Writing about being unsettled: Some reasons

Over the last month or so I have tried to make sense of why I might share the notes I have been making about being unsettled.  In this post I share some of my shifting thinking.

13 March. I am unsettled, which is ok. It is only 3 1/2 months after Ann, my wife of thirty years, died.  Who would expect me to be settled? But I am assembling various notes now because I want readers to be able to respond to what I share without knowing that “it all comes together eventually.” (That is the typical endpoint of books describing recovery after a major loss.)  I am not saying that things won’t come together for me, but I would like to suggest that at any time—not only after setbacks and not only with happily-ever-after guarantees—each of us can be productively unsettled.  While it is often possible to continue along previous lines, you could come to feel that, as someone observed at the end of a workshop I co-organized many years ago, it is no longer possible to simply continue along previous lines….

…I do not expect you to relate to my personal foibles, failings, and bafflements, or to see me—past, present, and possible future—as some kind of model. What I hope rather is that the notes add up to enough of a story that you follow along and then bounce off my reflections, making space to ask yourself: “How do I make sense of possibilities for change?  Where have I suppressed possibilities?  How might I instead address them?”

13 April. Stop the Presses. I have assembled the notes and am getting closer to being done touching them up. I find myself quite unsure about whether there is an audience I want to share them with. The hope I expressed a month ago feels overblown given that the notes do not show possibilities being turned into tangible change for me. However, when re-reading today a final note added a week ago, I saw a way that I want, contrary to what I also said above, to serve as a model and, on that basis, share my writing.

That final note was a flashback to October 2013 when I was co-teaching an experimental course in Creative Thinking. We had read The Girl with the Brown Crayon by Vivian Paley, in which she shares stories and puzzling from her last year of teaching kindergarten. I typed up notes made while re-reading the book and introduced them in a blogpost:

“…Taking the time to write down the quotes and thoughts stimulated by them, moreover doing this with a background of many years of such dialogic note-making, prepares me to notice conjunctions or intersections that I can draw from creatively…   In this spirit, I cannot expect the experience that readers have from reading my notes to have a creative impact on you.  If the notes motivate you to read GWBC or to undertake dialogic note-making of some other text, well and good.”

If these Unsettled notes motivate you to take up dialogic note-making, well and good. Roll the Presses.

18 April. I shared the draft of Unsettled with someone I could ask to point to “what is almost said.” His response led me to try to clarify why others might want to read my notes—what they might be looking for, why I might share what I’ve been writing, why I am writing these notes, and the limits of the notes with respect to these matters.

Subject, audience, purpose

I can imagine three reasons others might want to read my notes: You want to keep hearing and thinking about Ann. You are curious about how I am processing the loss of her in my life. You want insight that I might offer about the experience of being unsettled after such a major loss.

I can see three reasons why I might share what I’ve been writing: Readers become a witness to the changes I explore and begin to inhabit. Readers draw on my topics, including responses to what I’m reading, to be productively unsettled. Readers see in my note taking a model to follow in their own reflective practice.

I can see three reasons why I write these notes: The puzzling and probing is what I like to do; it provides emotional control. Moreover, it may help me identify and begin making changes that open up new possibilities in my future. It provides material I can touch up then share for the reasons above.

On why others might want to read what I have been writing, the notes fall short on all three counts. They reveal my early morning thinking, not the texture of the days that follow; responses to what I am reading more than to reviewing Ann’s life; control of the process more than being vulnerable. Such is what it is—so far. However, what the reader of the draft calls “randomness,” I would describe (quoting from a later blogpost during the Creative Thinking course mentioned above) as “persistence in exploring [that] makes serendipity more likely; the unintended connections… help clarify our sense of directedness or our identity.”





About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

One Response to Writing about being unsettled: Some reasons

  1. Pingback: Hope or shift to the other side of one of a series of alternations | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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