Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stellar evening with Gever Tulley, Carrie Contey, and Bernadette Noll!

Words really fail me to describe this amazing evening with these fine folks. It was quite stupendous to say the least. We had a fantastic turn out and the whole thing was a dazzling display of intellectual pyrotechnics.

I was trying to write this last night and was feeling un-enthused. I was trying to remember what the gist was of each talk and was trying to think of how to re-cap each of them. And that all seemed just kind of wearying, not really inspiring. Then out playing in the yard today I thought of a better way (for me ) to approach it... what I learned from each speaker and how I have integrated it into my life. Because each talk really hit me on a deep level ( maybe it was the element of 'danger' [really just the pleasurable level of excitement that came from being the organizerator of the event] that, as we learned from Gever, actually causes information to be absorbed more deeply into the brain [I may be saying this wrong, but I think it's like, if you're attacked be alligators and it's really scary, it's deeply imprinted into your brain, Dude that sucked!! Never go out in the swamp after dark again!!])that I feel like I have been referencing them throughout the week.

Carrie Contey's talk was about the power of the pause. Lucky you, you don't have to listen to my garbled account of it but rather can catch the gist of it here in her Tedx Austin talk. Suffice it to say we mentioned our need for a pause and the power of pause all throughout that very busy weekend. So much new information, so many new connections, I know at times my brain was in overdrive and I'd remember, oh yeah, the power of pause, and would try to walk off and be by myself for a moment. Or I'd notice that I was coming from some big event or workshop and would still get on the computer and be trying to take in even MORE new information. And this with my brain creaking and groaning like a boat that's about to capsize. I'd realize I needed sometime to download and would take myself out for a walk or a nice little sit in the backyard. Such a much better way to live, I must say. THANK YOU, Carrie!! Just one more brilliant thing to remember from you!

Next up was Bernadette and she talked about crafting with kids, how it sucks sometimes even despite our best intentions, and some helpful hints on how to make it a good experience. Because making things is fun and making things with other people is fun and making things with some of our favorite people CAN be the most fun thing of all if only all our human frailties didn't jump right there up to the fore when we try to do a crafty project together. Boy howdy do I know all about that. Stressed out mama with a vision of how things should go + kids with their own vision and surplus energy which translates as things dumped out/knocked over/ loss of interest/ what have you = family meltdown. Bernadette was so forthright and funny and down to earth and clear. It was really so fun to listen to. Two points stood out for me. One was, know your limits. Maybe you feel like you should be comfortable letting them smear paint all over their bodies. But the reality is it's making you feel like the top of your head is going to pop off. That's totally OK and you can just honor your boundaries. I remember a moment when that really became clear for me. I had just taken some parenting class that made me feel like I should be a lot more relaxed. We had been having kind of a crazy day already and I was watching Jack push the couch from the living room towards the kitchen counter. I felt this strangledy feeling in my throat and wanted him to stop but said to myself hey, what's the big deal? I ended up freaking out and screaming... and the message was right there, the moment when I could have drawn the line. Ain't nothing wrong with drawin' a line. ALSO, I liked how she said that sometimes you can be the little elf behind the scenes who keeps a project going, just a little bit. Not like, you'll take it over for them and make sure it comes out perfect. But if you notice a knitting project, say, which has been abandoned in the corner for a long time, and you pick it up , dust it off, and maybe add on a little bit so it really looks like it's going somewhere, and then leave it out all enticingly for your young one to find later, there's really nothing wrong with that. Better that than them never picking it up again, never having the satisfaction of having finished that scarf or whatever it is. And I feel like we really used this when building that stick structure the next day. There was a point after lunch where a lot of the kids ran off and were just playing in the creek or whatever. We were kind of wondering what we should do and we decided to just keep building. When the kids started wandering back in, the third story was starting to form and they definitely got re-engaged.
So last but not least, there was Gever himself. This seems really like the hardest to recap but I guess it's not. It just seems like there's so much to it, so much that I have learned that I'm still trying to fully incorporate. Well, let's see here... the first part of his talk was about dangerism... how people are just danger-phobic in this way that they just weren't twenty years ago, and it's not really based on any hard evidence that any of all the safeguards and precautions we put in place really have any effect on making our children safer. I came away from this realizing I needed to be even more firm in normalizing normal behavior. For instance, we went to an egg hunt at this small local college on Friday after school. It was all perfectly fine (except for a little unexpected bible thump, which I hadn't anticipated) and the kids had a good time... acceptable way to spend an afternoon. We were rolling around in the grass and the sunshine way after most people had dissipated, just enjoying ourselves and eating some candy, and Jack ended up climbing this tree, which is pretty much what he always has to do in any given environment. Some faculty and students were standing somewhat nearby chatting, and we were approached by a lady who said in a very nice and friendly way, "We are just so afraid he might fall and hurt himself, he probably shouldn't climb the tree." Normally my good girl personae comes to the fore and I salute authority, especially someone being so nice and all, but Gever's talk was fresh in my mind and I found myself saying, almost surprising myself, "Oh, it's OK. He won't fall." She was taken aback and said, "Oh, but we just wouldn't want him to hurt himself." So I kind of relented and said, "Well, I'm sure he's fine, but I'll tell him to get down." And then I told Jack, "They don't really want us to climb trees here." Which seems like what she could have told me to begin with. If she said, "We don't want our trees to get hurt" that would make more sense then, "I think your kid is going to fall from a 5-6 foot tree, when obviously he climbs on playstructures and all sorts of things all the time". I think that 20 years ago, it wouldn't have been an issue, him climbing the tree. So, we must take it upon ourselves to be the voice of reason, because things have gotten a little out of hand in the past 20, 30 years or so.

The other really amazing thing that Gever said that stands out is about being failure-positive. He showed this really potent little array of videos that kids had uploaded to Youtube. Apparently someone had posted somewhere this tablature for playing Canon in D Major on your electric guitar. This kid who called himself FunTwo played it somewhat OK and posted it on youtube. Next a girl posted a video of herself playing it... this time even more falteringly. Then a little boy posted his video of himself... maybe even a little less good. But a year goes by, and that last little boy posts again... and he's pretty good. A few years even after that... another post by him... and he's absolutley phenomenal. And still probably only 15 or 16, if that. And FunTwo's original post? Has been viewed 70. Million. Times. Which to break it down for you, would mean someone would need to watch it non stop for 350 years to watch it that many times. The point being, that FunTwo's posting something that wasn't perfect inspired others to post their less-than-perfect efforts, and to keep trying, and keep learning. Which is way different than someone posting something that is perfect and beautiful and that we all admire (which of course is good too.... we all want to admire great art and cool things that people do) but that we automatically dismiss as something we could never do ourselves.

The Q and A section was fantastic. I wished it could have gone on into the wee hours of the night. They were really so perfectly suited to each other as a group, really complemented each other well. The funniest part was the last question, and it was just a divine capper for the evening. A woman raised her hand and said that her son was a real maker, he loved making things and designing things. He had decided he really wanted to make a boat and had drawn out this detailed illustration of his plan for his little boat. Well then her husband came along, with the best intentions I'm sure, and looked at the little boys plans, and deduced that there was no way that this boat built as such would float, and proceeded to order a kit off the internet, a neat kit that they could build together that would actually fit the whole family. Sound like a fine plan, eh? Well, no. Gever repeated the question for the audience, "Did you all hear this sad sad story about the little boy who wanted to build a boat and his father wouldn't let him try and bought him a kit instead?" The point was that the kid would learn way more from building the boat his own way and even having it sink and fail than he would from having his dad order him a boat kit off the internet. And that, also, has had a huge impact on me. I'm already kind of like that... very clear about giving kids space to do their thing and not rushing into help or hinder. But this week I've been even more clear about letting Henny wrestle with the car seat buckle that she so desperately wants to do herself, letting Jack sound out the word for himself or spell it himself, or even letting sibling squabbles more space to work out on their own. For even if my ears are burning it is a heck of a lot nicer in the long run if they learn to work out problems on their own.
Well, all 'round it was an awe-inspiring, life-changing evening. Gever just posted this, a comic book version of his 2009 TED talk, but with even more content. I read it and I automatically felt freaked out because I'm so in awe of him and love his ideas and what he has achieved so much. It made me feel like, "I can't believe I was just hanging out with him like it was the most normal thing in the world only a week ago! I must have blocked out how amazing I think he is." It makes me think of Wile E. Coyote when he runs off a cliff and is just running on clear air, which is fine until suddenly it dawns on him where he is and falls into thin air. If I had thought to much about it I don't know if I would have been able to function. As it was I got to work alongside one of my all-time heroes and that was really really fun, and also hear him speak twice AND lead a workshop for adults, and the cherry on top was a few after hour chats and beers with other great friends and a dinner or two. Oh it was really really cool.
And now, in the works for the fall: Gever, again (he'll more than likely be back, he was invited to work with grad students at UT for a few weeks!!) and Bernadette and Carrie again, and LENORE SKENAZY!!! We have already communicated with her and she's totally down with it! Even more awesomeness headed our way.
But first order of business.... start a Tinkering School right here in Austin. I'm on it!!
Thanks to Leslie Baccus-Hope for snapping these photos!


Nicole B. said...

thanks for putting such an amazing event together and posting a recap!

jenny @ let the children play said...

What an amazing opportunity Kami - i'm very jealous.

I can relate to the bit about doing messy activities with kids, and taking a back seat when in reality your head feels like exploding :) It has taken me a long time to get comfortable with mess - I can now handle messy kids, but still freak out inside if the room is a shambles.

I'm off to check out the Gerver Tulley cartoon!

Bernadette said...

Wow Kami! I just got the chance to read your amazing recap. Made me all quivery just thinking of what's ahead. Thanks so much for organizing and taking the time to bring it all together so amazingly.

DrRuth said...

That was great Kami - both the weekend, and your recap. So bummed I couldn't hang out for the whole of the first night, or at the end of the last one, but it was enough to make sure I get to all of the next one. Leina keeps talking about "that dangerous book" and I've got a number of new lenses to use to think about my time with the kids. One thing Bern said that stuck with me is if you have a vision of what the craft should look like when your kid is finished, then maybe you should make one for yourself and let them make what they want to. I've been doing a lot of that lately. Stopping looking for projects to do, and just providing materials..

DrRuth said...

oh damn. I always forget to check the "email follow ups" box. So I'm posting again, just for that box. And yay for Austin tinkering school. I know you can do it Kami. And we'll be there.