I would be lying if I said 2011 was uneventful. It had the peaks and valleys of a year from my youth precisely at a time when I thought these outliers were smoothing with age. 2011 taught me that outliers are not outliers, that the peaks and valleys matter as much as the middle bits. They matter because the outliers precipitate action rather than merely experiencing consequence. They matter as they often propel us into other directions, other destinies. Maturity just makes us sigh a bit about an opportunity not taken even if the taken one is so rewarding. A silly by-product of possession, of that choice not taken was ever ours at all. 2011 was one of those years, full of professional success and failure, full of self-realization about my potential and, more pronounced, my very clear limitations. It was, as always, full of love.
The end of the year is melancholy, a wistful, joyful melancholy and my holiday memories are always tinged with this. A reluctance to part with what you know, however mixed, for fear of what you don’t, however promising. Spending the holidays abroad in Seoul, Korea, my 9th Christmas/New Year here amplifies that melancholy. Not necessarily because you want to be anywhere else, but rather because culturally you feel like you should be somewhere else. Wistful for a memory I am not even sure I possess or have experienced. You miss things, places and people, but it is a muted kind of loss, not as acute as it was in my early 20s. So I come to the end of the year full of cultural residue (hence the song below) of things not experienced but still felt, and full of gratitude for the joy and pain of 2011. 2012 is shaping up to be monumental so I should pause and reflect now that I have the opportunity.
First some music to set the tone, Auld Lang Syne from Guy Lombardi, a version that perfectly encapsulates the cultural residue of a culture many of us have never experienced (not sure I have ever been to a New Years party that this song was actually played).
Since we all love lists, here are my favorites from 2011. The negative ones, however enabling and developmental, are for me. I will carry those around until I am free to talk about them.
My 10th Anniversary with my wife in the Hamptons, Long Island
I have been blessed with my wife for over 10 years now (since we have been together; we only married in 2006). I love her more each and every day (I gush when I write about my wife) and she is the sum total of the reasons for my success. She has humored me, encouraged me, prodded me, challenged me, but more importantly she has turned on that smile and I am soothed, serene. For our 10th anniversary we drove from Princeton to East Hampton, Long Island (about 3 hours) and stayed at this magical bed and breakfast (a palatial bed and breakfast). We drove to Montauk, the farthest point on Long Island and watched the sunset behind the lighthouse that George Washington commissioned (the first public work in American history). We ate well, smiled, and pretended we could afford the Hamptons. It was a magical two days for me and I hope to take her back there on our 20th.
Graduating from the University of Edinburgh, in person
It was a thrill and my proudest academic moment to date. As a product of perpetual online education (two Masters degrees) and longing for a capstone to an impressive learning experience, I traveled with my wife to Edinburgh, Scotland in July and participated in the graduation ceremony. I was in the first row, was maybe the 5th person who went, and did it all in front of my wife, friends, and my professors. They encouraged me, prodded me, propelled me much further than indeed I thought possible. A cliche, perhaps, but I am not looking for poetry here. Just accuracy. This 2 year experience, culminating in this ceremony, meant the world to me.
Being the amazing programme and group of people that they are on the MSc, I am now working as a Research Associate on another research project sponsored through the University of Edinburgh on the role of space/geography in online learning. They didn’t have to ask me to be involved as I had already graduated, but they did and I am forever appreciative. University of Edinburgh, you have my loyalty for all time.
I have written about my participation on MobiMOOC dozens of times, so I will spare you the details. The professional collaboration that occurred after the course ended with like-minded researchers passionate about the transformative effects of mobile learning was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. What should have constituted a weak-tie network turned out to be a rather durable, pliable research community. We came together online (from five different countries), cowrote two papers which are now published, are in the working stages of a third, had a paper accepted for mLearn 2011 in Beijing and then proceeded to win the Best Paper Award there. I have never experienced anything like this before. There was no overlap in our respective professional past, nothing but a few weak connections into larger networks. But there we were and worked it did.
On a personal level, how satisfying it was to work with such kind and astute people after experiencing a few other online experiences with academics who were perhaps a bit too enamored of their own intellect (and perceived impact). This MobiMOOC Research Group are a considerate lot, brimming with curiosity, patience, and flexibility. Just a nice group of people all around and I was fortunate to meet two in Beijing and hopefully all of them over the course of the next few years. MobiMOOC Research Team, you have all my love and admiration.
Travel to Doha, Panama, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Edinburgh, London, Melbourne, Seattle, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, (settling in Seoul)
This is certainly a bittersweet experience taken as a composite but one I am greatly thankful for. Every place broadened me a bit, even if I felt increasingly anxious about the demands of each. By the end of the year all I wanted to do was stay still, as if stillness would alleviate the growing reluctance I demonstrated towards each trip. I love travel, I love it so much. I find that travel, especially for work, comes in bunches after long periods of inactivity and one must ride it out even if mentally you aren’t up to the experience. Some of these trips I rode out better than others, but some meant quite a bit to me. I saw the sunset on the dhows plowing the choppy waves of Zanzibar, I saw the immersive peculiarity of Tokyo, I rode the tram around Melbourne in loops, I have wandered the streets of Seoul in search of family history, in Doha I saw at least five Lamborghinis. All of these places changed me, taxed me, improved me, fatigued me. That is travel. That was 2011.
To family in the US, all my love. To friends in New Jersey, Tokyo, London, et al, I’m always thinking of you. To everyone else, I wish the best for you all in 2012. Many happy days.