Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 19:24:51 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Chaos Theory

This is unique. It is the dark of evening and not of dawn.

You know on the plane flying home from the Lilly Conference on College Teaching at Miami University last night, I was thinking. I should have been sleeping. My body was so stiff I could have sworn it was in the throes of early rigormortise. I guess my spirit and brain weren't as fried as much as I thought. So, eye-lids that felt like cement blocks and muscles that were stiff as proverbial planks not withstanding, a few remaining drops of adrenalin stired my soul. I found myself thinking what is it about the Lilly Conference that left me both exhausted and refreshed?

This was my ninth Lilly conference. It was as alive and crisp as the first, second, third..... There was no routine to it; no sense of "old." Nothing was stale, not even the danish. Nothing was stagnant. It was all movement. Like always it had a sweet smell of freshness and newness to it. There was that ever touch of the serendipity to it. You never really know what surprise is going to be pulled at a plenary, keynote, or session. A dog act last year; music this year. Everything there is so unstuffy, so "unego." Is it the spirit of the creator and driving force of the conference, Milton Cox of Miami University? Yes, but that is only a part of the answer. Is it the dedication and commitment and warm "embraceableness" of an every-smiling--and very patient--host of the detail people? Yes, but that is only a part of the answer. It is the conference's "smoozeability," as a new-found friend commented? Is it those hugs and kisses of friends who meet this one time a year like lost family members and the hugs and kisses of strangers who have become friends in a few short days? Yes, but that is only a part of the answer.

I mean, if you were a proverbial fly on the wall you would have seen and heard noted educators such as Lisa Newman and Wendy Larcher belting out Motown songs with would make Diana Ross jealous, Linc Fish cooking up his god-awful oyster/green olive/cheese on cracker concoction that would make no one jealous, jovial Craig Nelson hobbling with his cane but not with his mind and heart, Tony Grasha presenting a magnificent conference-ending plenary, Folly the Dog with a name tag draped around his neck walking among us, Nana Morrows dancing their glorious Ashanti conference convocation, Lynne Anderson acting like a sprouting fungi (which I learned is pronounced "fun-gee"), Alex Fancy engaging us with his edu-tropes, Barbara Mossbert linking intricately and intimately the arts and the sciences, name tags individually and colorfully decorated, students play acting, faculty play acting, participants drawing and computing and discussing and singing and sculpting and dancing, and .......

All of these diverse sessions, the constant movement of people; the din of clustered conversations in the halls and over eating tables and on outside benches and on the jogging trails, and even in the bathrooms; the diverse participants from every conceivable discipline from proverbial "all over." What is it about Lilly? Lots of smiles, lots of laughter, lots of fun, and none of it frivilous. At a glance, I;ve heard a very, very few over the years who don't bother to understand, have called it so "non-professional," maybe even unprofessional. But, I have yet to find finer, abler, more dedicated, more receptive, more embracing professionals than those at the Lilly conference. They're just smart enough to do it with a smile here, some laughter there, a dance step here, and spirited humanity everywhere.

We all attend this conference, present our stuff, participate in the stuff of others, write notes until our fingers are numb, move around, go periodically brain numb, pull muscles carry handouts that collect by the cartoons, get drained of every ounce of energy, are on an adraline kick going for two to four days and then crash, get bleary eyed smoozing 'til all hours of the night in all sorts of places with friends, make new friends out from strangers. Eat. Drink. Dance. Sing. Getting stuffed with delightful food for thought, delicious food for the tummy, and delicate food for the spirit is only part of the answer I was seeking.

I pondered that on the plane home. The majority of the over five hundred participants come as strangers and a majority leave as members of a supporting and encouraging community. I couldn't put it all together and find that grand unifying theory. Then, over somewhere between Cinncinati and Atlanta, between fading in and out of consciousness, it hit me. Or, at least I think I got it. Einstein get ready to move over.

I shared my discovery with Barbara Mossberg, President Emeritus of Goddard College. Now, I'll "go public."

On the surface, Lilly looks like anarchy. It all seems so chaotic. A lot may even look frivilous. And yet, it is so orderly. It is so guided. And so professional. Underneath all the apparent surface chacaphony of sound and hubbub of movement, there is a deep unifying rhythm of life. I'll call it my Lilly Chaos Theory.

The Theory says that the apparent anarchy is order and the order is anarcy. It says that the apparent confusion, commotion, discord of sound and movement, in the nooks and crannies in and around Miami University's Marcum Center is all about changing habits, about struggling to get into the habit of breaking habits of thinking, feeling, and doing, struggling to get rid of old negative habits, and struggling to acquire positive new ones.

My Lilly Chaos Theory makes sense if you understand that we come to Lilly so we can learn to program ourselves to be reprogrammable, to learn to teach ourselves to be teachable, to learn to renew ourselves in order to be a renewable resource.

Should it be otherwise? Life is by its definition reprogramming and renewing, and teaching is part of life; life by its definition an on-going, never ending story of change, and so should teaching. The "same ole, same ole" shouldn't exist stagnantly in teaching any more than it does in life. Habit is nothing more than a disguised choice to which we have assigned power and control over us. Habit is only another name for doing something we really want to do. Habit is something we do over and over again so often it becomes easy. A conference such as Lilly helps us to see that what lies within us is far more important and potent that what lies around us. It echoes what Pirsig said in ZEN AND MOTORCYLCE MAINTENANCE about things being so hard when contemplated in advance and so easy when you do it. So the enveloping spirit of Lilly helps us acquire or start acquiring empowering habits to overpower disempowering ones; to acquire or start acquiring habits that nourish our spirits and souls, to explore who we are, to expand who we are, to learn about how we feel. And we leave Lilly beginning to see or seeing clearer that teaching is not an act; it's a habit; it's filled with character.

And, it is those habits which determine the quality of teaching. I believe that whether we are conscious of it or not, we go to Lilly to find a community of mutual support and encouragement--and the way--to build character because character is not inherited. It is built when we constantly strive to change and grow and improve, day by day, feeling by feeling, attitude by attitude, thought by thought, act by act. According to my theory, we are guided by the forces of Chaos and go to a conference on teaching like Lilly because we want to acquire habits that keep us in motion, to explore and expand, to work better not just harder, to awaken a boldness, to tap an imagination and creativity, to take us to a higher level of awareness, to offer us a sharper sense of sight, to give up a stronger commitment to the question than the answer, to give us a more acute sense of smell, and we leave Lilly tired and numb, but so invigoratingly alive we feel everything.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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