Today marked the end of the first (hopefully annual) VCU ALTLab ALTfest. ALTfest was a 3 day festival (intentionally not a conference) that celebrated learning transformation, an opportunity to tinker, play, explore, and learn through festive fun.
As usual, I learned a lot but not necessarily through the content of the sessions; rather, I learned around the sessions: in the hallways, on the backchannels, and in the car shuttling people around.
But here, on my blog and in this moment, I have one burning thing to say.
There was a lovely festival-goer (he really is quite lovely) who sought me out so that we might share a moment. I knew him a little from Twitter – we share some friends and colleagues. He was seeking me out for the specific purpose of hearing my life story. I had no idea (and still don’t, for that matter) why he wanted me to tell him my life story.
Quite frankly, it was an oddly framed request, but we know that I, too, am prone and drawn to odd requests (they are the most fun) and I was curious…not only about his intentions, but also because I never know how my story is going to turn out. I haven’t figured my own story out, so it tends to sound different every time I try to tell it.
Anyhow, after telling him my story, he told me I sounded like someone actively seeking to know who I am. It wasn’t an insult. It might even have been a compliment. And I certainly couldn’t deny the conclusion as being reasonable, legitimate, and maybe even accurate.
But it still made me feel deficient somehow, that after 39 years, two children, multiple decades of schooling, a handful of business ventures, and occasional forays into landlording, I still appeared to a stranger to be “not there yet.”
But after dwelling in my own damnation for a time, it hit me that his conclusion wasn’t accurate. I am not and never have been a woman without goals, nor am I a woman who does not know who she is. I even have occasional glimpses of what I can do.
Years ago I found myself in a position of “knowing who I was,” and it was horrible. I kept asking myself, “Is this it?” Seriously. I was 33 years old and ridiculously (professionally) successful. I even had a fan club and even now, I’m told my fan club still exists all these years later. I had reached the endpoint, the goal, the “X” over the treasure. It was done. And it was so final, so boring, so “is this it?” that I felt like I might as well die.
And so, I turned away from the endpoint and started out again. It wasn’t over again, because there was no need to repeat any step, but out again, across Bayne’s desert, into Deleuze’s smooth space.
I am not seeking who I am. It is more accurate to say that I am a becomer. I am learning to dwell in an uncertainty. And let me tell you, this is hard work. It does, however, allow me to learn differently, connect things differently, interact with people differently, engage in interesting adventures…differently.
I’m a lot of difficult and challenging things, but I am also different and becoming more differentiated everyday. Unfortunately, we in academia (and in other high-end professions, for that matter) are so used to asking people about their goals, their endpoints, their aspirations…and expecting to get well-thought out, solid, “together” answers…that sometimes we discount the very thing that we tell students we want them to be – if you are looking for divergence and learning and hopefulness and joy and faith and “not-yetness” and “becoming,” here I am. This is what it looks like. This is what I look like.
It’s about being a becomer and not necessarily a seeker.
Just a quick thought on ALTFest.