On not needing permission

A few weeks ago, I encountered the following quotation from Trinh T. Minh-ha on my Facebook feed:

S/he who writes, writes. In uncertainty, in necessity. And does not ask whether s/he is given the permission to do so or not.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman Native Other (8)

I love this quotation and the book it comes from. I’ve used and taught Woman Native Other many times. Her belief in the writer who doesn’t ask for permission is a nice contrast to Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea that women need permission and that she, as a hall monitor, can give it to them (she’s said this in many different interviews. Here’s one source).

I meet people who want to be doing interesting and creative things and they’re stuck,” she says. “Women especially seem to feel they need a permission slip from the principal’s office before they’re allowed to do anything, and I’m so happy to just be constantly writing those permission slips for everybody.

I’m the hall monitor: You have a pass and you have a pass and you have a pass,” she says, handing out imaginary passes. I’m very happy to have that be my job, or one of my jobs.


Yuck. As a teacher/guide/mentor, I’m not interested in granting permission. Why reinforce the power structure of an Authority figure who must say it’s okay? Why have a hall monitor?

A List and an account

Even though I haven’t been posting much on this blog lately, I have been working and writing a lot. In honor of my love of lists, here’s one describing what I’ve been doing this fall:

List! Fall 2016: Some Activities

  • Completed a draft of two of the three sections of A Troubling Teaching Portfolio
  • Planned to send those sections out to some people to get their feedback but somehow got stuck in messy, unfinished bits, lost steam and still haven’t even contacted anyone about reading it
  • Posted all of it, along with an edited version of my unofficial student transcripts, on its own site
  • Tried to prepare for the most difficult running race I’ve ever done, the “loony challenge” which entails running a 10k and 5k back to back on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday, and completed it even though I wasn’t really “trained up.” Ignored the reality that I am 42 years old and need to take longer recovering from loony races and ran a fast 4 miles only 2 days after the race was over. Developed some sort of hamstring injury and now, over a month later, still only running 5 or 6 miles a week. But, that’s okay, well almost, because I got to run in the same 10 mile race as Gwen Jorgensen!
  • Attempted to endure the increasingly terrifying and horrific nightmare that is the 2016 Presidential election by limiting my social media consumption, working on writing projects, binge-watching The Great British Bake-off and (not quite) obsessively following Gwen Jorgensen on Instagram and Twitter as she trained for the New York City Marathon
  • Learned that, contrary to my original assessment that best disease is the best disease having quirky vision problems is not that awesome and while finally knowing what has been wrong with me for so long is a relief it also becomes an excuse for closing myself off from the world even more
  • Tried unsuccessfully to read several books from the library. One was too long, one was too sad and one I just didn’t like.
  • Even as I struggled with doubt over what I’m doing and who, at age 42, I’ve become, experienced moments of joy and felt proud of myself and my willingness to confront the questions that haunt me

An Additional Account for my Student Transcripts

As I work on my teaching portfolio, I’m planning to combine it with my student transcripts to create an unDisciplined Dossier. Here’s the first draft of an account about my student life in high school, that I plan to add to the edited version of my transcripts:


In this account, I reflect on my love of practicing the clarinet, which I did frequently between the ages of 11 and 22. I was that weird band nerd who loved practicing scales: majors and minors up to five sharps and flats, three octaves, and very, very fast. I found comfort in the repetition of the notes. And I was energized by the challenge of it: I could memorize and perform the scales quickly, but even after years of practice, just barely. 

I didn’t include this account in the first edition of my transcripts because it seemed to contradict my claim to be unDisciplined. Isn’t devoting hours to practice every week for more than twelve years and being deeply involved in band, orchestra, woodwind ensembles, clarinet lessons and more, evidence that I was very disciplined? 

I started playing clarinet in 5th grade. Why the clarinet? I can’t quite remember. I think it was because we already owned one, a plastic Bundy, that one of my older sisters had played for a few years in high school. Did I love it right away? I can’t remember that either. But I must have; I kept playing it all through elementary school, junior high, high school and college. I even played in a few ensembles in graduate school.

It’s hard to overstate how important the clarinet was for me. It shaped my junior high, high school and college years. Countless recitals, private lessons, band, orchestra and youth symphony rehearsals, honor band auditions, orchestra concerts and daily practices. On the first day of band rehearsal of my first year at Gustavus Adolphus College I (Sara, age 18) met my husband, Scott. He played the clarinet too and sat one chair behind me.

Why did I play the clarinet for so long? While many reasons come to mind, one that makes the most sense to me now involves my love of practice, repetition and the rituals of sitting alone in a room with a clarinet, a stand, a metronome and sheets of paper filled with notes, preferably sixteenth or thirty-second ones.

When I practiced, I focused more on technique than artistry. I was a skilled technician not an artist. And that was satisfying and comforting to me. I liked practicing and memorizing Baermann scales and finger exercises from my Klosé book. Repeating difficult passages from my band music or etudes in Selected Studies over and over again until I got them right.

I always enjoyed practice more than any performance. Some players feel that the right performance can be religious. A deep and meaningful, almost transcendent, experience of connecting with the music and the audience. Not me. I always liked the private moments, when an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the notes, the music, and my instrument was created through repeated and habitual practice. Who finds transcendence through scales, played to the steady rhythm of a metronome? I did.

Taking and Making a Break

(also known as Teaching Statement, Part 2)

Having finished a rough draft of section 1 (I Am a Teacher!) of a Troubling Teaching Portfolio, I’m moving onto section 2 (I Was a Teacher.). This section is about what I did after leaving the academy, from Jan 2012 thought the Fall/Winter 2015. It’s about how I took a break from teaching/being an academic in order to restore myself and to experiment/write/learn more and then made a break (ran away + split from) my Academic Self in order to reorient myself and reclaim my passion for thinking, learning, being.

Since I’m struggling a bit with this section and I want to get unstuck and finish it so that I can move onto the real fun of this project (and the initial reason that I’m began it), I’ve decided write about it in this post (and probably several more posts).

Section Inventory, some preliminary thoughts in (of course!) LIST form:

  • A timeline of major projects + excerpts from various projects? Should this include some narrative about what I was doing? What I learned?
  • A list of various tools that I experimented with and researched
  • Accounts of how I made trouble with social media
  • A list of “theoretical” concepts that have informed my ideas
  • Descriptions (+ list?) of ways I’ve worked to undiscipline myself

Here’s a timeline that I’ve created for 2012-2015

Timeline: This is me Taking a Break?*


  • Applied for one last job
  • Began working at Room 34, attending client meetings and learning code + finally understanding what my husband meant when he would tell me that he “developed web sites”
  • Worked on conference papers, then canceled at last minute because I just couldn’t be an academic anymore
  • Wrote about online education  + social media + academy on my blog
  • Created and Recorded Podcast: Undisciplined Room (edited by Scott Anderson)
  • Started work on live-tweeting The Brady Bunch
  • experimented with social media: more on twitter, tumblr, pinterest
  • Crafted first digital story: Student Progress Report: An Undisciplined Account
  • Wrote early reflections on why I find it important to give an account
  • Crafted second digital story: Stories from the UP
  • Played with infographics: http://trouble.room34.com/archives/4027
  • Crafted digital story introduction to TROUBLE blog, which included intellectual history
  • Marked the occasion of three years of blogging on TROUBLE with a series of posts that reflected on importance of site and documented most popular/favorite posts
  • Started working on Problematizes, learning how to use Pixelmatr and experiment with different ways to engage, educate and pose troubling questions
  • Underwent more intense reflecting on life out of school (first fall since 1979 I was not in school)
  • Created story project on the meaning of home (digital stories: reimagining home)
  • Began digital storytelling experiment with digital moments: the worst winter ever
  • Created Undisciplined, the web site and began archiving teaching and research materials


  • Began researching and writing Unofficial Student Transcripts
  • “Published” Unofficial Student Transcripts on iBooks
  • Created a movie trailer for book
  • Continued with digital storytelling (Driving, the Gardner, Double Vision)
  • Returned to learning html, css
  • Edited Grandma Ines’ memoirs and published them in iBooks, w/additional materials + forward and concluding essay
  • Started new site about The Farm, picked theme and coded, designed site myself
  • Began analyzing interactive documentaries, doing research on how people tell stories online, documenting my process
  • Began another digital storytelling experiment with digital moments: Moments with Rosie
  • Wrote an Interactive Media Project Grant Proposal that was not funded, submitted in December: researched, designed, planned 2 year project


  • Gave invited Talk at George Hall Lecture at Gustavus, discussed my book
  • Began Video Game Research and imagined an unrealizable video game about the farm, experimented with son on how to designe video games and realized that it was really, really difficult
  • Decided to actually do the farm project that I wrote the grant for but didn’t get, on my own. Created the site + began writing stories and adding content


  • Wrote first interactive story on farm (only temporarily yours) and shared it with my family
  • Converted processing blog for The Farm story project into STORY (a blog about reading, crafting, telling stories)
  • Re-designed (and modified WordPress 2015 theme) for all of my sites and created a cohesive web presence (a brand?)
  • Turned my iBook, Unofficial Student Transcripts, into its own site
  • Continued storytelling research and experimenting with different tools
  • Researched and wrote about “running stories” as a web genre as part of my celebration of my fourth year of running
  • Began exploring digital archiving, tentatively experimented with better archiving practices, especially for photos
  • Started reading/researching/writing about memoirs
  • Began researching, writing and thinking about teaching life book project
  • Began #undisciplinedreading project, which involves requesting lots of books from the library and reading them to enjoy, not (always) critically analyze

*Note the sarcasm. It’s hard for me to stop working. I don’t really know how to take a break and do nothing. I have been trying; learning to do nothing is part of my undisciplining plan.

Form: Not Quit Lit, part one

I left academia at the end of the fall semester of 2011. Starting in 2013 and then returning in 2015, I’ve been working on a lengthy story project that involves archiving and processing my life as an academic, first as a student, then as a teacher.

My project is not intended to be just an example of quit lit, a public declaration of being “burned up and burned out” by the academy. But I started it just shortly before essays about quitting academic jobs began to proliferate and it is partly motivated by a desire to give an account of why I left the academy. It would be easy to read or write (or write-off) my accounts as just another, among so many, “goodbyes to all that”. But it’s not. At least, I hope it’s not just that. While my project includes several public declarations of my leaving and it includes critical assessments of toxic academic values that led to my leaving, I’m also trying to do something else with it.

But what is that “something else”? As a preliminary way to answer that question, here are two lists to compare: List 1: What can quit lit do and List 2: Why am I doing this?

List 1: What Can Quit Lit Do?*

  • Offers a public explanation (a because) of “why I quit teaching”: because of demanding students, poor salaries, unnecessary bureaucracies, limited opportunities for creativity and self-actualization
  • Enables writer to be seen and heard after years of feeling ignored, devalued and dismissed
  • Allows writer to be a role model for others thinking about leaving and allows them to destigmatize the process of leaving/quitting and debunk myths (you just weren’t good enough, success can only be found with an academic job) surrounding it by making their experiences visible
  • Functions as a public rejection of the Academy and a refusal to perpetuate its toxic practices: a public statement/critique/condemnation of the AIC

*Info about Quit Lit, also known as “goodbye to all that,” “why I quit teaching” and “fuck you, AIC,” was gathered from these Sources: The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, Slate, Vitae.

List 2: Why am I doing this?

  • To give an account (and an explanation) of my academic life and to tell a story about why I left and what I’m doing for anyone who is interested (which hopefully includes family members and friends)
  • To take my experiences seriously
  • To confront the haunting questions that living and then leaving the academic life generated within me
  • To do something creative and playful that resists and troubles academic rules
  • To undiscipline myself
  • To scavenge through my past, sorting out and keeping the bits (tools, ideas, methods, theories) that I found helpful, discarding the rest. And then, to use those helpful bits to experiment with new ways of teaching, learning and being a thinking, feeling, troublemaking, educating SELF

While there is some overlap, much of why I’m doing this project fits under “something else.” At least, I think it does.


Here is a disclaimer that I just wrote for the preface to my Troubling Teaching Portfolio:

DISCLAIMER: My troubling teaching portfolio is not a eulogy for a past life, but a celebration of that past, along with my present and future life as a troublemaking educator.

This is a troubling portfolio in which I reflect on and write about my teaching life and materials through the lens of trouble. Much of the trouble that I describe in these pages, is the joyful, life-affirming, potentially transformative, transgressive, stimulating, illuminating, exhilarating, and just plain fun kind. My descriptions of the trouble that causes harm and signals unjust and really fucked up learning environments—the kind that seems to be a direct, if not always intentional, result of “the Neoliberal University”—will be kept to a minimum. This “bad” kind of trouble surely haunts many of my accounts, and I hint at it repeatedly, but I don’t want to give too much energy to it or get sucked back into the feelings of sadness, inadequacy, or grief over lost dreams that it stirs up within me. Besides, plenty of really smart, brave, and insightful people are writing about the problems with the Neoliberal University in much more effective ways than I probably ever could, or would want to.

When I first started this project, I wasn’t intending to avoid writing explicitly about the structural/institutional/political problems with the university. But, after getting seriously stuck in my efforts to respond to an especially annoying article about being a professor, by an especially arrogant and annoying professor, I realized that if I approached this project with anger, a lot of frustration, and some bitterness, my project would lack the joy and passion for being a thinker, an intellectual, a scholar, and a teacher that I desperately want to reclaim. So now as I gather materials and write my stories, I’m working hard to avoid giving into anger or sadness or even regret about what I lost or could have been within the academy. And when I do discuss the problems with University teaching, I’m mostly using humor in the form of snark*, which is more fun and joyful than you might think.

After re-reading this disclaimer, I think I need to add to it just a bit. I also want to write something about my desire to not be too critical of myself, to not devalue the work that I did. 

*One example of my use of snark:

List! Behaving Improperly in the Classroom

  • De-emphasized grades, not because I hated grading, but because I strongly disliked how grades were so often the single most important motivation for why students actually completed assignments and I was frustrated by how students seemed to rarely look beyond the letter grade or point total to the feedback that I was giving them
  • Replaced assignments designed to prove mastery, as in the ability to regurgitate the teacher’s beliefs, which were themselves expected to regurgitate the accepted disciplinary canon of ideas and authors, with assignments that encouraged engagement and enabled students to actually apply what they were learning and maybe even use it after the class was over
  • Avoided giving in-class lectures and having to stare into the dead eyes of students who weren’t listening because they’d mentally checked out of the class the minute I started talking by using the blog for posting my notes and summaries, by distributing lengthy handouts (56) and by devoting most of class time to small group and large group discussions
  • Refrained from giving easy (or any) answers that could shut down curiosity, opting instead for posing questions that invite students to think, rethink, and expand their perspectives, which could be frustrating for some students and exhilarating for others
  • Pushed at the limits of what counted as appropriate “academic” reading/content by favoring online readings over “traditional” academic articles, analyzing popular culture like The Brady Bunch and cooking magazine ads with images of brussels sprouts that look like penises, and discussing theories and projects that involve a lot of swearing, like shit studies, FCKH8, and fuck reproductive futurism
  • Tried, not often that successfully, to be a person in the classroom
  • Persistently worked to de-center myself as the (only) Authority in the class and repeatedly rejected the role of Expert by encouraging others in class to be mentors and sources of knowledge (65), avoiding preaching or presenting material as the Truth, refusing to pretend that I knew everything, or almost everything, and encouraging, almost to a fault, feedback from the students on what did and didn’t work in the class

Bonus: Here’s a post I wrote about snarking and cranking as forms of resistance.