Procrasti-baking

People have many, many different strategies for procrastinating things they don’t want to do. I like to do dishes, fold laundry, make beautiful color-coded to-do lists, sort mail, organize papers and folders…anything that feels productive but isn’t what I really need to do.

I’ve heard of this being called “productive procrastination” before; the process by which you do one thing on your to-do list to avoid another thing on your to-do list. At some level, so long as I’m moving forward it counts as forward! But at another level, things can only get put off for so long before a) they expire and b) they start to stress me out because I know I’m avoiding them. So I try to engage in productive procrastination cautiously.

Of course, there are a lot of other things I do to procrastinate. I read anything, be that fanfiction, regular fiction, or on the rare occasion the news. I have definitely gotten sucked into the Harry Potter Mystery game (which will likely feature in next month’s nerd blog post, so watch out for that!) I have a list of favorite YouTube channels, including Super Carlin Brothers, Peter Hollens, and Malinda Kathleen Reece, The Piano Guys, and CGP Grey that I adore wasting time on.  These things are just straight up procrastination – there’s nothing productive about that!

I would like to quickly point out that there is a very important difference between procrastinating something and taking a break. Procrastination is an avoidance behavior where the ultimate goal is to not do something else. Taking a break is a self-care behavior where the ultimate goal is to rest and refresh. When I watch this video by Malinda Kathleen Reece and her friends singing “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, I’m purposefully engaging in lifting my mood and taking a break. When I proceed to click on three more videos about that movie without really deciding to, now I’m procrastinating. (Yes, this definitely happened. Tonight.)

But I still haven’t told you about my favorite procrastination behavior, and that is procrasti-baking. Haven’t heard of it? It’s about to be your favorite new thing too!

It sounds like what it is; baking instead of doing whatever to-do list item is at the top. Sometimes when I do this I use one of my go-to-I’ve-had-this-memorized for years recipes, and sometimes I try something brand new and complicated.  It depends a little bit on how much energy I have and how big the thing I’m avoiding is!

The second-best thing about procrasti-baking is that I get a tasty treat at the end. But the very best thing about procrasti-baking is that I currently live by myself, which means I get to share. Generally, if I’m stressed about a school thing, my whole department is stressed about the same school thing; leaving a tray of brownies or cookies in the science office is a beautiful thing for everyone.

Does this make me a super-young department mom? Yep. But then again, I do claim the old-lady part of myself, so I’m totally fine with that!

My favorite go-to recipe is my chocolate chip cookies, which I’ve posted about before.

Your homework: How do you procrastinate? Do you differentiate between procrastination and taking a break?

Hej då,

Jamie

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Red-headed Heroes

I was flipping through fanfiction the other day, and I realized something. All three of my favorite fandoms (Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, and Tortall books) have redheaded heroes. In addition, my newest addiction, an anime called Yona, also features a redhead. According to Wikipedia, redheads make up 1-2% of the population. It does occur more frequently in people of northern or western European descent, coming in at a whopping 2-6% of the population. This does describe most of the characters I’m thinking of; Ginny Weasley is English, Anne Shirley is Canadian but definitely of European descent, and Alanna the Lioness (from the Tortall books) is from a mythological England-ish country. But Yona is a Japanese princess! So why is being redheaded so frequent in literature?

As I continued to scroll through the Wikipedia article, I learned a bit about redheads in literature throughout history. In medieval times, red hair was thought to be a mark of sexual desire and moral degeneration. It was also used to highlight Jewish characters (who were portrayed poorly, usually) in works ranging from Shakespear to Dickens. Some people also believed having red hair and green eyes marked people as witches or vampires. So…a long time ago, being redheaded wasn’t a good thing.

Even today, many redheaded characters are described as fiery or as having a temper. Ginny, Anne, and Alanna all certainly fit this mold, and I think Yona will too (I don’t know the ending of that particular story yet!). There are definitely modern cases of discrimination against people with red hair, mostly documented in Ireland and Britain. But there are also annual international celebrations of having red hair; in general, I think the perception has shifted since the 1400 and 1500s.

Through all of this reading, one thing made itself quickly apparent; redheads stand out. They’re rare, for one thing, and humans are really good at picking out the color red. Our brains are specifically trained to pick out red against green because it’s an excellent way to spot food sources like berries. Giving someone red hair makes them special and memorable. In a story, you want your hero to be special and memorable!

In another class I was taking, I learned about how many of our favorite heroes are also orphans. This is true of Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins…Wikipedia also made a list of this. You should absolutely go check out the list. It ranges from Phantom of the Opera to Twilight to Frozen to The Last Airbender. And that was just A-C. (Wikipedia is great!) There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, it makes having a secret identity really easy. It also sets up a really nice way for a character to be living life along one track until suddenly some message bearer (Hagrid, R2D2, Gandalf) show up and dump a whole bunch information out and completely change the trajectory for our main character.

It also helps that we automatically feel sorry for orphans – that’s a pretty incredibly tragic storyline – so making the hero an orphan ups the connect-ability the character pretty easily.

Anne Shirley is considered a fictional adoptee; she does have parent figures. In her case, being an orphan serves the same purpose as her red hair; it sets her apart as someone unique.

And in the end, I think that’s the key. We want our heros to be unique, but in ways that are possible for us. If it’s impossible for us, then we can’t identify with them.

Your homework: What makes you unique? Is that something you like about yourself or dislike about yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

Birthday Backpacking

This year for his birthday, Jeffrey decided he wanted to go backpacking with me and some of his friends. Given that his birthday is in late April, that’s a little risky in Colorado. But we were lucky, and we had an absolutely glorious weekend!

Seeing as it was our first trip of the year, Jeff picked a super easy one. We went up to Golden Gate State Park and hiked a whole mile and a half into our campsite. On Friday evening, Jeff and I were the only two up there. He’d originally planned for seven people, so we had a veritable feast of burrito delicious-ness!

It was also something of a comedy of errors kind of a trip – I forgot a hat, and a fork, and a plate, and my headlamp had mostly dead batteries, and Jeff’s water filter broke. But we both had enough layers and we remembered the important stuff, like tents and sleeping bags (I even strapped my half-size pillow to my backpack and packed that in). Luckily for me, Jeff brought his Frisbee to use as a plate and had extra batteries. And even better, when his friends came up the next morning, Matt had his water filter with him.

Also, as previously stated, the trip was a whole mile and a half. We could have bailed fairly easily had things really gotten sticky.

Matt and Jeff both brought fly rods with them, once the six of us were gathered, we spent most of Saturday afternoon fishing in the little pond below our campsite. Most of us even caught fish! I did not, but I did get somewhat better at roll-casting. Matt and his fiancé Lauren are both excellent fisher-people, and Jeff scored the biggest fish of the trip on Sunday morning, at 11 inches long.

I’ve heard a lot of people who were super passionate about fishing extoll the virtues, but I mostly remember fishing from my childhood as being fairly boring. I think I’ve gotten better at sitting still, and I think fly fishing is a very different sport. But I think I can see how people find it so meditative. I really enjoyed letting the time slip gently past as we hung around on the bank and flicked the line back and forth.

I think part of this feeling also came from the fact that there was absolutely no cell service. I even climbed on top of a fairly big rock on a hill, and still nothing. It does feel a little strange to be so removed from my usual constantly-connected life, but I also really, really enjoy it. I left my phone in my backpack, didn’t wear a watch, and kept track of time by how hungry I got.

On Saturday night, Matt made everyone a completely amazing quinoa dish with black beans and chicken and lime and tomatoes and corn and basically, it was really, really tasty. I would like to point out that we feasted like kings for this backpacking trip; it was three of our groups’ first time, and Jeff and Matt were determined to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves. Under no circumstance is this kind of food normal for backpacking! But when it’s only a mile and a half, it’s easy to justify carrying a little extra weight.

One other thing about backpacking that I kind of weirdly love is that everything takes a lot longer to do than it normally would. On Saturday afternoon, we set up a tarp in some trees in case it rained (it didn’t!) and it took an hour of fiddling with ropes and knots and searching for sticks the right height and holding the tarp that was trying to flap wildly in the wind. In the end, we had a fabulous rain shelter that Jeff and Matt were very proud of. Cooking is the same way – with no flat surface, only a tiny little stove, and limited utensils, cooking gets very interesting very quickly.

This sounds like it could turn into a super obnoxious process, but I like the awareness it brings. That meal that took an hour to cook and required building a windbreak out of rocks and is half burnt and half cold? It tastes amazing. Backpacker people call this seasoning with miles. (I will also point out that nothing that Jeff or Matt cooked was half burnt or half cold…but it’s really easy to do with backpacking stoves!)

Sunday consisted of breakfast, a little more fishing, a little more fishing after that, and a very quick hike out. When I got home, I felt strong and capable and absolutely drenched in serenity.

That feeling didn’t last very long against the raging river that is being a teacher in May…but I did learn something about transitions and being intentional about switching between different paces of life that worked out a lot better this weekend!

I’m very, very lucky for many reasons: my brother is awesome and likes to hang out with me, I have the gear and the stamina to go backpacking, and I have such beautiful mountains in my backyard.

Your homework: What’s one thing you think you don’t like that you haven’t tried in a while? I was pleasantly surprised by fishing, that’s for sure!

Hej då,

Jamie

Workbench of Dreams

 

Ha! Surprise! I bet you thought you were going to read something eloquent from a nice young lady, didn’t you. But instead, you get me, Jonathan. I was going biking this afternoon but I hardly slept last night and when I returned from work it hailed for a while, then rained with heavy thunder, and now it’s sunny? I think I’m done with today.

Today is the fifth Monday of the month, which theoretically means I can write about anything I want to. What I would like to write about is rediscovering old hobbies and the adventure that can be had at home.

I don’t spend many weekends at home. You might say I’m slightly deficient in the “hobbit” portion of Jamie’s three-part personality. I live in Northern Utah, and there’s just too many adventures to be had! I was in Jackson, then Moab, then Boulder. Next weekend is Boulder, then Steamboat, then Fruita, then… You get the picture. I don’t spend many mornings going slow.

But this past weekend I was on call for a production process at work. If they had an issue I had to be ready to drive out to the plant to help figure out a solution which kept me here in town.

It was weird.

I remember waking up Saturday morning and wondering what I was going to do with myself. I slept in, rolled out of bed at 7 AM (I get up for work at 4:50 AM; 7 AM is a luxury) slid into my slippers and strolled downstairs for a leisurely breakfast. It was kinda nice actually. I did some biking, went for a short hike with friends…and still had time.

So on Sunday, I tackled a project I had been waiting for quite some time to complete. I love to work with my hands to build things. I build anything, but electronics are a personal favorite. I have a small, very well built workbench that a friend and I built years ago. (I’m going to be real honest here, it was mostly Jake. Welding is not my forte.) While an awesome workbench, it’s small. I constantly fall off the sides and it feels like there’s not enough room for my tools and whatever I’m working on. I’ve wanted a nice, large bench for a long time now.

My dad, the awesome gent that he is, gave me a circular saw as a housewarming gift and I sensed the perfect opportunity to break it in. I borrowed a friend’s truck, headed to a local lumberyard and bought the materials. You would be amazed how much lumber you can get in the back of a Ford Ranger.

I got back to the house, pulled my car out of the garage and surveyed my neatly stacked lumber. The straight rows of wood were the stuff dreams are made from. Literally. I was a bit nervous to start as I hadn’t done any appreciable amount of woodworking in probably 8 or 9 years. That’s not to say I wasn’t once pretty handy with a skill saw. My dad started me off at a young age and years of shop class in middle and high school and a short stint flipping a house with the elder Melton had given me some skills and a small amount of confidence. But an accident with a table saw that sent another kid to the nurse my junior year somewhat killed my enthusiasm for woodworking and I hadn’t really built anything since. I’m still terrified of table saws.

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A bench a friend and I built for the City of Ketchikan during high school. I’m not this good anymore.

The project before me was a simple one, and I felt pretty confident that I could make it happen. I started out slowly, measuring carefully and cutting pieces for the larger workbench on my small workbench. (Workbench envy?) I gained confidence as I went and started going faster as I remembered the rhythm of the saw in my hands, the sound of a clean cut through the wood, and the satisfying click of the drill clutch when the screw is driven home.

And that’s when I realized I hadn’t been keeping track of the saw curf and some of my cuts were the wrong length. A good reminder to go a bit slower, but by now I was really enjoying myself. The day was calm, warm and sunny. I had the garage door open, and the blaring guitar of Beck’s “Colors” album pulsated between sharp shrieks of the saw. The world was a bit smudgy behind my scratched safety glasses, but I remembered why I once loved to work in wood. The adventure of creation, the process of something starting as an idea, then taking shape before you is hypnotic. I could see the dream of my mind’s eye slowly growing with each new cut and drill.

The day was growing long and slightly chilly as I completed the base, flipped it over and started screwing down the top of my new workbench. Something that was once no more than a figment of my imagination now stood before me so solid I could literally lean on it. It was huge, as long as I am tall and almost half my height wide. I might have overbuilt, but too much workbench is far less of a problem than not enough.

One of the most fun things about building a workbench is that you are building potential. A workbench is a tool the same way a hammer or a drill is. Having a great bench enables other things to come to life in solid form. It’s a factory of dreams. I’m incredibly excited to see what comes out of my new bench.

What’s the moral of this story? I love to go adventure off in the wilderness and the stillness and the high mountain air, but sometimes great adventure can be had within your own home. It was a great weekend and a fun reminder of something that used to mean a lot to me.

It’s a bit of redemption too. After high school, I was so terrified of power tools I tried building things using hand tools for a while, but there’s a reason that Roy Underhill toils alone in his workshop. Power tools rock. It’s always a blast to get back in the saddle and discover the horse didn’t kick as hard as you remembered.

I have a problem now though.

I need more tools.

Your task for this week is to go do something cool with your hands. Put some flowers in a vase, build a robot, plant a tree. Do something that you can stand back, look at and think: “Neat, I did that.”

Until next time,

-Jonathan

Taking Care of

(Photo notes: This was from high school state championships when my parents hosted the Steamboat Springs High School team for a tuning party in our garage. I would absolutely not recommend tuning barefoot; metal filings in your foot aren’t fun!)

Ski racers spend hours and hours and hours and hours taking care of their skis. This is called tuning. We sharpen the edges, but that’s the easy part. The part that takes forever is waxing and brushing. I spent a significant portion of my racing career picking wax, melting it onto my skis, letting it cool, scraping it back off, and brushing my skis until they gleamed.

A lot of people are fairly confused by this whole process. Sharpening the edges is fairly intuitive; the snow is hard and a sharp edge holds better. But waxing and scraping and brushing? The trick is not to compare ski wax to car wax, which protects the paint and should be left on. Ski wax is more like conditioner for your hair. Without wax, ski bases get dry and the material of the base can start to fray and add friction. However, if you never rinsed your hair after you conditioned it, it would get sticky and gloopy and awful. The same is true for skis.

Ski wax is also special because there are different waxes formulated for different temperatures of snow. Cold wax is typically harder because cold snow crystals can strip a soft wax of a ski in a single run. Warm wax is softer and helps repel the water in the snow so the skis aren’t fighting adhesion. Some waxes had fluorocarbons in them, which made the ski really fast but also dried out the base like crazy.

Waxing is the easiest part of the whole process; it involves using an iron to melt the wax onto the ski base and get it all smooth. Then you have to leave the ski to cool. The longer you leave a ski, the more the wax soaks in and the better it is. Once the wax is cool, you can start to scrape it off. Scraping removes the visible wax. The better job you do scraping, the easier brushing is.

Brushing is the long process. When I traveled, I had three brushes; a brass brush, a horsehair brush, and a soft nylon brush. The brass pulled the most wax out of the ski, the horsehair pulled out a little more, and the nylon brush polished it. When I was in high school, I had a callous on my palm from how I held the brush. Done properly, brushing can take up to an hour for both skis.

I certainly had my moments of getting annoyed with brushing, especially on nights mid-series. It was hard to race all day, get off the hill and stretch, get dinner, do homework, and still be motivated to brush. Plus there’s all the other gear to take care off; wet mittens and bandanas to lay out to dry, boot liners to pull out of the shells…the list goes on. There were definitely days all these things didn’t happen.

But in general, I loved brushing and taking care of all my gear. It made me feel like the real deal. It made me feel capable. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And dry boots and mittens are a beautiful thing!

I don’t ski race anymore, but I still have plenty of gear to take care of. There are hiking boots to be rinsed off, a lot of the same gear for free skiing, bike chains to lube, and swimsuits to hang up to dry. I love taking care of my stuff. It serves me longer that way, but it also just feels good to do it.

This doesn’t stop with sports stuff though. I love washing dishes and wiping down counters and I’ve even gotten to the point where I appreciate sweeping the kitchen floor. I love the warm water and the smell of the soap, and I love seeing the kitchen all clean. But this is another form of taking care of my stuff. Is it easier to wash dishes right after I’ve used them and before everything has dried on to them? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that I truly enjoy cleaning my kitchen.

Again, I will put in the caveat that this is mostly true. My dirty dinner dishes are currently sitting in the sink waiting for me.

Laundry falls into this category too, as does putting things away. It’s really satisfying to have a place for everything and to have a neat space. The other thing that falls into this category, for me, is getting ready for the next day. This semester, one of my goals has been to have more relaxed mornings. To this end, I’ve been packing my lunch the night before, which generally involves spooning left-overs into a smaller container. I’ve also started packing my gym bag the night before. (I would like to point out that my gym bag is a fabric bag printed with the spines of the seven Harry Potter books. Mom got it for me for Christmas and I LOVE IT.) This is doubly-great; not only do I not have to scramble to do it in the morning, but I don’t forget socks anymore! (There was also one memorable time I forgot a shirt. I went swimming that day.)

There was a side-benefit to this that I didn’t anticipate. I stop working on school stuff at 8 pm in order to start doing dishes, packing lunch, packing my gym bag, and picking up anything that wandered out. (Seeing that I spend about four conscious hours in my house, I don’t know how this happens. But it does. Every single day. I blame mail.) This means that I’m not thinking about school and being stressed for the hour before I go to bed. And it means that I’m not sitting and staring at a screen, which I appreciate. I like the gentle movement of walking around my house and the calm that I get from putting my life physically in order.

I tried this out one other place in my life; I start my teaching day by getting my classroom totally ready for the day. The first thing I do is put my lunch in the fridge and turn on the heater in the office. Then I take care of writing the objective, agenda, and warm up on the whiteboard. After the whiteboard, I take a moment to sort papers and make tea. Only at this point do I take out my laptop. I love it because I start with something that’s guaranteed to be productive before I deal with not getting sucked into any of the distractions that come with the internet.

Just like brushing my skis, taking care of my things and my spaces make me feel good about being in them and with them. It makes me feel capable and productive and like I’m doing a good job with this whole adulting thing. Sometimes, at least!

Your homework: What do you enjoy taking care of? Why?

Hej dá,

Jamie

Yarn Stash

Anyone who does crafts knows that there must be, and always is, a craft stash. It’s where the magic happens. It contains the supplies for that one project you haven’t started yet, the odds and ends from the last six projects that can get twisted together, and everything in between. It’s inspiration and a blank canvas and proof of old accomplishments.

It’s also usually completely and utterly chaotic. And it usually drives everyone, including and especially the crafter, completely nuts.

As a knitter, my craft stash is a yarn stash. And for quite a long time, I did a pretty good job keeping my yarn stash to a minimum. I bought the yarn I needed for a project, wound up the extra yarn, and I even did one project for Hannah’s wedding that used up some that extra yarn.

Then Facebook figured out I liked knitting; it started advertising yarn sales. And I have a lovely heathered purple that will make a gorgeous lace baby blanket…when I get around to it.

Then Granny and I toured yarn and quilting shops; Showers of Flowers was having a major clearout of a brand that had changed its packaging. And I have a soft yellow that will be a star-and-moon baby blanket…and a beautiful purple and blue variegated yarn that will be perfect for my favorite garter stick baby blanket…and a rich warm variegated brown yarn that might end up as an extra-wide scarf and fingerless mittens…when I get around to it.

Then I moved into Marilyn’s house, and Ellen lives downstairs. Ellen knits. Ellen knits a lot. Ellen taught me to make socks, and a new casting-on method, and the Kitchener stitch. And Ellen started to give me yarn.

At first, it was a bright variegated yarn for baby mittens that was white and pink and green and yellow and purple. Then it was a heathered grey to practice socks with. Then she started to clean out her yarn stash, and two giants paper grocery-bags full ended up on my bed.

Last week, it was TWO GARBAGE BAGS FULL. Ellen is really going to town cleaning things out! Some of it is just odds and ends. I’ll make a lot of smaller projects like mittens and muffs and hats. (I’ve never made a hat before.) There’s also a luxurious maroon mohair, enough to do something really cool with. And there are types of yarns I’ve never used before! There are wool and cotton and some bamboo and of course acrylic blends. There’s sock yarn and worsted yarn and chunky yarn and some kind of yarn that sends fuzzies off every which way. There’s yarn in every color imaginable!

Of course, this incredibly generous contribution to my yarn stash happened right before I get ready to move. But that’s the universe, isn’t it? It loves to laugh.

I meant it when I said Ellen was incredibly generous. I can’t even begin to calculate the worth of the yarn she gave me, and that’s not why she did it. She’s delighted to have someone use it and create something with it. Knitting is an art form, one that was passed on to me by Granny and Mom. And now, also by Ellen.

I have a lot of winding and sorting and storing to do with my yarn, but really what will be happening is a lot of daydreaming about what to make next. At the moment, I have to finish the project I have on needles (it’s a secret!) and then a couple of baby blankets for dear friends will be in the works. But once I get those done…let the creating begin!

Your homework: What do you stash? Why? Is it a source of inspiration or a source of chaos or both?

Hej då,

Jamie

Genetics Part 3: Canon versus Relevancy

Every discipline has canonical knowledge and skills. They’re the stories and examples experts love to hate because, while they’re often canonical for a reason, they quickly lose context and rarely tell the whole story.

The best definition I can give of “canon” comes from fanfiction. (And of course, I’ll use Harry Potter as my example.) All fanfiction is divided into two categories; canon and Alternate Universe (AU). Canon fanfiction is anything that takes all the published books to be true, while AU fics write stories answering questions like, “What would happen if Harry had grown up with Sirius Black instead of the Dursleys?”

Note that canon, especially in the Harry Potter world, is a hotly debated topic. The most extreme of canon purists only count the seven books. Other writers will include things JKR’s said in interviews or published in other places (her website Pottermore, the Hogwarts textbooks she wrote, and at one point she wrote a few Daily Prophet newsletters). Now that The Cursed Child has been released, it’s created even more controversy. Some writers, who have been writing canon for years, have defined the “Sensible Universe,” where they can classify their writing as canon without having to update tiny details they made up as JKR gives us more information.

And I haven’t even mentioned the movies. I will just quickly state that, in my opinion, the movies are not canon. In fact, they’re the most expensive and widely consumed fanfiction ever. But, as with everything else, this is debated throughout the fandom.

For a somewhat more science-y example, I can tell you that they Watson and Crick story, which usually today includes Rosalind Franklin, is canon in the molecular biology world. It was a huge turning point in science and our understanding of all of molecular biology. If you go one level farther into canon, you’ll hear of Griffith, Avery and MacLeod, and Chargaff, all of whom made important discoveries about DNA. Hopefully, you’ll also hear of the beautiful, elegant, and delightfully simple Hershey-Chase experiment. It’s my favorite molecular biology experiment ever! (Yes, I’m that nerdy. I have a favorite experiment.)

But those people don’t tell the entire story of how the structure of DNA was discovered. It doesn’t tell the story of the wrong answers (Linus Pauling, you genius chemist, I’m looking at you…) and the false starts and politics of racing to find the answer. Everyone knew whoever finally got a good model for the structure of DNA would be famous forever. And James Watson and Francis Crick will be.

There are issues with canon. There are historical perspectives that need to be considered; Rosalind Franklin’s contribution wasn’t considered for a long time because she was a woman. Other stories are incomplete or missing because the people didn’t fit the mold of a scientist; there are often equity issues woven into canon stories.

And often canon stories aren’t super relevant to my students. My favorite ecological experiment is the one where Robert Payne used a crowbar to pry starfish off rocks and chucked them back into the ocean, demonstrating top-down population control and providing support for the Green World Hypothesis. But this story relies on marine ecosystems. Hi, I’m from Colorado! We’re one of the most landlocked states in the US!

If you’d asked me before spring break what I thought about canon stories, I would admit to you that I get some joy out of learning them and telling them. But I would write you something a lot like what I just wrote you. Canon can become a box that excludes other stories and people who can’t relate.

Then I started tutoring my friend Craig in genetics. He’s taking an introductory biology class at the University of Colorado Denver. I never took this kind of course (thanks, AP credits) and I never attended the Denver campus. In some ways, it’s tricky to help him because I know more science than he probably needs to, and I have to figure out what he needs to know. Craig could definitely learn everything I could possibly teach him and more, but time is limited, after all. What examples is he likely to see on the exam? How did his professor explain that one concept?

But fancy this: all the examples and stories I learned in high school, which are in turn the examples and stories I fall back on when I teach my kids, are the same examples and stories Craig learned in his class. Sure, there might be some slight variation; in order to teach incomplete dominance, his teacher used blue and white flowers instead of red and white. But in general, it was all the same. It was awesome! It meant that Craig and I felt like we were talking about the same thing, and like we had common ground to start from. In the same way that canon can exclude, people who know the canon are very much included in that discipline. Canon can be a unifying principle among a group of people.

And it was really cool that I could predict with a high degree of accuracy what he needed to know, how his definitions were worded, and which stories his professor had told.

I certainly don’t put this down to my excellent knowledge of biology content and/or teaching. I think this is a great example of the power of canon. And it raises some really interesting questions. How do certain stories spread through a culture? How do we make canon accessible to anyone?

Your homework: What canon is inherent to your discipline? What stories are left out? How does a shared canon strengthen a community, and how does it exclude outsiders?

Hej då,

Jamie