Category Archives: #rhizo14

#clmooc Remediation Make Cycle 2

I’ve been really fascinated by what’s coming across my social media feeds as educators of all kinds have tackled the idea of “reMEDIAtion” over the last week in the #clmooc group.  As my avocation is special education for adults, I was particularly interested in this idea: “Remediation – as we’ll be thinking about it here – is unrelated to another use of the term in education: we are not talking about “remediating kids” as in “remedy”-ing them.  Here, the focus is on media, and ways in which moving from one medium to another changes what we are able to communicate and how we are able to do so.”  On the other hand, I’ve been travelling, and teaching in some new places, and trying to wrap up some projects, and dealing with a hospitalized family member and a paper I am supposed to be readying for publication so I wasn’t putting too much pressure on myself…  but one of the folks was talking about the idea of constraints as compelling…

I’ve been teaching drawing as communication to adults, and it’s always fascinating to see who is scared of what.  To watch someone draw perfectly well and beat themselves up with every line.  To watch someone who didn’t think they could draw anything, draw something recognizable, and then the next day come back to say their children were so thrilled they insisted she hang it on their fridge door.

Yet, as interesting as it is, it’s a bit hard to relate to, honestly.  I’ve always been able to draw pretty much anything, and while I had a few art teachers who didn’t think that was true, or wanted me to want something “more,” the shyness people have about this skill range is difficult for me to fathom.  Thinking about this, I realized how invested I was in the idea of control…  even when I decided I’d rather fail the drawing course than do what was wanted, I was in control.   About the same time, I ran across an old reference in some notes I was looking at, twitter bots – in this case, twitter-bots you send images to and they re-create (re-mediate) your images – either randomly or by sending them commands.  This led to me discovering a whole family of twitter-bots that, as it happened, were at war!

TwitterBotWar.08 AM TwitterBotWar.39 AM TwitterBotWar.33 AM

As a graphic recorder and facilitator (and illustrator and researcher), my actual job a good part of any month is re-mediation – I listen to the conversations people have about certain subjects, and turn them into drawings.  In my research I get a lot of people talking about one subject and then turn that into a drawing as a recording.  This was part of my Master’s thesis and is part of what I am continuing to look at in my PhD program.

So, this kind of interaction:


Turns into this kind of documentation, through my drawings and (often) the incorporation of drawings and work by the groups (in this case, “name tags” in which the “my name is…” was replaced with “the gift i bring to community is…”):


There are lots of good things about such projects but in essence what I like is that we focus on the ways people can communicate (visually) as a way of congregating information that they can present to those who are empowered to make changes.  In this project we went to six different cities in the end, in which agencies, government and policy makers were as excited to hear what people with disabilities wanted as people with disabilities were to tell them.

I also continue to be fascinated by technology and its effects on our lives and relationships.  So I started sending some of the documents and images to the twitter bots.

I combined a picture of me drawing with a drawing and send them to imgblender – which takes two images and overlays them in different ways: 

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Then, using the twitter-bots JPGglitchbot, imgshredder, lowpolybot and Quilt Bot, I continued to experiment with the photo of me drawing a research project plan for a collaborative group of researchers with intellectual disabilities:

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This led to me combining and re-mediating more of the graphic recordings, and in particular one of me and my family, combined with a recording about how people who live with folks with disabilities feel about their “jobs,” lives and the idea of “home”:

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Finally, I made myself stop but then, in bed with my iPad and reading one of my favourite comic series, Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100, I could not resist combining the iconic cover of this future-Batman in a dystopian world with a publicity photo of me, and really liking the effect 🙂

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and then, the next day, I discovered the twit-bot UShouldFrameIt and decided my new portrait needed framing:


and then, in an act of post-structuralist robotics, that a sarcastic comment from LowPolyBot to UShoudFrameIt as part of the twit-bot-war needed a little framing too….

TwitBotWarFramed.47 PM

To see the Imgblender Gif in action, go here.

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The Rhizomatic Curriculum Vitae #rhizo15

The Rhizomatic CV

I am still thinking about the first week of #rhizo15some 2500 tweets, lots of FB conversations, lots of playfulness, lots of deep teeter-tottery thinking…. The rhizomatic model, even understood merely as an alternative to what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the arborescent model of how systems work, is really useful as a way to approach alternatives in education, particularly in my field of interest (adults with intellectual disabilities) and leadership. It makes of us nomads, able to chart our own course despite the “war machine.”

Part of what I am thinking through is ways to link it to social constructionist theory, which is the foundational basis of the Taos Institute, where I am studying.

I am particularly compelled by how the relational aspect of the Taos Institute theorizing might be seen to weave through the conceptualisation of rhizomatic approaches. In Relational Being, Kenneth Gergen writes:

My hope is to demonstrate that virtually all intelligible action is born, sustained, and/or extinguished within the ongoing process of relationship. From this standpoint there is no isolated self or fully private experience. Rather, we exist in a world of co-constitution. We are always already emerging from relationship; we cannot step out of relationship; even in our most private moments we are never alone.

In relation to:

The plane of consistency of Nature is like an immense Abstract Machine, abstract yet real and individual; its pieces are the various assemblages and individuals, each of which groups together an infinity of particles entering into an infinity of more or less interconnected relations. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 254

I can see in retrospect that this theme runs throughout my life and career, so one of my questions of the last week has been whether we’re learning new ways to work together or are we just tracking the ways we are already working together?  In what ways does the rhizomatic approach differ from existing approaches?  Certainly, it allows a deepening perspective and characterization to the concept of collaboration (not quite the word) in an age privileging individualism and positing a linguistic and pseudo-moral war against dependencies.

After a dizzying experience of the #rhizo14 group, I went into excellent three part coaching course in which we had to draw our life stories, and my realization in doing this was that while I might be able to talk about moving from degree to degree, school to school, job to job, I have moved from relationship to relationship, teacher to teacher, friend to friend.  At every important juncture (which have been mostly educational, for me) the right person appeared to help create a new path.   At about the same time I actually applied for a different job (I’ve happily worked at the same place for nearly 30 years, thus it was remarkable). Combining the two things, I decided to turn my CV into this pictorial trajectory of my career:


However, when I looked at this I could see the institutions I attended, and the jobs that I had, but not the people that I met there… and I realized that while I remembered reading and talking about Silas Mariner, and somewhere an essay about it that, when I found it, I couldn’t remember conceiving of or writing (when was I ever that smart and pompous?!), what I really remembered was one late night with the snow falling outside the windows and all the of the students gone, talking to Rob Dunham about the Romantics and the idea of the eternal moment, as experienced by children, impossible to re-conceive of as adults given after we have experienced growing up.  An equally true CV might be a CV of ideas:

CVIdeasI remembered how that conversation led to an exploration of minority literature that was transformational for me, and led me in a different direction…  Or reading Edward Said as research for a Prof I was working with as an assistant, and going down a different path…

I could barely remember studying poetic theory with Rona Murray but I remembered being in a class with her when she was about to hand back marked papers and said this wasn’t what mattered, what mattered was our connections – and for god’s sake don’t kill yourself because you got a C-. I thought she was talking to me. I thought she could read me… and was hopeful for the first time in a while.

Years later, when we had become friends, sitting and watching the ocean, I told her that she might have saved my life and she was shocked. “But I never meant you, I meant this other student in that class!” She was a great, tireless mentor to me, encouraging, always looking for opportunities for me, teaching me about writing, editing my work, helping me connect with other writers, connecting me with people who needed my help, introducing me as someone to watch.  It wasn’t just about sentence structure, but about what one said to make the right impression, and she was wonderfully, gently honest.  I became the person she saw me as, able to introduce myself to homeless people, ambassadors, college deans. But it wasn’t her lessons on poetic theory that stood me in good stead… I channeled her for years and years as I walked into negotiations and charged meetings. I channeled Rob’s ideas about Coleridge, among others, in places where they weren’t expected, where I was able to create disruptions and new expectations.   As well, there were other students in those places who became great friends and I learned from them. One taught me to envision myself with invisible but powerful dreadlocks and all they convey because, he’d say, as gay people we are marching towards freedom but not there yet.

I documented some of those names on my visual CV, but, if I continued even a little more with this idea my CV might look something more like this:


And, given that something like 80% of us find our work through our networks, this kind of a CV might be more “practical” than not.

So, the first CV, an objective one – I studied here, here and there, during these years, and I worked here and here, during these years, represents one part of the story. It perhaps hints, by virtue of looking different from most CVs, of my character and being…   but it is the second and third CV variations that are the more true ones and these are subjective, by which I think I mean relational.

When I realized that everywhere I go to learn I reliably meet the right people and becoming part of a cohort I relaxed in a new way.  As the Fraser and Gordon article on the Geneology of Dependency asks, who profits by us not thinking in these relational ways?

So, what are my learning subjectivities for this #rhizo15 course? I think I will discover those when I find out who my companions will be, as, it seems, in every other area of my life and education. Luke Higgins writes of the rhizomatic model, “What would it mean to begin always from the middle? To experiment with renouncing that lure of mastery with which definitive beginnings and endings seduce thought?”

Higgins, L.B. 2011. “Becoming through multiplicity: Staying in the middle of Whitehead’s and Deleuze-Guattari’s philosophies of life.” In Secrets of becoming: Negotiating Whitehead, Deleuze, and Butler, ed. R. Faber and A.M. Stephenson, 142–54. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, quoted in Kelly Clark/Keefe (2014) “Becoming artist, becoming educated, becoming undone: toward a nomadic perspective of college student identity development,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27:1, 110-134

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What is the work?

a drawing of some ideas about what work might be

Dan Pontefract, author of Flat Earth: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, was having a contest.  

It is over, so I won’t win a book, but I’m going to go buy his book anyway as I really like the way he is thinking about work and connections…  and it gave me a chance to process some of what I was thinking about over the last weeks and last week in particular.  The question he’s asking is “How do you define the word ‘work.'”

I was in Toronto taking a refresher course in a planning method we use a lot for folks with disabilities, their families, groups we are part of, projects and assorted other things.   The space was held by Lynda Kahn and Jack Pearpoint of Inclusion Press.   The processes are called PATH and MAPs and, as Jack said to me at one point, there are 25 ways to skin a cat and they are all related and part of the same conversation about person centredness and working together.   In B.C. my facilitation partner Shelley Nessman and I, and our friend David Wetherow, are known as the West Coast experts in this process – so, in a way, it was a bit odd to go somewhere and sit in a circle of learners who are new to it: a huge wonderful luxury.

I kept saying to Shelley (and Jack and Lynda), “What a gift to be part of the circle instead of in the centre of it” and then I would say “What does that mean?”  It has been a gift to be part of so many circles of people planning together in a new way but in this circle I was a learner.  So this is one of my perennial questions – how do I stay a learner in all I do?  At the opposite end of this question is the idea of a professional with all the answers and, particularly in my field where success has been so problematic, this idea of knowing the answers is a dead end.  It’s not that we don’t know some good things that are helpful but for the most part people we care about are disconnected, under and un-employed and many of them are unknown in their communities – the research demonstrating that the more we support and serve them, the less known they are.

PATH was a transformational response to the history of planning for folks with disabilities, in which a big table of professionals would gather with big stacks of papers that the person could not read, and sometimes the family or a family member or sometimes but not often the actual person with the disability, would sit hunched on one side of the table and listen to the litany of the history of their problems and challenges and to what they had done wrong since the last planning meeting, to create a new plan to address what was wrong with them in the coming year or so.   PATH gave people a new vision – a picture – of what person centredness and planning could look like.

What if, said Jack and his late wife Marsha Forrest, their friends John O’Brien and Judith Snow, we formulate a new way of planning that is based on talking to the person about their dreams?   What if we have that conversation in a way that is comfortable and hospitable and use pictures to make sure that all of us, even if we cannot read and are afraid of these stacks of papers that pose as our histories, are on the same page?   So they developed a template to be facilitated by amateur facilitators with just a little training – the scene is set with food, music, hospitality; the PATH is drawn in colorful graphics – whatever the person says is their dreams goes up on a big sheet of paper; only what the person agrees with goes up.   It is an approach based on giftedness – what is the person good at, what do they love, what have those of us who care about them noticed is important and valued by their community?  What connects them?  Increasingly, with our friend David Wetherow, it is this question of connection that matters most – who do they share this gift with?  How could they better connect?  How might the connection compel more connections, more success, more of what makes their hearts, and the hearts of those who care about them, sing.

So in Toronto we did a brief workshop on the idea of introduction and invitation in these situations – You Had Me At Hello!  and then we went to a workshop by an amazing woman from India, Malina Chib, who, with her mother and some allies, has changed the way that disability is considered there – not least by writing and publishing a book called With One Little Finger.   Her book is about many things, but not least of these is how to be loving and assertive when you are surrounded by those who priorise your vulnerability.   I think we cannot imagine this, although meeting her and listening to her and reading her book gives us a new sense of it.   What is it like to say, my dream is X and have someone respond with all the reasons why that is not possible for you?  Again and again, and, again and again, to respond that you have thought this through, you have figured it out, you are about to embark…   And with every movement forward those who believe in you – your family and allies and friends – take what they’ve listened to, take your questions, and they begin to build supports and services that change the lives of all the people in your country.   Children who were assumed to not be able to go to school, go to school.  People who were assumed to have nothing to offer, get jobs.   The person who is assumed to be inarticulate comes to the front of the room and begins to speak and everyone sits quietly, listening to a new voice that has a new perspective on who we are and what we might do.

And this idea of who we are and what we might do has been my passion for the last several years in my field – and it’s really about all the questions.   It is about what Charles Eisenstein has recently written, in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (Sacred Activism):  

“What is that hurting thing, that takes the form of cynicism, despair, or hate? Left unhealed, can we hope that any future we create won’t reflect that wound back at us? How many revolutionaries have recreated, in their own organizations and countries, the very institutions of oppression they sought to overthrow?”

People come to supports for folks with disabilities out of a sense of social justice and excitement about new voices and new ideas about community, but are often stifled in their work with organizations and governments who base their work on risk aversiveness.   Those they support are not like Malina Chib, constantly lovingly returning to an ongoing conversation about possibility and potential as she travels to London and through India and gets one degree and then another and another and moves to the front of the room, surrounded by those who she has convinced.   Perhaps they cannot talk, or they have like a friend of mine, been “wrung dry” by a system which even at its best, she says, requires her to explain her dream to seven layers of a hierarchy.   “I know, when it gets to you, you will help me make it happen when you understand what I am saying.  But it’s tiresome and I am 70 now.”   One of the disasters of community living is that it attracts those who yearn for change and turns them into automatons who have no space to ask better questions.   As Pontefract says, in another blog entry on the changing values of leadership and the correlation to quality of life for all of us, “If employees are enthusiastic, committed, passionate, and generally into their work, isn’t it time leaders of any stripe, at any step in the hierarchy chain, acted with more humility and were less parochial?”

One of the changes to the PATH process since we learned it, which we went to Toronto to learn more about, is the idea of a scratch pad – a big sheet of paper placed at the side of the PATH plan on which as someone talks, you draw their dreams, but only as placeholders and tentative ideas – and when it is time you ask them, what is the central image here that best expresses your dreams?  Of all of these drawings, what would you like me to transfer to the PATH plan?   You hold the space, the question, the negative capability that Keats talked about:

. . . Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – . . . from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge  . . . [which] overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration . . . 

One might think that the scratch pad idea is only about becoming certain of what the person dreams and wants, but this is reductive.  The scratch pad is also a holding space – it sends a clear message that it is okay to generate just the best questions, the greater wonderings, without being pinned down.   It says, our work here is to support you, not, our job here is to figure out which box you will fit into.   It is, in this new conversation about education I have been excited to be part of, “rhizomatic.”

Tomorrow Shelley and I are teaching this slightly changed process for the first time, and very excited about it.   The workshop is full, but the next one is in September and there are spaces left for those who wonder and want to be part of a new conversation.   The very idea of PATH is a signal that we are being called not to define what work is, but to wonder about that.

More later about some of the amazing folks in the workshop.

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