Exploring a World of Magic

As I work to finish up my last assignments of the Spring 2022 semester, I have finally arrived at the final stop on this journey of exploration that I’ve taken with this eighth entry.

For several of the explorations I’ve done on this journey, I’ve tried to purposefully push myself outside of my comfort zone by exploring areas that I don’t know very well. This final week, I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone by doing something that is actually well within my comfort zone but that I don’t frequently share publicly: creative writing.

Lesson #1: Even that which is comfortable can help break your own barriers.

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Exploring the Past (without time travel)

I’m finding it hard to believe that I’ve already arrived my seventh exploration in this thought experiment I’ve undertaken. It has really been an enjoyable experience and I’ve learned a lot along the way about being an explorer of the world, learning how to look at everything around me through a qualitative inquiry lens, simply experiencing the things that I normally would barely notice.

There are a total of 59 explorations in How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith, and by now I’ve read through them all several times. When I started this journey, I intended to complete only 8 of the 59, and with only two explorations left to go, I’m finding it more difficult to choose. While this is still my intention, I think I may return to this thought experiment later on. Perhaps I could repeat some that I’ve already completed and see what different lessons I can learn, or I could simply return to the explorations that I’ve marked with my blue post-it notes but haven’t completed.

Regardless of where my future exploring takes me, this week’s exploration is taking me into the past, albeit without a time machine (the TARDIS was otherwise occupied this week).

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The Sounds of Exploration

One of my favorite things to do is to hang out in the backyard with the dogs. They love it because there are so many things to smell and chase, and I love it for the tranquility. We live in a suburban area in a neighborhood that’s been around long enough for the trees to be massive and the houses to look a little dated. There are several large trees (as described in one of my earlier explorations) that make homes to several types of birds and dozens of squirrels.

For my next exploration, I wanted to get back out into the backyard, into nature, and see what I could discover about my own home. After flipping through the pages of How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith while sitting at the patio table, I settled on a type of exploration I haven’t tackled yet: sound.

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Exploring Beyond My Comfort Zone

When I was growing up back in small-town Ohio, I lived next to a pair of sisters who were some of my closest friends for years. Both sisters were (and still are) incredibly artistically talented. They had sketchbooks and always created the most amazing drawings. One even did the artwork for my first tattoo. I had (and still have) zero artistic ability or talent. I used to doodle little 2-dimensional TARDISes in the margins of my math assignments, and that was as far as my ability to draw ever took me. While my friends drew in their sketchpads, I was writing stories in my notebooks.

Several of my explorations so far have stuck very closely to my strengths with writing and reading and books. This week, I’ve chosen to push myself outside of my comfort zone, away from creativity with words and into creativity in drawing.

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Exploring the Farmers Market

Friday afternoon, I stood out in the backyard with the dogs as the wind whipped my hair around my face and threatened to topple the bench swing. I thought for sure the weather was going to thwart my plans of exploration yet again.

Thankfully, I was wrong. The Baytown Farmers Market was not cancelled or shut down early due to wind, rain, sleet, or any other strange weather Texas can throw our way. And so I was finally able to circle back to Exploration #12: 50 Things from How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to this particular exploration. It could simply be that when I tried to do it before, I wasn’t able. I’ll admit that I’m a pretty stubborn person, so the simple fact that I couldn’t do it when I wanted made me want to do it even more. I also can’t say exactly why I was so determined to complete this exploration at the Baytown Farmers Market, especially considering the directions say to “Write down (or document) fifty things about one of the following: a trip to the library, a trip to the grocery store, a walk in your neighborhood.” I could easily have completed any of those three, but I thought a once-monthly pop-up farmers market would yield more interesting and diverse results.

Lesson #1: Location matters.

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Exploring Pointillism in my Backyard

I’ve always enjoyed impressionist art. I’m not overly knowledgeable when it comes to art, in fact, I had to use Google to confirm that this style of painting that I enjoy is actually called impressionism. I love trips to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH), and I’ve collected a few original pieces that hang in my living room and office, purchased from an art gallery on a cruise I took right after I finished my undergrad degree. I couldn’t tell you much about many specific artists or styles. Art has always been one of those things that I get to enjoy without knowing everything about it. I enjoy it for what it is, without the burden of history or details.

One branch of impressionism that I particularly enjoy is apparently called pointillism (and yes, Google informed me of this, too). I discovered it on an MFAH trip a couple years ago. I think we were actually there to see a Van Gogh exhibit (Van Gogh is my favorite artist – unoriginal, I know, but what can I say?). That day, however, I found myself captivated by the way artists can create such beautiful art out of thousands of dots of paint.

You’re probably wondering why I’m ruminating on art on a blog about educational technology and instructional design. It does seem a little off-topic.

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Exploring the World in Words

Who are you?

No, really, take a moment right now, before you continue on with reading this post, to think about this question. Who are you?

I think about this question a lot. I’ve reflected on my multiple and ever-changing roles on this blog before (here, here, and here recently).

I’ve been thinking a lot about autoethnography, which feels like a logical progression of my identity as a researcher. I’ve always been reflective, and the main theme of this blog has been reflecting and learning from my own experiences. My goal in these posts has always been equal parts learning for myself and sharing what I’ve experienced so that anyone who happens to read this blog might learn from my experiences too. Marshall et al. (2022) define autoethnography as “a reflexive approach to understanding the human condition through critical and engaged analysis of one’s own experiences” (p. 30). I believe that, in an informal way, this is what I’m trying to do with this blog.

In a recent discussion board in my qualitative inquiry class, the idea of autoethnography being vain or self-indulgent was raised. Perhaps it is self-indulgent to study oneself, but if we don’t, who will? I’ve learned so many lessons through studying myself in the writing of each post on this website. The best example to come to mind was in my recent post about having COVID over Christmas. In that post, I wrote:

Wow. I won’t lie, I started this with the intention of pointing out how unproductive I was over break, and how coming down with COVID derailed my whole two weeks of getting ahead, but honestly… seeing it written out like that, maybe it was good that my plans got derailed. 

An Unexpected COVID Christmas

Through the action of self-reflection and of writing about myself, I learned a lesson that I needed in that moment. Maybe it’s vain of me to think that my experiences or my blog can impact others, but I hope that maybe someone else who read that post was able to also learn something about themselves and about the benefits of taking breaks, whether they’re planned or unexpected.

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Learning to be an Explorer of the World

How do you view your position in the world? Are you an active participant? A passive observer? Somewhere in between?

I’m not really sure where I fall. I do have a habit of jumping feet-first into new experiences, but I’ve also spent plenty of time simply observing the world around me. Most of the time, I’d prefer to get lost in a really good book and explore that world instead.

This semester, I’m learning to be a better academic researcher. Well, actually, I’m learning to be a better qualitative researcher. But really, I’m learning to be an explorer of the world.

Throughout the next couple months, I’m going to be digging into How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith to “document and observe the world” around me. To anyone reading this post, I hope you’ll consider joining me as I learn to become an Explorer of the World.

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#AECT21 – A Return to Conventions!

When I was a kid, I loved going to VFW Conventions with my mom. As an undergrad, I attended my first professional conference when I presented at NCTE 2013 in Boston. As a young professional, I jumped at any opportunity to attend an NCTE or ISTE conference, though I found it to be a struggle to find funding and time off for professional conferences. Like many others, I haven’t attended a conference in person since before the pandemic, when I flew to Vegas in 2019 to accept an award for a journal article that I co-authored. Even then, as it was during the school year, I was only able to get a substitute for three days of that convention.

Last week brought me back to the world of conferences in a big way, and after getting full-time immersive experience, I am contentedly exhausted from a week of attending AECT 2021 and exploring the city of Chicago.

I have a terrible track record of writing these reflections after attending an important event (Exhibit A: the April 2021 TxDLA reflection that is still sitting half-finished in my drafts folder), so this time I’m taking advantage of some airport WiFi to reflect on my experiences while they’re still fresh. Or at least get started in my reflection before I board my flight home.

Side note: As I’m becoming more of an academic and a researcher and learning about various research methods, I’m wondering if these blog reflections constitute a form of auto-ethnography.

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Once a teacher, always a teacher

This morning, I took the dogs outside and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it is September. In fact, it’s almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!

This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I honestly frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an Instructional Designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year so far, maybe even of my life so far.

Now that I’ve made it to the other side of that stressful semester, it’s time to take a step back and do some reflecting. As I do at the end of every semester, I like to think about what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I need to keep doing, but this time I’m finding myself in the middle of an identity crisis.

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