2023--What a Year?

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

This post is less about the highlights of 2023 and more about the things that I experienced and learned about myself through this year.  2023 was a powerful, intense, rewarding, and challenging year for me. It had more in store for me than I could realize and I came out the other end feeling more comfortable and capable in many ways--deeper in my self-understanding and grounded in my choices.  So what did the year entail?  
A word cloud of words in this post in the shape of a cat.

The Start of the Year
January began with the passing of my spouse's grandmother, Shirley, which included a week of lots of hospital visits, a few overnight vigils, and finally, her passing in her home. Though sad, she also died peacefully in her home surrounded by family, which at past 90 years, is something we could all wish for.  The experience had echoes of my own father passing in its progression and the kind of decisions and care needed. I think that helped me be a level of support and insight that helped my spouse and her family.  

No sooner were we mourning Shirley's death, than I had been selected for Grand Jury duty for 6 weeks.  Grand jury was complicated. I had lots of thoughts (series the five-part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). So many feels and thoughts--seeing so many hard things and knowing there were no good outcomes in many instances.  In the end, it exemplified both the aspiration of a justice system trying to some degree trying to do right by the citizenry while simultaneously stacking the deck in a way that reproduces some of the very structural issues within our society.  
All the AI Stuff
In the midst of that, I was also jumping into the conversation around generative AI.  In late January, I had published this blog post exploring my own thoughts about it, which translated into several talks in the first 6 months of 2023 that I pulled together hereI eventually started my own Substack specifically on AI & Education, where I keep and curate most of my thoughts, experiences, and happenings there. I participated in over two dozen talks, panels, and workshops on generative AI and education, was featured on few podcasts, and had a few publications on the topic. It was such a surreal year on this front in terms of the opportunities and conversations that I got to be a part of.  I'm so glad I got to enjoy it and engage with so many people but it still feels strange in my mind. 

Why? In part, there's some element that makes me question how or why I'm one of the folks being in the spotlight at this time. I mean, I get it in some ways--I've put myself out there in lots of ways of being willing to do all sorts of work related to educational technology, I've built an online presence around these things, I worked quite openly with generative AI in the early months and beyond, and I have built a reasonably sized network of folks who have found what I have to offer as valuable and shared it with others.  I get that...and I'm still at a loss for the amount of attention or requests for my work. I think it's because I don't feel like what I'm offering is anything more significant than what so many of us in this work as been saying for years. Yes, I'm focusing on the issue of the moment, generative AI, but I'm largely using the same set of practices and approaches that many of us in faculty development use. So it just feels like I'm constantly balancing this sense of understanding the need and wondering why me.   

Of course, as the AI stuff became an increasing focus and having moved it over to a Substack, that has led me to think more about what this blog is really about. I know I've been using it as a smorgasbord of all different, thoughts, and ideas. It contains things related to writing, reading, work, and so many different things. But maybe, as I go forward, I think this blog is going to be more personally focused, or maybe it's more focused around deeper reflection and deeper consideration. 

Revisiting By Any Other Nerd
Over the years, I've used this space to write about deeper feelings and experiences and this year, that's come through and felt like some of my most (internally and externally) rewarding contributions.  I've always used this space to figure things out but this year felt like figuring things out in a way that speaks to inner lives and experiences that we might not always speak to or find ways of realizing--that feels like what this blog is settling into (for now?).  

While I did spend some time writing about the impact of work on my psyche in the fall, I didn't share the grappling and reckoning that came with work in June. And ultimately like the one in the fall, it was something I needed to experience and to reflect upon and grow from.  I think both of them are bookends to an experience at work as a whole that was hard yet inevitably beneficial to understanding my own development and approaches to work. 

It was another situation where I had to suss out what were the materials things of the kind of place that I work with and what were my own issues, emotions, concerns, and deficit thinking of the situation.  How much was my experience superimposing past things or others' actions onto the present? And that's always a process that takes a lot of time and reflection. It takes a certain amount of removing oneself or trying to step back to really understand what's going on. So between that and the trauma reaction I had in the fall, I gained a deeper understanding of myself, how I show up at work, and what it means to work at a place where there's a lot of heart-work going on.  

Making more sense of myself
Along those lines, I had a powerful realization about how I show up in spaces and more importantly, disappear or intentionally withdraw.  Several folks pointed this out to me and helped me better understand something that I knew but did not really understand.  There's a longer exploration of this coming in a future blog but the basics of this are that for the longest time, my (unhealthy) test of how much I matter to a person or an organization has been to withdraw, especially if feeling hurt or wronged and see if its noticed. Often, it wasn't a self-preservatory withdrawal but one that was meant to provide a point or validate my own feelings. At its core, this action resonated from a place of believing that I didn't matter or my feelings were inconsequential. Like I said, a longer post is to come.

When I'm in spaces that I feel I belong or are filled with people I care about, my presence can be strongly felt (ideally, not in a dominating way--though that too has had to be better honed over the years).  I like to think that I can bring a level of enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, goofiness, or care to a space that builds connection and meaning within the group. And this year, well, I withdrew at times and the absence was palpable.  

Given the year, I withdrew a few times this year--sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. A few people called me on that (rightfully so).  Now that's a thing I'm thinking about and keeping my own eyes alert for when and where that might happen.  But the bigger point for me is that to see it, to name it and feel more grounded in understanding what I'm doing and why--it prepares me more for the future instances when I'm in those spaces of fear, inadequacy, and less-than.  It lets me know there will be signs and those signs can be opportunities to pause and take a different path.  

This year also involved a deepening of my relationships with people. And a lot of that went hand in hand with the experiences that I was having and the reflections I needed to do from them. But really understanding what it means to be in community, in deep friendship, and care with people. I feel like this year allowed for a deepening with people that I've experienced individually at times over the years, but this felt like almost everyone.  Of course, a lot of friends and family members this year were incredibly supportive, kind, caring, and helpful--directly or indirectly with all that was going on this year.

PhD Progress
This year I made real progress towards my PhD. Though I had hopes of defending in December of 2023, I'm still content with the progress as I am starting to write up my results from my data analysis and will be hopefully starting chapter 4 soon. 

I feel the palpable growth and work that I've put in this year. In terms of digging into the data, make sense of the data starting to organize it through the lens of the methodology (phenomenography). I feel like I've just been able to really ground myself more in this work. And of course, that has been helped immensely by the methodologist on my committee who I've gotten to meet with pretty regularly since early summer.  If I can keep my focus and make similar progress, I should be able to defend in March which means I should be walking in May. Regardless, I'll be done in the next few months!  Given everything else that was going on, I feel quite positive about this kind of progress myself and know by next year's annual reflection, I'll have completed it.  

More importantly, despite the time it's taken me to complete this, I'm still really interested and excited about my research. As I read and analyze the data, it's so very clear that I'm investigating something deep and meaningful.  Something that I will have more to say and do with after my dissertation.  This exploration of how scholars make sense of themselves and their work while using academic pirate networks like SciHub and LibGen highlights a lot of different challenges and considerations about academia.  That I can still explore the data and find nuggets of insight and thoughts that send me into new considerations is also something that sustains the energy to keep going.

Of course, there was also COVID and getting through that. That definitey threw me for a look a loop and made the fall full of challenges.  Yet, I was incredibly grateful for the luck of my genes and whatever else allowed me to fully recover, albeit about 2 months later.

I never mentioned here, I think but that's a future post too, I'm sure, but this year, Chris, her cousin, and I took 2 improv classes at Providence Improv Guild.  The classes were ok and I plan to take more after the dissertation, but yeah, it was another thing that somehow made it into 2023 that I found to be interesting, enjoyable, and pushed me to step out of my comfort zone.  You can actually see our showcases from Level 1 (Showcase #1Showcase #2) and Level 2 (Showcase #1Showcase #2).  

So 2023 has been a very full year with lots of experiences that challenged me and I believe had led me to grow into a better version of myself that is maybe a little bit wiser, kinder, and grounded.  I don't know what 2024 has in store for me but I'm entering it with a stronger sense of self and appreciation for where life has led me in this past year so I'm as prepared as I can for what happens next.

How was your 2023?

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