How to be helpful? Ruminations on Promotion to Full Professor

In a zoom chat with my Wyrd sisters, collaborators, co-conspirators, mentors, friends, Shannon Murray and Jessica Riddell, the question arose: How can we be helpful?

Like all really powerful questions, this one seems quite simple at first and becomes increasingly thorny the more you think about it.

On July 1, 2020, I will be promoted to Full Professor.

Until last year, I had resigned myself to the fact that this would never happen for me, not because I am not a strong contributor to my institution and my discipline, but because my chosen path through my career has been one that focuses on teaching.

I love teaching. I do good research, but writing academicspeak sucks the life out of me. I cannot tell you how many jokes editors have asked me to remove from my published articles. It makes me sadder and sadder every time it happens. Teaching, on the other hand, fills me with joy. It is, in Frederick Buechner’s words, “the place where [my] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (qtd. in Palmer, Courage, 31).

In choosing teaching as my vocation, in choosing to follow my “deep gladness,” I resigned myself to career path stagnation. My soul would grow; my retirement savings, not so much. I had reached the ceiling of my rank. I wasn’t going any higher. And I was really, really okay with that. In the calculus of soul versus rank, soul won.

I had chosen my way to helpful.

And there were costs. My educational leadership activities have put me in a strong headwind for most of my career. I have left a lot of rooms in tears after being told that my carefully crafted tools for reflection and pedagogical planning were a waste of everyone’s time. I have literally stood two feet away from someone who, in a speech at a colleague’s retirement party, made cutting jokes about the futility and ridiculousness of my efforts. I have been angry and I have despaired. I have been polite in the face of obstinance and rudeness and I’ve ranted in my car.

But I’ve also found a beautiful community of fellow-travelers. I have seen the needle shift in almost imperceptible increments toward greater appreciation of pedagogy in our institution. People in high places are paying attention (even more so now in the middle of pandemic that has made pedagogy a hot topic), allocating some resources, rethinking the language of job ads and committee membership. And I’ve found a brilliant community in the 3M National Teaching Fellowship. Most of all, because of the examples of courage around me, I’ve brought my convictions explicitly into the classroom and found a community of students eager to come with me as we work together to reshape what learning can look like in our environment. These communities have given me examples to follow, support, encouragement, critical engagement,  stress-testing, and jet fuel to launch me from thinking to doing.

My soul was calloused from a lot of dragging over rough ground, but it was more robust and healthy than I could have hoped when I began down this path. And I had no expectation, in the publish-or-perish metric of academic productivity, that this work would win me a promotion.

Enter Shannon and Jessica who practically frog-marched me into the promotion process, berated me and wore me down with their cheerful, relentless harping on their faith in me and my work. What’s more, they showed me that I could do more as a Full Professor to advance the story of a vocation in teaching. I could claim a bit more room for my voice, but most importantly, I could climb over a big rock and use my position to help those who were climbing after me. If I could make a case for my worth on the basis of my teaching, then others could make that case, too. If I could scramble up that crooked path cut by brave souls who went before me, I could cut that path deeper, lay out some trail markers. If I could write a 300-page promotion dossier that asserted that pedagogy is indeed a discipline, I could help to shift the discourse in the rooms where decisions about promotion and allocation of resources are made. I couldn’t change the world alone, but capacity-building has got to start somewhere.

If I could put myself in a position to help, then I needed to try.

And I did. And in a few days I will be a Full Professor.

Which brings me back to that question: How can I be helpful?

I am what my aunt used to call “a baby on a stick.” I’m the non-threatening thing one advances into hostile territory to put people at ease. I’m the friendly one. I smile a lot. I really love the sparky brains of the people around me and I like to gather them into teams. My meetings generally end on time. I make flow-charts and graphs that settle the mind. I have worked to hone my own cheerful relentlessness, and my many times round the cycle of proposal-rejection-reconsideration-acceptance have taught me the strategic value of “waiting for the wheel.” I write kick-ass reports that sometimes people read. I give workshops and do mentoring. Occasionally people ask me for advice.

So, I’m going to keep on keeping on.


I’m currently wrestling with the question of how to be now that I’m technically a senior academic.

I find that, here, now, in a crisis that is wailing for the courage of citizens, that is revealing the best and worst of us, I am very, very tired of being afraid. And that realization is doing a number on my brain, my body and my soul. And I am wondering how I can best be helpful. I find myself cycling rapidly through multiple modalities: I am by nature conciliatory and feel happiest in collegial, supportive, empathetic spaces; I am finding myself feeling bellicose; I want to be a generous and welcoming host in difficult conversations; I am finding myself impatient with resistance to having those conversations. I feel a little bit like I’m in full armor waiting for a bus that won’t come.

(I think of Hamlet, who is so mad that nobody will “pluck off [his] beard and blow it in [his] face.”)

I feel a tremendous need to be a pain in the ass, to speak a truth, to defend a traditionally unheeded call for an ethic of care. At the same time I worry about alienating the very people I want to reach. I know that, as a woman, I have a very well-conditioned fear of my own anger, my own passion. I have learned very well that it is in my best interests to be the cheerful non-threatening one, which sometimes means ceding the field and crying in my car.

Now I’m wondering if I need to start crying in public. I’m wondering what the best act of empathy is. I wondering if I need to rethink hospitality and empathy in a way that makes space for my own convictions and my own anger at the persistence of institutional practices and ideas that dehumanize us. I wonder if it can be empathetic to jab someone with a hard question, to tent them to the quick, knock them sideways a little bit. I’m wondering how I can practice an ethic of care that does not mean retreating to my safe space of niceness.

I’m wondering how to be helpful. I’m wondering how best to push forward the ethic of care, to shout it so it can be heard through the clamouring for “tips, tricks and tools.” Am I the trickling water or the tidal wave? Both? Neither?

I’m wondering how to be me, now, in this time, in my new place as Full Professor, as critic, as pain in the ass, as someone who thinks hope is a value worth fighting for in the midst of a crisis that is tearing us down and building us up in ways that are new and wonderful and terrible (in the ancient sense of the word).

I know what my “deep gladness” is. I don’t know yet how to feed “the world’s deep hunger.”


An open letter to my students

Dear Students,

Here we are, the last “class” day of the semester. You’ve had the weirdest year. One semester of disruption was bad enough; two in a row is a little over-the-top. Someone should have a word with the writers.

You’ve all been remarkable and I’m so happy to have had the chance to meet you and to work and learn with you. My time in the classroom with you has always been the best part of my week and, to be honest, I’m feeling that loss acutely. I know that the circumstances are difficult for you all in complex ways. We are all learning a lot about being a person in these times. I hope that you’re finding ways to stay in touch with the things that make you feel like people. I hope that, if you are struggling, you are able to connect with the helpers. Remember that UNBC has lots of helpers – the Wellness Centre, Counselling, the First Nations Centre, Student Life, your profs. We all want to make sure you’re doing okay. So, as Mr. Rogers says, look for the helpers.

Thank you so much for bringing to our classrooms your brains and your hearts, your willingness to share and to try, your curiosity and your hopefulness. Every day you teach me how to be a person, how to share and try and to be curious and hopeful. We don’t know what this world is going to look like when we can all meet again, but I know that you will bring all of those qualities with you and it will be a better place because of your presence in it.

Also, remember this: You don’t have to be amazing every day. Sometimes you can take off your cape and watch movies in your PJs.

Get your sleeps. Eat your foods. Be well.


Dr. Dickson

“Get it together, Mr. Spock” and Other (Un)Helpful Pep Talks

I’m writing this because of a conversation that I had Tuesday at Strike HQ with one of my colleagues. What he said was frank and powerful. He spoke of what it means to him, a relatively new member of our faculty, to take up the mantle of legacy and commitment that we represent here at UNBC and on the picket lines. I’ll leave it to him to share those insights if he chooses to. I want to talk about another aspect of this moment.

I left that conversation feeling better than when we sat down together. This moment over a bagged lunch and snacks helped me to at least envision a path to the threshold that Parker Palmer talks about in his convocation address[1] to the broken-hearted; I began to see a way to move from being “broken apart” to “broken open.”

But the day didn’t start there. It started with me crying in a bathroom stall at the Bon Voyage banquet hall.

Full disclosure. I do not like feelings. I don’t like how they ambush me and, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, come like a wind out of nowhere to “knock you sideways.” So, crying in a bathroom when I’m supposed to be working as a morale-booster had a whole meta level of irony and distress attached to it.

After a long time (which was probably 35 seconds), I said, “Get it together, Mr. Spock,” tugged my science officer blue tunic into place (figuratively speaking), and went back out to finish making my inspirational poster.

The occasion of this unwelcome ambush was a tweet I was writing that noted that Tuesday is the day I give entirely to one-on-one student meetings. Instead of doing that, I was on strike. I made it half-way through this tweet before the wind knocked me down. It felt a great deal like grief, which Diane Ackerman describes beautifully in A Natural History of the Senses as the experience of walking bent over in a headwind. It was as though this wind had sheered my life into two universes: this one at strike HQ, and the one I should be in, where I was akimbo in my office chair scribbling madly in my notebook while my students pulled the endless colourful scarves of questions and ideas out of their sleeves. In my course on tragic drama, this haunting of the actual by the “should be” would be called the tragedy of lost potential.

In September 2018, I was chased into the semester by the black dogs of wildfire smoke, an anxiety and exhaustion that I know many shared (to this day, the smell of woodsmoke makes me nauseated). I was on a very steep downward slope. But every day I got to be in the classroom with my students, to witness their endless capacity for discovery, their willingness to be transformed. Their daily courage made me brave. Their energy and the friction of their grappling with complexity and difficult knowledge kept me from sliding to the bottom of that slope. I hope that, in return, I helped them to put tools in their toolbox that they can use in their own encounters with uncertainty, such as the ones they are dealing with today.

But I am not in the classroom now. We are not together in those rooms that aren’t just spaces but places we make together. I miss my students. I miss what we should be making together. We are all in some ways walking bent over into a headwind.

It seems a bit counterintuitive, I know, for one of the designated morale-boosters to launch into a story about being knocked sideways and broken apart. But today my colleague taught me a lesson that my Spock-based philosophy sorely needed. Instead of answering my “how’re you doing?” with “fine, thanks,” he gave me the gift of a frank account of his own state of mind, and in doing so helped me to begin to reframe this “something unsettled here about my heart” that I’d been working to repress all day.

In Hamlet, the gloomy prince declares that he will get to the heart of the broken state by tenting it to the quick. This is a reference to an early modern medical technique in which the physician would probe the infected flesh with a pointy stick in order to find the “quick,” or the healthy, living flesh. You’d know when you found the living flesh because tenting it would hurt. Only things that are alive and worth saving hurt when you poke them.

This conversation with my colleague was a salutary tenting to the quick. I found myself musing that our situation hurts because it is alive. It makes us—or maybe just me—cry because it is worth saving. The strike is difficult and it hurts and it shows us where we live, what we believe in, what we will fight for. Taken from our offices and classrooms and meeting spaces, put out on the margins, the throughways, the sidewalks, the temporary headquarters and makeshift kitchens, under the sky and the rain and in the headwind, for all of our chants and songs, we are strangely without distracting noise. What is left is solidarity, commitment, talk and walking-the-talk, and the refusal to give up on what is “quick.” And we are out here not because it’s painless but because it’s the opposite.

I realized as our conversation progressed and then moved on to other things that my moment in the bathroom stall was not after all a failure, a shameful break, but a doorway, a threshold between being broken apart and broken open. I just hadn’t realized it until someone else was brave enough to walk through it, to choose not to tug his science officer blue tunic into place and reply “fine, thanks” when I asked him how he was doing.

“Get it together, Mr. Spock,” is good advice. After all, we have a lot to do. But it’s worth it, perhaps, to acknowledge the wind that knocks us sideways so that we can harness it, too, for our sails.

But, for the record, feelings are terrible and I do not like them.

Lisa Dickson


[1] “Living from the Inside Out.” Convocation Address to Naropa University, May 10, 2015,



A Local Habitation and a Name: Embodying Hope in the Classroom–or trying to

As one of my students remarked insightfully in class the other day, things that seem to be great in the abstract are often way messier and difficult in actuality. This is a commonplace observation, in the sense that the experience itself is common. I, at least, find my gleeful careening after theory daily rebutted by this crabby, stolid stone wall of practice. No matter how many times I chase the bright balloon of theory over that wall into the happy plains of success, the crabby wall glowers on the horizon (which, like objects in the rear-view mirror, is always closer than I thought), and, resigned, I have to clamber over it again. I’m perpetually sweaty and my shins are scraped. My balloon bobs along on its string. I’m not sure that a balloon can snicker, but it if could, it would. Thinking theory is easy; living theory is hard.

Augustine has a nice phrase for the idea of living theory: facere veritatem. A little difficult to translate, the phrase suggests that truth is a verb. It’s not something that you have but rather something that you do. It’s tidy enough to make into a tattoo, and I would do it, if I could ever figure out where I want it. And I feel like I need it someplace where I will see it 100 times a day, to remind me to crawl over that wall again, that my truth is only in the making of it. Hamlet might suggest that thinking can make a kingdom of a nutshell, but he also admits that “enterprises of great pith and moment” can become “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

My doctoral supervisor, who quoted Hamlet’s self-recriminating line to me often as a critique of my dissertation, called my tendency to dwell in theory and avoid the work of practice, “All hat and no cattle.” This is another phrase I should have tattooed somewhere.

Currently, I’m writing a book with two dear colleagues, Dr. Shannon Murray (UPEI) and Dr. Jessica Riddell (Bishop’s), about CRITICAL HOPE and Shakespeare, in which we tackle this question about how we can embody hope and empathy in our teaching, in the immediate, living spaces of a classroom. Shakespeare, who is rightly venerated for his ability to give to the intangible je ne sais quoi of human being “a local habitation and a name,” has a great deal to teach us about how to live an idea, crawling as we do between “heaven and earth.” Clothing ideas in bodies was, after all, his stock-in-trade. But even he, who shoved Hamlet out on stage full of doubts about the relationship between thought and action, acknowledges that this is not an easy trick, even for a master like him. The rest of us mortals have a lot of sweating and climbing to do.

This semester I’m launching into another attempt at an experiment in hopeful pedagogy and trying to work out how my commitment to the idea of critical hope will actually work in practice. What does critical hope wear when it shows up in class? What space does it occupy?

In this particular iteration of my experiment, I’m asking the students to design the course, in terms of our daily practice, our assessment model and our assignments. I’ve given them some examples of how other classes have done it. I’ve told them about what previous students who came along on this little adventure over the wall had to say about what worked and what didn’t. They’re nervous. I’m nervous.

But we are standing on the shoulders of previous students who have done good work and provided thoughtful feedback. And we’re taking with us over the wall some basic principles that will guide our course design. These starting principles articulate, from my perspective, some defining conditions of the hopeful classroom:

First, FUTURITY. In order to have hope, the philosopher-teacher Paulo Freire says, we require “thinking which perceives reality as a process, as transformation rather than as a static entity” (Freire 92). It is crucial that we—learners and educators—recognize that the way things are is not the only way things can be and that the way things have been done is not the only way that they can be done. We must see the world as OPEN TO TRANSFORMATION.

Second, AGENCY. If we are are to see transformation as both desirable and survivable, we must reconceive learners as ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS in their own education. They cannot, as Ira Shor says, “sit waiting for the professor to do education to them.” Education is something we DO together. It is not something that is DONE TO US. Change is not positive if it is seen to emanate from a faceless or arbitrary or capricious power. Students must be partners in a system in which the processes of change are transparent, and that respects their perspectives and their courage.

Third, REFLECTION. In order for students to see reality as open to transformation, and to understand that they are capable of intervening in that reality in order to make positive transformational change, we must bake into the system itself opportunities for students to reflect on the conditions of their learning, analyse their performance, revise their positions and perspectives and try again. They must have the opportunity to see their learning as a PROCESS, rather than as a fixed or singular terminal performance.

What will these principles look like in action? How will we clothe them and give them “local habitation and a name?” I think, ideally, the answers to those questions will be unique to this particular classroom, these particular learners. In next year’s classroom, we’ll go over the wall again onto a different plain, chasing our balloon.


The culture and design site, Nowness, has made a series called “Letters Live” in which actors read aloud actual letters from people–WWII airmen, poets and painters, people traveling or lost or on their way home. As someone who has in the last few years embraced, but not mastered, the art of letter-writing, I find this series compelling, often moving, generally thought-provoking.

Here is one that began to autoplay while I was making breakfast. At first I listened idly, and then found myself standing at the counter, listening intently, the cereal box suspended over my overfull bowl. At the end of it, the letter, not the box of cereal, I played it again, and have listened to it several times since.

Fair warning: this is Not Safe For Work, unless you work somewhere with a healthy respect for the power of a few well-placed expletives to jolt one out of one’s complacency.


The 3M National Student Fellowships are a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate  student leaders and engaged learners to meet and work together to celebrate and improve higher education in Canada. There is a cash award and an expenses-paid trip to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) Conference where the 2019 cohort will deliver the closing plenary. The real value, though, is in the cohort retreat at the conference, and the project, a year-long opportunity to work together with mentors to create something to improve the lives of students across the country. Only 10 Fellows are chosen each year; last year 2 of the 10 were from UNBC! We have a strong tradition of engaged student leadership here. Help us to celebrate it by nominating someone!

I’ll be delivering an information session for potential nominators and nominees on November 5. It may be available via Livestream or other electronic magic (please stand by for more info on that front).



Information Session

Monday, November 5th, 2018

If you are interested in nominating or being nominated for the 3M National Student Fellowship award, CTLT will be offering an information session regarding the process and the timelines on Monday November 5th at 2:00 pm in Room 10-3054 (CTLT Boardroom).

If you have any questions, please contact Anne Sommerfeld at

Here is the PPT presentation that I will be delivering. Do come along and let me enthuse to you about this wonderful Fellowship (Saurons not invited).

3M National Student Fellowships Info 2018

Struggle: A Feature, not a Bug

A few years ago the CTLT did a retrospective that included little video interviews with various instructors on campus. While I was looking for something I’m actually glad I didn’t find, I found this. As horrifying as it is to see myself on camera, I like the way this little vignette captures one of my core educational values: the importance of struggle:

A CTLT Video Interview: Struggle

Dance, Grace, Learning and Other Verbs, Or, What I Learned from Having a Really Bad Night

This week is the Prince George Dance Festival where dancers from all over Northern British Columbia come together to perform and be adjudicated. I belong to a team of adult dancers. We are usually the only ones competing in our categories, but we work for months to prepare for our adjudication. We hang out in the change room marked “dancers” and we are, indeed, dancers. Our ages range from mid-twenties to 73.

I am a passable dancer. I’m not a great dancer, but I am a reliable one. I usually get to where I need to be so that I don’t mess things up for people trying to dance around me, and, after two or three hundred rehearsals I can usually avoid stepping on people while they’re trying to get to where they need to go.

Last night, I was a terrible dancer, but not because I totally blew it on stage (I did totally blow it on stage). I was a terrible dancer because I was not a gracious one.

Let’s not dwell on the details. Let’s just say that I got snarled up in the first formation and never got my groove back, which led to a cascading Jenga-crash of errors and missteps on my part that culminated in me getting the wrong foot forward on the exit, causing the dancer in front of me to step on said foot which resulted in my near-pratt-fall only rescued by windmilling arms and a truly graceless scramble.

But it’s the aftermath of that disastrous three minutes that plays in my mind like a needle skipping on a record*.

In the excited scrum after we got off stage—and there is always an excited scrum because we’re adult dancers** and every performance feels like a miracle***—where high-fives were being traded, I refused. I left the high-fives hanging because I felt that I didn’t deserve them. We were being adjudicated and I’d let my team down, really hard. Instead of high-fiving, I told them why I didn’t deserve it, in great detail exaggerated by my sense of humiliation and guilt, and I packed up before the team photo and left.

Now, as I was making the long drive home, listening to CBC radio which was doing a feature on child prodigies—not exactly the best subject matter for a 50-year-old amateur dancer who has just humiliated herself on stage, I can tell you—I played the horrible three minutes of disaster over and over, picking apart every endless nanosecond of delayed movement, misplaced pose and wrong-footed flailing. Round and round it went in my head, while some 10-year-old pianist played Bach on the radio (actually, it was on a harpsichord. Grammar joke badum dum shing)  and the announcer explained how the 10-year-old is also a neurosurgeon and a deep-sea explorer, whereas I am a middle-aged, underperforming loser who can’t do a three-step turn without breaking her own ankles.

Then, as Bach finished peppering my brain with his incessant rattling of “all the notes that will fit and then 50 more,” and something choral and haunting came on (performed by toddlers who are also astronauts and internationally recognized masters of origami), I started to get a grip. I started to disassociate from my humiliation and, as is usually the case with my brain, a layer of attention peeled off and rose up above the noise and, from up there a voice (It’s not my voice. It’s sort of like if Morgan Freeman were a woman) asked me:

What would you tell your students to do with this?

I would tell them to reflect. What went wrong? What could you fix next time? What did you learn from this experience that you can use to make you better at being a dancer and, more importantly, at being a human being?

That hanging high-five, man. That damn hanging high-five. Thanks, Female Morgan Freeman, for ruining a perfectly good wallow with that image of the hanging high-five.

So, the toddler astronaut choral origamists finished their piece and the announcer began a rant (it’s late-night CBC, so the “rant” was a gentle and mellifluous rumination) about how only an adult tenor can sing an adult aria, and I began to run myself through the reflection numbers.

What went wrong?

I made a bad choice in the moment that caused me to be late for a formation. Then I let that rattle me instead of being in the moment of each step and doing what I was there to do, which was to connect with the audience and with my fellow dancers. Instead, I felt the bubble of self-consciousness close around me and I lost all of those connections. I didn’t trust the connection.

In that bubble of self-consciousness that I carried into the post-performance scrum, I was unable to see the team as a team. I was unable to recognize that it’s not about me. It’s about the team. Yes, I screwed up, but the team did really well (We scored a first, and got some really nice, encouraging feedback from the very tough adjudicator). I focused on the fact that I thought I didn’t deserve a high-five. I forgot that the person offering it did. It wasn’t about her congratulating me; it was about me sharing in our collective accomplishment.

What could I fix next time?

Trust the process. We have rehearsed that formation 1000 times. I know it works. I should have trusted it to work instead of second-guessing.

I can also trust my connection to fellow dancers and the community we’ve built together. The point of being a team is that we are there to support each other. We are not all going to be “on” all the time. I would never berate or criticize a team member for missing a step. I would tell them that mistakes are part of the game and that just getting our middle-aged asses up on that stage is an act of courage. I would remind them of all the stuff that went right. I would not treat them the way I treated myself. I would celebrate what we did as a team.

This is what I will fix next time. No matter how horrible I feel, I will remember (even if I have to do it by mechanical habit until I get better at reframing my self-consciousness) to feel joy for the team, to express the joy that I feel in being part of a team. I can be gracious because graciousness is the right thing to do, and hopefully, I will get better at living in that space, with my own fears and anxieties framed and made manageable by the grace of the team.

What did I learn from this experience that will make me better at dancing and better at being a human being?

I am reminded that learning is a verb, that it is a process and that I do trust that process, even if I don’t always feel it in the moment. I was reminded that what happens in a moment, even when I’m being “graded,” is not a definition of who I am but a signpost of where I am at one point on an endless arc of development.

 I learned that when I say these exact words to my students and I mean them, honestly and deep down into my pedagogical soul, I can communicate that belief much more authentically if I accept that advice myself, if I stop just saying it at them and live it with them.

I learned to be a student. That means a lot of things.

I learned that all of the moments count, not just the ones with the mistakes in them. I know this in my head, but I sometimes forget it in my living, breathing self. Dancing, like learning, is about the flow from stillness to movement and back again, from rise to fall, from place to place, through space. It is not about a single moment. This is why it’s hard to photograph dancing. If it is indeed about motion, I cannot fixate on a single moment abstracted from the whole, any more than I would advise a student to fixate on one assignment, one exam, one comment in the flow of their education. If this is true and if I can make myself breathe into that motion, then the moments when I wasn’t tripping or turning the wrong way also count, they also matter. I can spend some time letting my mind spill through those stretches when I felt the energy of the audience urging us on, when I saw my fellow dancer break out into a big smile and I couldn’t help but smile too because a smile doesn’t stop at the limits of the face making it. That energy is a part of the flowing toward something new that carries us all onward. I can accept that or reject it. I choose to accept it.

I learned (again… and again… and again, because being is a river not a freeze-frame) that I am a happier, better person when I am part of a team, and when I can recognize that it is not always my job to be helping others get over the barriers of their own self-consciousness, but that sometimes it’s my job to accept support and to trust that the team will carry me along until I can carry myself.  That’s a hard one. That’s the one that calls for a rethinking of who I think I am and what I think I’m here for.

I learned (again… and again… and again, because truth is a verb) that reflection is a powerful tool to help us to understand our feelings in the moment, to reframe them and make them something that we can use instead of something that knocks us out of our groove.

I learned (again… and again… and again, because I keep returning to the space of challenge to find it transformed) that graciousness isn’t just a social nicety, but is a strong current of care for the whole that will carry us all along and buoy us all up when we get tired and forget we are all sea creatures together.

I learned that I love to dance, and I love my team, and I love teaching and I love being a learner. I love to be a joyful mess, and I remember that joy is not the stillness of happiness or satisfaction but a verb, a leaping, and falling, a recovering, moving through space with all the people.


*Record: a vinyl disc used to record music and played by placing a needle into the grooves etched on its surface. If acquired from obscure places, a means of solidifying one’s hipster cred.

**Adult dancers: a mix of the following: former studio brats aged out of company classes or diverted by Life away from dance; grown-up people who always wanted to dance as kids but never did because of Life or finances or lack of opportunity and now are dancing because they are grown-up and can decide for themselves where to put their cash and time; grown-up people looking for a social way to get fit; terrified grown-up people who for some reason subject themselves to flailing and confusion because they are adrenaline junkies; joyful messes.

***Miracle: not because we are underdogs or because we don’t think that we can do it, so it’s a huge surprise when we do and we must therefore give the credit to some disembodied and mysteriously motivated entity. No, it’s a miracle in the sense of wonder, a thing that happens not because of anything any one of us did but because something grew up between us and changed us. Like if an angel just sort of turned out to be there all along and it has our face, each one of us.



This is my favourite not-a-real-holiday-but-should-be of the year. More Joy Day is the brainchild of a Good Person called SDW whom I met on the internet. One day, SDW decided that it was possible to move the world incrementally toward a happier place, once small act of kindness at a time. Here’s how she described it:

Awhile back, I was reading the American Idol recaps over on and I came to this paragraph, written by the recapper Jacob:

Some dick cuts you off on the highway, and you give yourself the pass to be a dick to the next five customers, and your bad mood fades by lunchtime, and you forget the dick on the highway, you forget the color of his car, you forget how he was on the phone with his ex-wife, yelling about custody of their kids, and how he never meant to cut you off in the first place, he was just distracted. Your day continues as planned, and at lunch you check your websites and read a funny recap, and you maybe laugh out loud, and you go home and watch TV. But those five guys give themselves the pass to be dicks to the next five — they’re having a bad day, so it’s okay just this once, and they’re happy again by lunch — and those twenty-five become six hundred twenty-five, and those six twenty-five become a million, and you’ve added to the sum total of anger in the world. But it works with love, too, and kindness. … Your donation is something tangible, but what it means is something altogether more powerful, and it’s that you continue to stand, and you continue to remember that you’re not alone, and with reverence for this fact, you can’t help but add to joy. Which is your entire job, from the day you’re born until the day you die: more joy.

And I could not get over the sentiment of that last line, because it’s something I’ve believed for a very long time. 2007 was tough for many people on my flist, which was so difficult to see. A lot of bad things happened to a lot of people, and I thought starting 2008 with a day dedicated to More Joy would be a good way to get a jumpstart on a better year.

So here’s my idea:

In the interest of spreading more joy, I’m proposing that a week from today, Thursday, January 10th, we each engage in one act, either here on or outside of LJ, which brings joy to another person, in the hopes that that person will spread that joy further, and exponentially onward.

Some ideas I had of things we could do:

…. Offer to donate five dollars to the charity of someone’s choice. Send flowers to an online friend in a different city. Buy someone you know online a present. Or a virtual present. Plant a tree or a flower in someone’s honor and take a picture of it and post it to your LJ. When somebody cuts you off at work, wish them well and hope they get where they’re going safely. Make somebody a friendship bracelet. Or a construction paper heart. Call someone you love and tell them so. Or anything else you can think of!

I am in love with this idea, and have been taking part in More Joy Day since it’s inception. If you take part, you can tweet about it using the hashtag #MoreJoyDay. Spread the word! Check out the tag tomorrow and be reminded that the human race isn’t just here to make plastic (viz. George Carlin).

A small thing can make someone’s day.  Just spending a moment of your time thinking about someone in order to do a small thing adds to the net thoughtfulness and caring in the world.