Diving In.


I never learned to swim. I can vaguely float. I can blow bubbles and tilt my head to breathe. I can wrap my body in a pool noodle and kick mightily until I’ve splashed myself breathless. But I can’t put it all together and swim a casual lap.

It’s not for lack of trying. My parents enrolled me in beginner swimming lessons for five summers in a row. At eight years old, I became Mingo Community Pool’s pint-sized Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused (without any of his lechery or swagger, of course). Each summer would culminate in a public showcase where the new swimmers would hop off the low-dive and their parents would golf-clap and everyone would feel proud that they could finally survive in The Deep End. When it would become my turn to strut my strokes, I would shuffle to the edge of the diving board, feel the uncomfy sand particles against the roof of my foot, peek into the maw of the pool, calculate the cost-benefit of a cannonball gone wrong, determine that it was not the time for risks, and trot back down the metal steps, bone-dry and despairing. Despite my performance anxiety, I still received the same golf clap that everyone else did and even a certificate of participation to take home and pin to my bulletin board.

For many years, these early experiences haunted me and I boycotted swimming and other water-related happenings. I lived a life without pool parties or water slides, and I accepted a B- in sixth-grade PhysEd for sitting on the side lines during the swimmer safety unit. I’m not proud to admit that even as an adult I’ve turned down invitations to picnic on the beach because of the potential social pressure to group swim after the meal.

Since then, something has shifted in me. For one, I realized that beaches in Chicago, where I live, are one of my city’s greatest gifts and that staring into the ocean at night makes me feel humbled and grateful that I was born on this extraordinary planet, and that swimming pools — in the right heat and on the right roof and with the right assortment of floatation devices — can be a real blast, and that I don’t need to be Ryan Lochte (nor do I want to be Ryan Lochte) to enjoy myself. There are many ways to find value and pleasure in the water and some of them involve chilling by the shallow end.

I am reminded how my toes felt, dangling off that diving board, in this moment, as I stare into the overwhelming white of my debut FabLearn blog post. The 2016 Fellows are a real dream team and I recommend you checking out a few of the thoughtful reflections that have preceded mine – but it would be disingenuous for me not to mention the traces of anxiety I feel when I think about sharing my work, which is often always messy, scrappy, and young:

I have never blogged before.

The makerspace that I manage is only two years old and has a lot to figure out about itself, like what to do with all of these projects and projects-in-process and scraps and recycled material. (Ahh! I feel your pain, Josh.)

I am not an engineer.

My mathematics training began in college with a fabulous class on “Puzzles & Paradoxes” taught by the immortal David C. Kelly. But then it ended when I transferred to Oberlin College and became a Cinema Studies major.

I have arrived in the world of after-school education after a brief stint teaching at a (*vom*) no-excuses charter school.

I don’t know what I’m doing at all —

— until suddenly I do, which I am discovering is how expertise feels as it builds in real-time. One of my favorite aspects of maker education is how it can accommodate messiness and the unexpected and that it’s a movement built on the backs of scrappy teams which are all figuring things out together. Blogging and tweeting can be instruments of vulnerability and generosity that create a vibrant ecosystem filled with (increasingly) diverse voices and dispersed knowledge. Over the next few days, I am going to share with you more about my program, the projects that I’m working on, and the puzzles in my work that need solving, and I look forward to your feedback, pushback, and friendship.

I read an article in The Atlantic once about how to transform anxiety into excitement. The gist is that all you have to do is say “I am excited” instead of “I am nervous” and your brain reappraises your jitters and funnels that energy towards increased performance.  In the spirit of that and in the spirit of collective knowledge-building, let me say that I am excited to take this leap with all of you here now.

[A polite golf clap can be heard from the bleachers.]