provide a calm witnessing and emotional acceptance that allows students to manage their anxieties and move forward in the process." - Olivia Gude


I find a blank page to be terrifying. Once a traft (trash-draft) is out there, that's fine, but a blank page, or multiple blank pages across multiple projects, is awful, and instead of sitting down and writing, I instead wander around either (a) procrastinating by doing other things or (b) staring at it and feeling my heartrate spike. This is true for my academic work right now (staring a lit review, conference paper, and artifact compendium down right now), and it is also true for how I exist in the world we live in. How can we do our own work right now when the news is constantly letting us know which fundamental rights are being attacked? Some ways I'm managing: by reading more (here are two things I read about climate change that helped me manage my climate change anxiety), doing more offline things (in the spirit of doing nothing, I have been making focaccia and watching dough rise), and also by submitting a workshop proposal with dear friends AL + Van Anh to a conference, looking to facilitate space for others to make sense of reconciling care, action, and work.

"How can the pursuit of surprise be promoted in a classroom? What kind of classroom culture is needed? How can we help our students view their work as temporary experimental accomplishments, tentative resting places subject to further change? How can we help them work at the edge of incompetence?" - Elliot Eisner

Other ways I'm keeping busy are by continually trying things that push me to this edge of incompetence, whether literally or figuratively. Colin and I have signed up for three months of climbing lessons, and so far it's going well! I appreciate that our teacher both points out things we're doing well that we didn't know we were doing (helping us develop awareness and language around what our bodies are doing) as well as showing us new things we could try to do (teaching us specific technique). Every time I get on the bouldering wall, I'm fighting not just incompetence (and annoyance about being incompetent), but also fear of falling. But also the surprise of being able to successfully do a problem is also incredibly gratifying, and a good reminder of how learning new things can both be scary and wonderful. Also, growth mindset is hard.

"Design is an act of imagination coupled with an attempt to realize that imagined future. It is also often an act of critique in that it is driven by a dissatisfaction of the status quo. Conceptualized in these terms, design is not limited to the privileged activity of academics or industry professionals, but instead applies to the everyday activities of resistance and hope found across all communities that strive not only to build on what exists but also to transform their world and the people that interact with their designs." - ICLS2020

Things that help me think about possibility: Books: Severance. Discovery of Witches (witches + academia were much more exciting than vampire mythology, tbh). Kindergarten (via a Sarah rec!). Kinetic sculptures. Underappreciated writing.

Other things: The most serious discussion of cowboy programmers. The ethics of classroom ethnography. Innovative elicitation methods. The writing of field notes. Playing, creativity, and possibility.

Foreseeable possibilities: Now that we're in the heart of the semester, I have a lot of drafts of projects to manage. T550 students are also embarking on their own projects, so it's fun to see the ways in which they're tackling projects they're excited about. What are y'all working on?