My colleague Jackie Fowler loaned me a book called Fingerpainting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom, by Peter Levitt. Two gems from it stood out to me, so let me share them here.
The first gem speaks to how we sometimes feel when we begin something new that will require our attention and creative energy. This is how I felt when I started my doctoral program and then again when I started my dissertation, when I learned I was pregnant (well, that and constant hunger), and how I always feel when I start a new project at work that I am excited about. I imagine it’s also how many adult learners feel when returning to (or starting!) their college education:
Just before taking up something new, a whole constellation of thoughts and feelings gathers in our hearts and minds. I am sure you have felt this many times. We feel excited, anxious, frightened, hopeful. It’s quite natural for these feelings to run away with us, to become interchangeable and confused. This is part of what happens when the realm of possibility nears. Often, however, another feeling calls to us quietly. It speaks in the way certain ocean stones do with their color and shine. This is joy — the kind that comes from expressing the most intimate part of our lives and having it valued and known. (p. xv)
Many students in our first PLA class — LRN 150: Learning Assessment Workshop — speak about this very same experience in their final Reflective Essays. They are beginning something new and exciting, and their past experiences are becoming valued and known to them (and to us!). They are hopeful, scared, happy, worried, and yes, joyous — all at the same time.
When I experience these feelings, I call them butterflies, but not the kind of nervous, gut-wrenching butterflies you might think of when you think of giving a speech or playing a piano concerto in front of 300 people. These butterflies happily flit around in my head and give me generative energy. They also, often, keep me from sleeping: they wake me up at night with ideas and promises, and though I sometimes try to get rid of them, they tend to be persistent little buggers. These butterflies have been constant companions lately as I am developing a new course that I am co-teaching with my colleague Art this summer. Also, most of my blog posts have been mentally written when these butterfly friends of mine get busy in my brain at 2 am.
The second gem I found in Levitt’s book is a poem written by the author from his own “Butterfly” collection.
First wind blows leaves
out of the tree
then it teaches them to dance.
I guess, as a teacher, I like to think of myself as the wind – disruptive, but refreshing; unpredictable, but reliable; insistent, but understanding. (Paradoxical, but not.)
As I’ve written about before (Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here), I think that in order to learn significantly and meaningfully, we probably need to step away from our “trees” — from our taken-for-granted worlds and ideas. Doing so allows us to dance in the wind, in fact, to dance with those butterflies in our heads that keep us up at night when the realm of possibility nears, instead of swatting them away for a few more minutes of slumber.
[Many thanks to Harriet Schwartz for allowing me to post her butterfly photos.]