The Most Important Thing I Learned at Northern Voice Wasn’t Part of Any Session

If Northern Voice was only to be measured by the quality of its sessions, that would be enough. Hopefully they will post the recordings soon so that people who weren’t there can hear some of them, but it’s rare to go to a conference with so few duds.

If Northern Voice was only to be measured by the quality of the conversations had with others, friends old and new, that would be enough. It was so easy to ignore the A-listers, the B-listers and all the silly internecine drama they bring with them because the number of deep, engaging conversations to be had was simply astonishing.

But when a conference presents you with the chance for epiphany, all these other considerations seem to fade.

Sitting in a session on the Saturday morning, admittedly still slightly raw from the previous evenings’ festivities chez Casa Lamb-McPhee, I was browsing the conference aggregator page when I came across the first of a number of posts that triggered something in me (in the interests of these people’s privacy, I am not going to link directly to their sites; while they are on the open web, time and again at NV stories came up of people from different contexts linking to personal conversations and upsetting the blog owners. If you’re that interested, dig them out of my links).

The first was a woman who had endured much personal tragedy in her life over the last year and was using her blog as a space for recovery. The second was a site created by a husband and wife to document their love for each other and their children. It was this second that really set me off; maybe it’s because I also cry at weddings, but I found myself sitting in a room full of a hundred people with tears streaming down my face. Must have been odd if anyone was watching – typically wikis (the topic of the session) don’t evoke that kind of reaction. But I wasn’t in that space; instead, these pages had set off a landslide of emotion.

I’ve long been an advocate for blogs and social software, argued that they allow people more authentic expressions of self and engagement. But that’s still largely been in the realm of the edublogoshpere and teaching and learning; I rarely read blogs for non-work reasons and while I feel I’ve made many social connections in addition to the intellectual ones, very few of them are what I would call deep emotional ones. It has always been a somewhat intellectual endeavor for me. Reading these pages blew that apart in a way little else had done; the love this couple felt for each other was tangible, palpable, visceral, and honest in a way that could not be denied. The other woman’s struggle to recover was honest and true, you could see how putting it on a blog was helping her to bypass the traps of self-deception. Any lingering doubts I had harbored about the potential depths of authentic expression held by blogs and the social web in general were blown to pieces.Even now, writing this, I am intellectualizing it when the truth is this caused me to feel in a way few things on the net ever had.

At this point I tried to pull myself together, but I fear I didn’t do much of a job; seeing the couple who had authored one of the sites sitting right in front of me I felt compelled to share with them how much it had moved me, which of course I wasn’t able to do without being overcome again! Hopefully I didn’t freak them out too much, though I won’t be too surprised when the restraining order barring me from future NV conferences shows up 😉

Lunch, immediately after this, brought a long walk to the restaurant during which I was lucky to talk this through with Keira, who helped me to process this “opening of my heart” as she called it, that had just occurred. Her help, along with another of many deep talks with Chris Lott, led me back in time for Nancy White’s afternoon session on communities, which in my newly “opened” state seemed to offer gift after gift. I will write more on this latter.

But it’s also the exact moment I got sick. Yes, I am now home with another bad cold. But are you surprised? I am not. There are no shortcuts to satori, and temporary awakenings, unearned, inevitably lead the pendulum to swing back, hard, the other way. There is no way to do the work without doing the work. But receiving these glimpses can’t hurt, and has left me (although fighting a cold) recharged and renewed both for my personal “work” and to integrating it further and further into my “job.” (Having now written this, I am trying hard not to imagine the sound of ‘unsubscribe’ buttons clicking in aggregators everywhere, but honesty is as honesty does.)SWL

20 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing I Learned at Northern Voice Wasn’t Part of Any Session”

  1. Scott, I think it was you I saw nodding towards the back of the room, and at one moment during my session, I felt like I was in conversation with YOU. It was a delightful moment. I’m sorry we did not get a chance to have that conversation, in depth, but I trust it will happen.

    As to the “other side” of the experience, the personal, the profound, the minute yet significant – that’s been the unexpected treat of blogging for me. To be able to step out of my frame into anothers’. It’s a gift. So I am now hitting the SUBSCRIBE button.

  2. I was also at Northern Voice. You’re right about the most valuable thing you got and good for you for letting the rest of us know about it. It validates a lot of what we heard over the weekend. Hope we meet at the next one.

  3. We tend to keep intense moments of emotional insight to ourselves.

    Talking publicly about such events feels awkward and even socially mistaken. Which is a shame. But sometimes, when we grasp the truth in what has happened – and its implications – we can’t help but tell others.

    Recently, on an educational forum, someone posted about their terminal illness and how they had come to a new understanding of their life. It brought me to a complete standstill.

    Don’t stop posting:-)

  4. Hello Scott – great post. I also was at Northern Voice. Do you mind if I link to this post. While Northern Voice did not make me weep, I also found so many engaging and astonishing conversations. As Roland said – bravo!

  5. Thank you all for the words of encouragement, this is exactly what this community member needed at this point. And yes, Nancy, that was me doing the bobblehead at the back of the room during your talk, which was exactly what I needed at the time. I know we will get another chance to connect. Thanks everyone.

  6. Jenni and I agreed that our conversation at NV with you was the high point. And to go along with Anil’s session, we don’t have to lose that connection, we can have attention persistence = relationship. Thank you for your vulnerability, it truly blessed us.

  7. It was good to meet you, thanks for sharing your heart with us that is not always an easy thing to do! And we always welcome links to our site so we would not have been offended if you had linked directly to us. I enjoyed my time at the Conference too. Blessings!

  8. I, for one, think we need more of these kinds of posts! I learned an important lesson at NV: I have been *way* overthinking the idea of the personal in my blog posts. Using it purely as a tool to network with other edubloggers has been worthwhile, but it doesn’t get at the heart of why I blog in the first place. Which isn’t to say that Ruminate will become a personal journal– I’ll still try to channel a lot of that to Cosmopoetica– but I do plan to let loose of the reins a bit.

    There are millions of bloggers, but there is only one of each of us– if we don’t let the personal and idiosyncratic in somehow most of the value is lost…

  9. hi scott –

    you were one of the many people i told myself i wanted to connect with at northern voice but somehow it never happened.

    even though i didn’t attend the session that made such a deep impression on you, i came away from northern voice with similar thoughts. which is interesting because i already thought of myself as being authentic in my blog but after northern voice i think there’s a whole different level that i think i can go to.

  10. Chris and Jenni, thanks especially to both of you for coming in here to comment. The idea that I might have upset either of you in my slightly distressed state when in fact I wanted to thank you for your honesty and courage was the only thing that worried me, and you have put my mind at ease. I look forward to learning more from you both and to meeting you again. Namaste.

  11. Scott,

    I don’t think I had a chance to meet you at Northern Voice, but I am grateful for your comments regarding what you have read on my blog. It has been a challenging week, and being reminded of the common experiences we share as humans, and the things we learn from each other when we take the time to listen, was exactly what I needed to hear.

    Your thoughts on the “potential depths of authentic expression held by blogs” are so true, and this is the reason I keep blogging, and the reason I blog so openly. I take a chance and put my hat into the ring, and if I am all alone there, then I blog for myself. But when others throw their hat into the ring as well, then we have relationship, and then we have community, and then we are not so alone anymore.

    You are welcome to link any time.

    Also, thanks to Julie Leung for calling this post out to me.

  12. I became oddly reflective on the weekend as well, but for different reasons, and as a result of different session.

    Good share, Scott.

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