I was intrigued when I read Skip Walter‘s blog entries on using VisualsSpeak’s Exploring New Options pack of images. He used the images to explore his question of “What is the future I want to create for myself for this new venture and product?” Here are his blog entries day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5.
This envisioning process seemed quick and effective. I wanted to experience it for myself.
So when Christine Martell came up to UW Bothell to facilitate the 2-day workshop on Reinventing University-Level Learning on March 19-20, I asked her to bring an Exploring New Options image pack for me.
The next week, after I had recovered from the end of Winter quarter and 2 workshops over spring break, I ran through my own five-day sequence.
Here is my write up for day 1:
March 26, 2012
The question I chose to explore is “What is the path to my tenure?” I chose these 7 photos:
The one that is most confusing to me is the one on the bottom where I am holding my ears, and crouching against the winds of turmoil against my back. I am not sure why that resonated with me. It may be because I feel like the pressures to get tenure, this unnatural demand in some ways, is pushing me in directions that I may not want to go. I want to ignore it, and yet it is somewhere I have to go. And to get there, it feels to me like I am going to have to use the solo skills of that window washer hanging by a rope, working by themselves, doing things, using all of the different tools in my tool chest shown in the pencils to the right in order to create that thing which will take me toward the tenure, which is that figure in the top middle with the shadow outline. That figure where I am not yet represented in that class of people.
The lower left image with the boat shows the materials that exist that I will need to repurpose and reuse. The history that I will use to create my case for tenure and that I will build upon. It is all the stuff that is out there already and in some sense that is this act of scholarship: to take this material that people have created and either value or don’t value and how to rebuild it through that creative process in the middle where there are all these cycles and all these things are going around and there is a continual generation of new ideas and new artifacts that could be represented by the fish they go out into the tenure world above and into the other real world. There is a convergence and divergence there. The generative. The creating products from that space.
Another interesting thing to me about the tenure photo is that it does not show much. It is simply 3 figures in a very bland landscape with a bland sky. In some ways it represents that tenure does not matter. It is something I have to do. I have to fill in that little shadow so that the existing system will allow me to stay in this picture. And yet, beyond that it is of very little value. It is just a necessity. An artificial necessity in this day and age.
The image in the upper left with the praying hands is the reflective aspect of tenure. Tenure in some sense represents a self-journey. A telling of the story of how I came from and used the tools in my bucket as I washed the windows to repurpose the material in the boat into this fish to fill that tenure portfolio. So maybe those figures are simply tenure portfolios. Avatars that represent a very thin and slim representation of who we are. Sort of like a resume that is actually not that interesting. That doesn’t tell you that much about the person.
The hands are about that reflective aspect of thinking about what this means. And the synthesis. The looking for the greater patterns. It is also about self-care. That as I go on this journey I need to take care of myself. That is something that taken from Jim and Michele McCarthy’s BootCamp process. That is an important part for me. I can overwork too easily. Getting exercise and getting time to reflect is important to me.
I had remembered how important Christine said that it was to use a frame when doing the arrangements, so I used a cutting board.
After writing this up, I went downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. My mood was down. I felt discouraged. I do not know whether this was the focus on a goal that I value little, yet feel like I need to strive for, or that I needed more exercise. In any case, I found it interesting that I chose this topic, and that I told a tale mainly of angst.
Alternative questions that I had thought of addressing included “What does the future of University-level learning look like?” Though, as I wrote those words, I recalled how Christine suggested a more open question: “What does the future of learning look like?” That is a much more interesting question to me, yet I felt like I was supposed to deal with the more pragmatic and less motivating question. Perhaps this is what I get from talking with a good friend first about the choice of questions. She likes the focus on tenure. Partly because it is the reward system I probably will have to live in and fulfill. Partly because I can easily get distracted to the more interesting aspirational questions.
Yet, I almost felt like I was selling myself short here, and I did not like that feeling. Why focus on envisioning the metrics of the current organization, when most people I speak with believe that the current system has distinct problems? How will this help make the world better? The pragmatic folk would say that in order for me to act to make the world better, I first need to get tenure so that I have safety.
Having written this up, I e-mailed Christine Martell and asked if she would be willing to play the role of the VizBot for me. She agreed. Here is her reply:
From the VizBot:
This particular process of rearranging the same images everyday is meant for stuck places. Very much like the one you chose about tenure. With big life questions that feel stuck, the process is intended to get you moving in your thinking about it. It’s not about The Answer, although you may be lucky and find one.
Angst is normal and expected, otherwise it wouldn’t feel stuck.
First thing I noticed visually was the repetition of shapes
There are swirls and sharp pointed things. Does that reflect anything about your feelings about tenure or academia?
The center of the image is the spiral where the fish and window washer meet. The fish is about a way of doing things that includes divergence and convergence. The window washer about doing things by yourself. Might there be another way? The fish has a lot of interest and energy in it, but it’s surrounded, even boxed in by images that represent limitations/ways of thinking about it that are uncomfortable.
Is there another story you can tell about these images? Other ways to explore the relationships between the parts? Other ways of looking at them?
Keeping to the process, I put aside the set of images I had chosen which I would then the range each day in this process, and slept on these questions before creating my arrangement for the day 2.