Mapping #Rhizo15


For the last week of #Rhizo15 Dave asked us to create an artifact. This is the week I got pretty close to actually doing what he asked. Above is my artifact. With thanks to (key)…

Peter Pan & Tinkerbell 
The Quiet Year (and my friend Will for telling me about it. There’ll be a blog post when we get round to playing it)
Nick Kearney for the new directions
Ordnance Survey for the symbols
Wendell Berry and Terry Elliott for the tug away from screens
Dancing Princesses for the dragons
Manuel Lima and his trees
Deleuze & Guattari for the tracings
… and all the lovely brilliant people I’ve bumped into just by saying things in the #rhizo15 world. It’s been an interesting journey.


Map your life onto fairytales

The last week of #Rhizo15 is about to start.

I have only dabbled. Commented a few times on other people’s posts. Started a conversation about maps on facebook. I wrote a blog post about measurement a couple of weeks after everyone else had moved on from that topic.

I don’t mind. One of the things #Rizo15 has taught me is that we find (our own) way through. I’m finding my way through a lot of other things in my life (aren’t we all) which I did instead of reading and writing in rhizoland.

I’ve just read Terry’s impassioned post turning away from the rhizome metaphor, and the wonderful conversation that ensued. He quotes Wendell Berry:

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

What a challenge. I love it. I think i’ll write it on a post-it and stick it to the corner of my screen.

I love that creative expression in many different forms has taken centre stage during #Rhizo15

It seems to be the way most people are able to navigate the chaos. It seems to be a way in to map, to visualise the learning(change) that happens as we explore. When straightforward, everyday language fails us and we begin to push out from the edges of the tools we know how to use. I think that’s a sign we’re learning(changing).


Summer 2009, in a forest just outside Bruges, Belgium. I was on an adventure. Taking part in a festival at protest site. I slept high in treetops, I slept at the centre of a labyrinth made of pallets. Running errands in the city felt like a series of sensory catastrophes. My body learnt the meaning of ‘culture clash’.

Bewildered and exhausted from the newness, from the bravery required just to have arrived here. Seduced by the magic, buzzing from the defiant romance of it all. In the centre of the forest an old munitions factory, now only a couple of walls and concrete floors warped by roots. Under the incendiary slogans scrawled across the walls, a typewriter. I sat at it and wrote this:

quote pop if there’s no other way to explain. Map your life onto fairytales if there’s no other way to navigate

Finding a Voice

This is my response to week 1 of the ‘Uncourse’ #TDreflex14

I was planning for a presentation recently and practiced by recording my voice. 

I spent a whole day persuading myself into it. 
First I tried to read poetry out loud, then moved on to an essay I’d written, then finally started saying the words I wanted to practice.
At first I didn’t like the sound of my voice, but I was surprised at how quickly I slipped into just listening to the words and how they sounded. 
Suddenly, I was fascinated by the difference between the words I’d written down and the words that made sense spoken. 
The content was the same, but I couldn’t get the written words to make sense out loud. 
I changed the whole thing, word by word. 
I also crafted it so that it flowed. 
So that I sounded confident. Almost authoritative. 
I was surprised at how easy that was, with enough practice.
Then I performed my presentation for my mum. 
She was first impressed, and then confused. 
What I had done was crafted something that made me sound clever and confident, but was too complex to follow if you weren’t inside my own head. 
I’d found a voice, and it was saying my words, but I don’t think it was my voice, and if it was it wasn’t very useful to anyone.
This sent me in a tailspin. 
I didn’t want to ditch all that work I’d done, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak it again knowing it would do nothing but make me appear to know what I was talking about. 
In the end I did ditch it. The work I’d done meant I knew the content enough to just talk about it. The talk was ok. I was faltering, could have been clearer but it was interesting and useful to some.
It pisses me off that I ‘seem nervous’ when I’m presenting to or teaching other adults.
Sometimes its because I’m attempting to articulate something I didn’t know had different words in spoken english than it did written down. 
Sometimes its because I’m using up my bandwidth worrying about timekeeping. 
Sometimes its because yeah, I’m a bit nervous. 
Sometimes its because I think we need more silence in teaching, in the world. 
Sometimes the panic fog comes down and I really am just struggling to get any words out at all. 
Sometimes there is no identifiable reason.
I’m starting to think that the place I’m most nervous is the classroom. I don’t usually teach there. 
I honestly can’t think of a time I’ve been problematically nervous teaching on an allotment, in the woods, on a campsite, in a workshop.
I’m still looking for my voice (at least one I can take into those learning boxes). 
Nervous ellie doesn’t sound much like me. 
Rehearsed, confident ellie certainly doesn’t.
Written ellie does sound like me.
I do want to find a spoken ellie that does sound like me, and I’m still working on that. Its an interesting project. 
But for now, I feel lucky to have more than one means of communication at my fingertips, more than one  place to be. 
And at least I know what I’ll sound like when I hear it. 

Off piste academia

“We can learn from theory. But we can learn from the embodiment of that theory by experiencing what it is.” Maha Bali here:

A few days after my first day studying teaching I was discussing what we’d learnt with my mum. When I told her we’d discussed Freire, her response surprised me. “Why are people still talking about him? Haven’t things moved on since I was a student?!”. After some thought I understood her reaction. Why do some writers end up as code words for a certain set of ideas long after those ideas have been taken up, changed and lived for 40 years or so? And why did they get to claim it in the first place? It used to enrage me as a teenage anarchist when people dismissed my (in hindsight parroty) opinions as Marxist. I have never cared much for how history seems to want to make sense of ideas by giving them names of dead men.

Then I watched a youtube clip of Judith Butler which prompted me to pick up her book Gender Trouble despite the fact that for the last ten years all I’ve known about it is something like ‘oh, ’90s queer theory, really hard to read’. Y’know it really was hard to read but at the same time I knew exactly what she was saying. I knew because I now live what 20 years ago she was theorising. It was a surreal moment where the genealogy of queer feminism stretched into a past I didn’t know about. It was uncomfortable. I could suddenly see how easy it could be to say ‘ooh your analysis is pure Butler’ and become the cynical smarter-than-thou theorist. And then reading Bulter kinda made me want to read Foucault and I realised that this is how academics are born. That somehow the history of ideas has well worn paths, even the radical emancipatory ideas.

Last Wednesday I had a really tough day at work trying to persuade teenage lads that neatening edges in a park was worthwhile and important while mostly failing to challenge their deeply misogynistic ideas (the more we work together, the more comfortable they are to express them. Be careful what you wish for Ellie). I still love it, but I think it will always destroy me. I came home physically and emotionally exhausted, quickly made food and then went out to a reading group. I almost didn’t go despite the fact I’d spent probably six or seven hours reading the 28 page article and most of the people I knew would be there were friends.

I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to hold my own. These people did reading groups all the time and were all ‘better educated’ than me. Turns out I did hold my own, and really did enjoy the energetic exchange of ideas despite it being obvious to everyone (because I made a point of making it so) that I was out of my depth academically. Inevitably there was a bit of ‘her ideas are very so & so’ and I did a lot of ‘what does that mean’-ing in a softly softly approach to challenging the assumption of that well worn path I so dislike. It was interesting.

It was also surreal. Near the end it came out that the person I knew least well had a philosophy of science degree from Cambridge. I got vertigo thinking of her studying, the same age as the lads I was working with a few hours ago, the ones I work with on level one maths and English. Talking politics or identity or philosophy has long been my safe space; dreaming of how the world should be heals me from the painful experience of how it really is. But being there always feels indulgent because its just one more safe space defining my intersecting privilege.

How do I work to make my world of ideas less exclusive?

The first one is simple: every word I read I ask myself how the words will change my life. How they will assist me in the real life world of working towards transformational eco-education. If it means I make useful change, the indulgence isn’t just of benefit to me.

I promise to never say ‘that’s so whats his face’. The only originator of your ideas is you, no matter how parroty you sound.

The more aware I am of well worn paths, the more responsibility I have to find my own. The internet has blown this world right open, we can take whatever path we choose and with some perseverance cross paths with some incredible like-minded people. We don’t have to trace ideas back through published books any more. We don’t have to preoccupy ourselves with where ideas come from. Its not important and from where I’m sitting its becoming exponentially clear it never was.

This one I learnt from the brilliant @teachnorthern
Theorists are our friends. Just like the people who post appreciative blog comments or ask us interesting questions. At college we talk of bell and Paulo, not hooks and Freire. What if Gilles and Felix were really here with us, not heroic but distant fathers we struggle to understand. This is the best tactic I’ve found to democratise academia because you suddenly realise that that well worn path started with just one pair of tracks, which is what every one of us is doing.

My last one is to just push through the fear and share my ideas. So hello internet world, especially #rhizo14 here’s my latest offering. Thank you all for the inspiration.