The Hustle and the Tapestry

Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes

Tl/dr: I do a lot but seriously, I (mostly) know what I'm doing...

A chalk board with Scrabble tiles on it that say "The Tapestry and the Hustle"

To those that know me, it should serve as no surprise that on regular occasions, I have been accused of doing too much. Like way too much. It's a fair accusation to direct at me because from the outside, yes, it can look like I have 5,001 sticks in the fire and meanwhile, I'm also fishing with five poles, knitting two sweaters, oh and making coffee (because all of this runs on coffee).

But in this post, I want to draw out something that I innately understand about what I'm doing. To do this, I hope to make a distinction between what has been commonly named "the hustle" and introduce my own approach, which I consider to be "the tapestry." (It is, without a doubt, a false dichotomy and that's ok!)

The oracle of all words, Urban Dictionary gives us some good definitions that draw this out:

Definition 1: To have the courage, confidence, self belief, and self-determination to go out there and work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life.

Definition 2: Working hard, usually towards the common goal of creating an income.

Definition 3: Anythin you need to do to make money... be it sellin cars, drugs, ya body. If you makin money, you hustlin.

There's half a dozen more but the gist is pretty clear.  In modern times, its rising use has been materially oriented and is often transactional. Hustle, for right or wrong, indicates a sense of just getting things done and preferable fast. It could expand into a sense of doing all the right things that one needs or should be doing but even that is more sense of a chaotic shuffle to check boxes in order to get to a destination. It's not necessarily strategic, thoughtful, or intentional, but just a scramble. And well, in our world today, it is often a needed strategy which folks need in order to stay afloat or even try to get ahead by some small margin.

I have definitely participated in the hustle in my life; though it was often a response to and recognition of contextual factors. That is, I wasn't hustling just to hustle but because my world demanded it at the time in order to make ends meet. And my guess is that many folks are in that situation.

I do think it's fair to say that for different parts of my life, I walked a thin line between the hustle and the tapestry, crossing over to both sides at different points.  In part, it was because I didn't always understand the tapestry and, well, our society is ceaseless in its messages to hustle (it is the quintessential Americana). Thus, at times, I slipped into hustling hard and probably more than I had to, but that's the nature of much hustling--we gotta keep feeding the (capitalist) beast.

My most (egregiously) hustling came in my late 20s. It was the 2008-2009 and well, there was a lot going on in my life and some of it had much to do with making sure income kept coming in when it was steady but precarious. This was probably the most intense work period of my life where I was teaching 7-9 face-to-face courses a semester and a few online, working awake-overnight full time at a residential program and writing for a few magazines and websites. Needless to say, it is time that I have trouble remembering (erratic sleep will do that to you) and definitely wrecked some important relationships in my life (that's not surrendering responsibility but recognizing these things go hand in hand).

So if that is the hustle, what is the tapestry? First, a warning. I'm going to talk about this as if I had any sense of knitting and the truth is, I don't. I think I have a sense of it, but in truth, most of what I know about knitting is trying to fix buttons that I bust on shirts and pants...and from Penelope from different versions of The Odyssey (Margret Atwood's The Penelopiad is one version I like to recommend)--so just recognize this as a metaphor may be incredible hollow and vapid--to which I apologize in advance.

Ok, so, what is the tapestry? Well, first, it is entirely a noun. Hustle is a verb that appears to have become a noun. But tapestry is not a thing to do or the act of doing a thing. Rather, as Google tells me, a tapestry is "a piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs formed by weaving colored weft threads or by embroidering on canvas, used as a wall hanging or furniture covering."

The key pieces of that definition for this discussion are "thick", "fabric", "designs" "formed by weaving colored...threads". The tapestry displays a design; that is woven together by colored threads that create a thick fabric. And that is what it means to embrace the tapestry.

Lost yet? That's ok. The full design of a tapestry isn't often understood until one is well into the creation or in fact done. And for those of us who create the tapestry, we innately understand that. The pattern (i.e. design) is in our heads and we lean upon a variety of different colored threads with which to weave into and reinforce the thickness of the tapestry and the complexity of the pattern.

Still abstract? Fair enough.

Right now, when I look at all the activities that fill my life, I can see that the fabric has been woven together well to connect everything I do. It is a complex web to which I am constantly connecting and reinforcing the connects and it's something that I do now, often without needing to think about how, it just inevitably fits. Now, what's wonderful about this is how seemingly unconnected threads weave together to make the tapestry and shape its images.

Still abstract--but stay with me. I want to look at what are several seemingly unrelated elements in my life to show how they fit together.

  1. Running
  2. Listening to Audiobooks
  3. Instructional Design
  4. Executive Secretary of the Northeast Popular Culture Association (NEPCA)
Now, I think we can agree that these are quite distinct area of my life or at least, an outsider might see that as the case. But to me, these are interrelated and feed one another. So let's break it down.

Running: I spend at least 5 hours a week running. Most of the time, that's running outside with nothing but the road and my music as company. Generally speaking, this is my processing time where I come up with some of my best ideas for my work as instructional design or start to consider bigger projects as executive secretary of a regional scholarly society. I know that some of my best ideas for both have been born from running. And yes, there are times when I need a break from my playlist and audiobooks become the thing that I enjoy while running.

It's funny, in part, I feel like I own my current career trajectory as an instructional designer and faculty developer to running. Just before I started down the path, I had picked up running and through running, allowed me time and space to prepare to talk about my work but also, running as a learning experience was something that I brought into my presentation as a learning experience; later on, I leaned into it more and used training for a marathon as training for a dissertation--so it's something that I can often use to connect to different aspects of my life.

Listening to Audiobooks: We know that I'm an audiobook addict and I'm not about to start going to meetings about it (unless it's to further talk about audiobooks). But they are a fundamental piece of my learning and intellectual expansion and have been essential to me better understanding instructional design, the study of popular culture, and becoming a better runner. I would not be as versed in any of these topics were it not because of the substantial number of audiobooks that I've listened to over the years.

But it's not just listening to audiobooks, it's reviewing them that has helped over the years. Paying attention to voice and tone and to think about how it impacts storytelling has helped me better attune to others and work with them more effectively as an instructional designer and even in trying to lead an organization with different folks. Writing concise reviews (as opposed to long-winded blog ramblings like this) has also helped me in my communication with both instructional design and leading NEPCA.

Instructional Designer: Becoming an instructional designer and thinking about how folks learn and how to more effectively engage them in that teaching helped me realized that my entire transformation as someone who hates running into a "runner" was because I had re-learned how to run and in doing so, it entirely changed my perspective. I might have gotten there without becoming an instructional designer, but I know that in becoming one, I significantly helped me understand how I became a runner and also, how it has helped me continue to run and recover from injuries as well as busier stints in life.

Instructional Design also helped me understand why audiobooks are so enjoyable to me and how I might use them (or audio learning) in different environments. It has also helped me prioritize which books to listen to since my "To Listen" pile is about 300+ books currently (and that's the moderated list). It's also helped me change and think about my role in NEPCA as well. First, it led me to change from being area chair of comics and graphic novels to being area chair of Teaching and Popular Culture. Later on, the role and my experience in it led me to step forward to take on the social for the organization and that led into becoming the Executive Secretary. But it's also the insights I've gain as an ID at three different institutions that have helped me think about the different members we have and try to consider the long-term ways of making NEPCA a valuable community for them.

Executive Secretary of NEPCA: I was semi-reluctant to take on the role of Executive Secretary for a regional academic society for several reasons. The first is that I have a lot of my plate as it is. The second is that I am not sure of my ability to balance and do this well or in the ways that I would want. The third is that doing finances still scare me. But it was also an opportunity to stretch myself and feel a bit uncomfortable; something that my teaching and instructional design background has taught me is one of the places where learning happens. In leading an organization, I've found that it certainly informs my other work. The first is that it keeps in contact with many other scholars and educators and so it's another opportunity to see faculty, engage with them, and better understand them so that I can do better in my work as an instructional designer. In terms of relating to audiobooks, keeping up to date on the trends in the field also leads me to discover lots of new and interesting books, many of which are increasingly available as audiobooks--so, it helps me find out what's coming out and see if I can get review copies for NEPCA or for the other places I review for.

This role probably is least connected to running and I'm not sure I need to both to make a case of how they fit together. I'm hoping by this point, you can that many of these are woven together in different ways. And this didn't even touch up on the work on my dissertation, my regularly teaching, or serving on the board of Puppet Showplace Theater. But trust me, all of those I can easily tied to most of the other work that I'm doing.

So that's a big point I want to stress about creating the tapestry--lots of threads connect to others and even when it may not seem like they do, they still do to me.

But the other big point is that some of this work is intuitive or a bit a seed-planting and cultivating that plant over months, years, or even decades. Audiobooks are the quintessential example for me. Back when I graduated from college, two opportunities opened up the world of audiobooks and it's through audiobooks that so many other worlds have been opened up.

When I first graduated college, I was working at an online retailer that sold massive amounts of goods (books, dvds, music, etc) and they had a pitiful audiobook collection. Pitiful because it was both small and also unclear. It wasn't really a category at the time but when I asked to take it on in addition to the other work, people were fine with it. Audiobooks were just started to become a thing. They had been around but with the rise of CDs, MP3s and Audible, expansion was the name of the game. But I just enjoyed the fact that I got to make sure they were easy to locate and even listen to samples to on the website.

This interest got me thinking about being more involved with audiobooks and I took a chance. I reached out to a website about audiobooks (Audiobook Cafe--no longer around), and offered to help as some kind of informal internship. Soon enough, they were letting me write reviews and articles so my professional writing career was launched at that point as well.

There was no real reason for me to offer my services for free to a stranger on a website but it was something that made sense and felt right. From there, audiobooks were always something I was listening to and writing about, but also learning from and helping to inform me of things. As new interests emerged, audiobooks became the vehicle of learning and even now, keep me informed and learning about the areas I'm interested in and wanting to know more about. The result is that these threads have been woven throughout my tapestry and strengthened it significantly over the years to the point that I can say that the tapestry have all the colors and designs to it, were it not for audiobooks.

But I couldn't explain that in 2002. I just knew this was something I should to; something that fit into the tapestry. That's probably thing I wish I could explain better because I am speaking about audiobooks but that's one example of many different seeding threads that weave their way throughout the tapestry as a result of both intuition that it's the right time and place and later on, more conscious interweaving of the thread into the other parts of my life.

So that's clearly a lot that I just laid out there and as my advisor has said on occasion to help me remember that there's an audience that this is supposed to intrigue, "So what?" Why ramble on for hundreds of words onto the internet about this (probably false) dichotomy that I've created in my head between this thing called the hustle and this other thing that I call the tapestry?

I share it for folks to better understand me because I think a lot of folks can see my life as chaos-in-motion or picking up all the shiny things (trust me, I say no to more shiny things than I can count, every day). There's often intention or at least intuition behind my pursuits and inevitably, such things fit well into what I have already done.

But also, I share this because I think, for some folks, they don't have an analogy like the tapestry to help them make sense of their choices. Many of us are just reacting and trying to stay sane in a world that tests our limits daily, if not hourly. I think having something like the tapestry as a analogy to help guide one can be immensely powerful to guide and help one. Of course, I could be wrong.

Let me know how you make sense of your decisions and what you bring into your life and what you leave by the curb. I'd love to hear other people's approaches.

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