I've been on a relentless ten-week shockwave of learning in two online courses called MOOCs. My brain, heart, and life are now "new and improved!" Interacting with people from global communities in two classes doesn't sound that time consuming, but when the subject matter, students, teaching assistants, and instructors are passionate with heap-fulls of kindness--a joyful obsession is born.
A MOOC is a massive open online course, usually free (with an optional certificate for a small fee). The goal in these classes is not college credit. Instead, they allow a person to sear the words "never stop learning" into their brains.
- ModPo: University of Penn's Modern & Contemporary American Poetry
- HWWF: University of Iowa's Intl Writing Program How Writers Writer Fiction
The online world offers a place for me to interact with people and not worry about my multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or allergies. I don't waste energy wondering if pet allergens coat their clothing and would set off asthma or awful rashes--no dark clouds of concern over laundry products or other fragrances that would trigger a toxin-sensitivity reaction. Those obstacles vanish so I can soak in the richness of human interaction. Forums provide me with wings to visit many places through classmates' shared snippets of life, aspirations, and creative thoughts.
Here was what happened. After a few years of life distractions, I wanted to shake up my creative spirit. This spring I took an online leap and enrolled in U of Iowa's poetry class. At first, I kind of made fun of myself (in my head), but soon found I loved corralling words into a poetical structure. Someone in that class mentioned ModPo.
In an early ModPo video, one of the teaching assistants expressed her "resistance" to a poem at first exposure. She impressed on me the appeal of allowing that internal opposition; then to move through it to appreciation.
Meaning: Each week I looked forward to not understanding or not "liking" a poem. I knew sharing it would help me to learn not only about the words of the poem, but more importantly I would uncover a new facet of myself.
A classmate offered advice to go easy on myself and if I didn't make it from resistance to appreciation (of some poems) in this info-laden class, not to worry. My go-getter dedication and determination got the better of me. My artist switch had been flipped on--full speed ahead! I even watched the class videos at double-speed to keep myself from veering off on creative tangents. More, more, more.
Then, U of Iowa's fiction class began. The courses were perfect complements to one another from my point of view. Close reading poetry prevents a fiction writer--any human from any walk of life for that matter--from remaining on the surface! Such supportive, collaborative sharing of viewpoints had this introvert rambling away on the forums and at in-person meet-ups. I could permit myself to go ahead and enjoy words and abstractions. Depth of description and nuance joined hands. Abstractions and precise details together in layers. Poetry enriching fiction writing. Inspiration flooded my dry, cracked mind like a drought-parched farm soaked in a thunderstorm.
When I was a kid, riding my pony Taffy (bareback), we raced along within a herd, my knee pushed tight against another pony, and I fell off, caught under the forest of legs and hooves. Tumbling. These past few months felt like that because I didn't allow low-pressure goals within my days or weeks. I loved my interactions despite the frantic pace I placed on myself. That pace felt like tumbling among the ponies' legs, hooves and all. Crazy as it sounds, I felt electric, alive, more than I have in years.
I've been a closeted poetry writer all of my life. I must've learned about poetry as a grade schooler (the only explanation) since sculpting words always has been my go-to way of expressing myself. The other option was to hop on my pony and go exploring. I would discuss my thoughts with my pony until my feelings were sorted out. As an adult, creating poems kept me company while driving, at the gym, on planes, getting to auditions too early and watching fat raindrops hit my windshield.
|From documentary "Mister Rogers & Me"|
I'm a bit of a wreck after all of this interaction and learning. Being mostly alone within my home's walls contrasted my non-stop interaction online. All of this stimulation made "wow" a most-used word in both class forums.
Slow and steady wins the race!
But, easy to forget when the artist switch is flipped on.
In our tech-laden world, we are so busy and layered with interactions that don't even register as commitments. We've set up our daily routines around when to "go online" and do this or that forgetting to value or pay attention during our off-line time. Everything seems a rush to connection via a device. Our online worlds offer cool tools: to connect with people around the world, expand our interests, learn new subjects, and redefine who we are. Think of every moment bent over our phones Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, LinkedIn-ing, G+ing, etc. Yes, all of those are self-imposed commitments creating a hamster-wheel of interesting tangents. We become disconnected from who we are inside.
Gather the goodness from the worlds of real and online, then slow down to appreciate the connections. Low-pressure reflection.
ModPo encouraged local, in-person meet-ups. Our group was small but mighty in spirit and fun!
|My ModPo classmates and I hold favorite "Card Catalogue" pieces by Erica Baum.|
Never stop learning. How and why we do something defines who we are.