I was talking with Andrew Carle last night, and he was talking about how he set up a MakerSpace at an educational conference a year ago. They did it in the hallway of the conference center, and immediately people put on their “vendor game faces” — don’t make eye contact, don’t take a flyer, don’t engage, don’t get into the room with them, certainly don’t participate. It was discouraging, he said; so this year they’re moving their MakerSpace to a hotel room, and handing out flyers, and Tweeting the MakerSpace room number to conference attendees. Showing up on an unknown hotel floor, at an unknown hotel room, in order to learn about Making in education, is a lot more of a social commitment. I hope he’ll write about his experiences in more detail — I want to know more.
But the thought was on my mind about social commitment this morning. I got up to do tai chi, and there was a bunch of obstacles in my path, unexpectedly. The dining room table was completely unfolded, with all the leaves up, and chairs all around. The ceiling fan was on. There wasn’t much space, either horizontally or vertically, to perform tai chi. It meant that I had to make a commitment to the work: move the chair, fold down the table leaves, turn off the ceiling fan, and so on. I had to engage with the space before I could engage with my work. There was a commitment to the work that involved breaking down the space so that I could work within it. The room had to be set up before the work could continue.
And I’m reminded instantly of mise en place, or “mess in place”, which is a French culinary concept. All of the tools and materials of cooking, be they spices or spaghetti, spoons or saucepans, has a proper place in the kitchen. Ideally, one should be able to walk into a kitchen, open the usual cabinets, find the ingredients, and cook a marvelous meal — one that you know by heart, that comes naturally to you, and that involves the ingredients and tools in your kitchen: no special trips to Williams-Sonoma, no improvising of a double-boiler with a couple of extra pans. Just you, the kitchen you have, and the freshest ingredients you can bring to the table.
When I’m at home, of course, I have the mise en place of my own office for tai chi; and frankly no place else indoors feels quite as good as doing tai chi there. But being able to commit to working in a space, or modifying that space to serve your current needs, is important. What need to be moved? What needs to be put back? How will this work sit with the hosts or fellow housemates?
And likewise, today, I’m thinking about the social commitment of this tai chi work. Today is Day 302, which means I have sixty-four days left of work this year — I’ll finish my current cycle in early March. By writing about my tai chi, I’m making a social commitment to continue doing it, and to continue to learn from it. By putting the year and day number, I’m committing to a certain number of days of practice a year. Am I going to continue this work? I don’t know. Yes, I think I will… but I’m in discernment about it.
And I’m experiencing this sensation that Andrew talked about, the “vendor game face”, that I’m offering this into a largely empty wilderness of conference spaces, and the few people who wander by aren’t making eye contact. Someone recently suggested that I turn off the registration requirement for comments, although I get SO much spam in the back channels, I’m reluctant to do that. But maybe that’s OK — I like that there’s a social commitment involved in buying into this work. I appreciate that. I like that you have to climb into an unknown elevator, go to a mysterious place, and make a social commitment.
Maybe you can help me move the furniture around.