Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Write like no one's reading."

Tonight was the last class of Comedy College.  And, as with the first night, the most important lessons weren't about comedy at all; they were about authenticity, listening, and letting go of the self-judgment that blocks spontaneity.  The more we assess and measure ourselves, the less we are able to listen to our improv partner.  Worrying about how we will be perceived by others causes us to stop, think, and lose the connection with the moment.

Before I went to class tonight, I was catching up on some reading (while eating pizza) and stumbled upon the phrase "Write like no one's reading," which means that, as a writer, I "write what someone like me would like to read" without concern about how others (who are not like me) might respond.

Being true to the moment in improv is very much like being true to a standard in writing. The audience observes--but the audience does not determine--the outcome. Paradoxically, authenticity on the stage and on the page require letting go of concern about the audience.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Expert risk takers

Decisions not to pursue a course of action unless we are reasonably certain of success. Taking the safe path.  Calculating the odds.  Weighing the alternatives and choosing with care.  One really can't argue with any of these.  On the other hand, there would be no air travel, vaccines, tall buildings, or world records if everyone calculated, weighed, and chose safely.

Why is there not room for both in my workplace, my class, my family...and my life?  And what is the role of education?  What about the role of learning?

I recently watched Erin McKean talk about lexicography (that seems a safe enough topic) and was struck by her assertion that "paper is the enemy of words"...that the book-shaped repository for words is self-limiting.  What makes these statements powerful is that Erin McKean is a lexicographer who loves books and words with a passion I admire. Able to embrace both the historical paper dictionary and the limitless online dictionary, McKean provides both reassurance and challenge:
There will still be paper dictionaries.  When cars became the dominant mode of transportation, we didn't round up all the horses and shoot them.
Exploring alternatives does not necessarily eliminate the historical voice.  What if embracing both the limits and the limitless allows more people into the conversation?  If encouraging risk is important, perhaps the challenge is being open to the who, what, when, why, and how questions that all curious and creative people ask.  They just ask them differently...or refuse the accept the old answers.

I am not advocating foolish or ill-advised risk in the classroom or in life.  Rather, I am wondering why we ceased to provide the solid foundation of knowledge that allows room for experimentation, risk (failure?), discovery, and innovation. It's the experts who seem to make the best risk-takers.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Failing to learn

Failure is a recurring theme in much of my reading, of late.  Oddly enough, the reading I've been doing is about creativity and innovation.  About our education system.  And about the connection between learning and failing.

Though it may more accurately be the fear of failure, rather than failure itself, that is the antithesis of creativity, the technicality seems less important than the recognition that much effort is expended in the avoidance of failure.  This is odd to me, as the most important lessons are generally those that involve failure.

Failing to learn.  By refusing to fail?  Or by understanding the importance of failure?

One of the gifts of age is having enough failures to harvest.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

You don't have to like it

There's a lot being written (and read) about education, technology, and change.   When you brush aside the details and posturing, most of what is being written is about how technology is changing education in ways that we won't be able to undo any time soon.  And when I think about the changes, I think about a Jerry Lewis movie from 1960.

Cinderfella is not a particularly good movie taken as whole cloth, but it has some delightful pieces.  One of those is Count Basie's music and Count Basie himself.  Another is Jerry Lewis' humor, including the physicality rarely seen in comedy today.  And the reason I think of this movie when I think about changes in education is where Basie's music and Lewis' comedy meet.

Near the end of the movie, Jerry Lewis dances with Anna Maria Alberghetti.  If you've never seen the movie (which is highly likely), it will suffice to say that the dance is that romantic moment in a romantic comedy when the magic happens. Dancing to The Count Basie Orchestra directed by Count Basie (you actually get to see the Count and his orchestra), there is a moment when Lewis brings Alberghetti to a standstill, carefully arranges a fold in her lovely gown just so, motions for her to stand where she is, then dances an exuberant and absurdly comic jig around her.  Twice.  And THAT is the moment that captures what is happening in education.

The force and magnitude of the changes being wrought in education are of the size and scale of both the printing press and the technology that has all but replaced the printing industry.  And, much as we may love the status quo, expecting it to stay the way it is while we dance our respective jigs around it is about as silly as the comedy for which Jerry Lewis is known.

The changes are already happening.  And whether we like them or not is less relevant than whether we will be active participants or passive resisters.  I'll let you in on a little secret here:  I'm not a big fan of sweeping change, especially when I like something just the way it is.  But I like even less having the change(s) decided and imposed by others.

I'm learning new dance steps and finding new partners.