I had the privilege of spending several days last week at Georgia Gwinnett College with professors Nannette Napier and Evelyn Brannock, alumni of our 2011 Professors' Open Source Summer Experience (POSSE) cohort. They work you hard, these Georgia profs -- within the first 24 hours of my landing in Atlanta, I'd spoken at 3 classes, had lunch with Science and Technology faculty and a meeting with the dean, gone on a library tour, hosted a Google Summer of Code application prep session, and delivered an all-college Tech Talk on humanitarian free/libre/open source contribution as a career stepping-stone. [slides]
In addition to a stroll around the CNN Center and Centennial Park, Evelyn and Nannette introduced me to tomato aspic and fried chicken livers at The Colonnade. The former is a virgin bloody mary in gelatin format and is... edible. The latter is a very, very good idea (om nom NOM). Then there was Magic Bread, a basket of sweet, malty, butter-laden pillows of goodness. They are supposedly called "yeast rolls." I like my naming better.
On my last day there, I spoke in front of a group of K-12 (mostly middle-school) teachers in for a Saturday workshop on computing while middle school girls played with Scratch and Lego Mindstorms next door. Of all the moments I had in Georgia, this surprised me the most; the workshop was jam-packed, fast-paced, INSPIRE CHILDREN go go GO! and normally I'd jump right in and surf that wave of hyper, even ratchet the speed up a notch -- but this time, the wave rushed through me and then past me -- and I was aware of it but not swept into it; a strange experience for me. I heard how fast people were talking. How little they were breathing. These were teachers with no technical background who'd been suddenly asked to teach computing. I wondered what that pressure felt like, having to teach kids something you didn't know and had no time to learn. What could I give them, if what they really needed was more time --
And suddenly I was being introduced (fast! high-energy! She has INSPIRED CHILDREN go go GO!) and I was up front, and pulled a chair and sat and looked at them and breathed --
I remember only vaguely what I said; this talk came from a different place; a quiet place, a gently rooted one. I told them stories of the 15-year-old girl I used to be. I spoke about uncertainty and shyness, needing to watch and be safe, having my fears and hesitations accepted as a valid thing and held so I could address them in my own time. About creating space and letting go and knowing you're fine even if the world is yelling faster! you're behind! and how wrenchingly difficult it is to stand there and create a peace amidst the pressure. About the patience needed to let playfulness and ownership emerge and intertwine. About giving yourselves permission to show those around you -- especially the kids -- how a grown-up learns new things in an unfamiliar space. I sat up there, speaking slowly, looking into eyes. I had the strength of gentleness and all the time in the world, and I could share it. The room's energy relaxed and softened, and it felt -- in a very small way -- like hugging a tiny corner of the universe.
Yeah. Like I said, it was the strangest thing. I've felt this quiet power once before, during my last brief remarks on a 2010 panel at UIUC. I don't know what this space is or when I will be back, but I suspect that silence (one of my biggest fears) is guardian of its doors. I'd like to stand here more, though. It feels... right. It's very difficult, and I'm not sure if I would say I'm happy when I'm there, but I am more... me. So I will continue learning towards that.
Thanks, Georgia. Thanks, Nannette and Evelyn and GGC. Thanks, tiny corner of the universe -- you hugged me back.