Follow the Bubbles

A photo from underwater. At the bottom, the water is dark and at the very top center is brightest. There are bubbles in the center.

Follow the bubbles. 

Stop rehearsing.

Learn in public.

These phrases go through my head a lot lately. They nudge me to start doing more of what lights my spirit, what brings me meaning and purpose, and what puts my gifts in service to others. It usually involves taking a step out of the norms, familiarity, and legibility of everyday life. That also means there often isn’t a pre-worn trail to reduce friction and uncertainty. As Sara Ahmen says in her Feminist Killjoy blog, “The more a path is used, the more a path is used.” The first step is hard because of my anxieties around the dominant-other that show up as people-pleasing and perfectionist behaviors. There’s a tension between internal fears and loving space I want to create for myself and others. 

Follow the bubbles

I don’t scuba dive and I’m actually completely terrified of it. Deep dark water, gigantic creatures, the vastness of the ocean. Nope. I _loved_ the video a friend sent me this summer of them diving with manta rays at night off the coast of Hawai’i. If I weren’t paralyzingly afraid of the water, that experience of being with these enormous, gentle, water-flying animals would be on my bucket list.

‘Follow the bubbles’ is a mantra of scuba diving. When you get disoriented underwater and can’t tell up from down, follow your bubbles to the surface. Stop struggling against what you already know how to do – rise to the surface to get air. Since I’m at the beach a lot, we pay attention to undertow. When the riptide is trying to pull you out to sea, cut _across_ the water moving perpendicular to the beach, not directly against the wave. Basically, stop if it’s so hard you’re drowning.

I had been treading water for several years in the tension between fears and loving action. I started drowning by mid 2019. I wasn’t doing the things that gave me life. My mental health leave in April/May 2022 was when I finally started following my own bubbles. 

Stop rehearsing

I can’t remember where I heard this phrase, stop rehearsing. In the scenario, friend 1 was complaining to friend 2 about friend 1’s partner. This venting had been going on for so long, that friend 2 finally said, ‘stop rehearsing with me and talk to your partner about it.’ A relationship triangle had formed among these three individuals. Instead of attending to the disrupted relationship, friend 1 was offloading the stress onto friend 2. Now there was stress in both the friend 1/partner relationship AND the friend 1/friend 2 relationship.

I said ‘stop rehearsing’ at myself yesterday during a text exchange with a close friend. I was struggling with something and essentially rehearsing with her what needed to be said directly to someone else. I was caught in the people-pleasing and perfectionism mentality. I wanted to get “the script” just right and predict every comeback. When I caught myself rehearsing instead of acting, I realized all I needed to say was, “that interaction didn’t feel right to me. I wish we had said/done X instead.” 


Follow the bubbles.

Learn in public

The concept of ‘learn in public’ came up in the class I’m teaching this summer on course design. We were at our last class, and all of their ‘what if’ anxieties came up: what if they hate my course, what if they don’t do the reading, what if this was all a very terrible idea to teach a course of my own design. I encouraged them to be both vulnerable and courageous – two sides of the same coin. Try. Be curious. Find out. I said, ‘commit to learning in public,’ to release the graduate students from the cages of their own perfectionist tendencies.

A quoted paragraph from a blog by Prue Adams captures the idea well. “Sharing my exploratory thinking (including the missteps) via writing a public blog takes the concept of not-knowing up a level. Adrienne Keene, in  discussion with Kim TallBear on the All My Relations podcast, describes this as “consenting to learn in public[4]”. For TallBear thinking in public is an ethical and feminist act, one that invites feedback, triggers conversation and generates learning, thereby “dismantling hierarchies of knowledge production” (Wilbur & Keene, 2019). Blogs or podcasts that actively engage in listening and responding, practice a public facing scholarship that models “accountability to the communities about which and to which [they] speak” (McGregor, 2017) creating “little publics” through a form of public pedagogy (Hickey-Moody, 2013, 19-21). “


The title "Little Shop of Horrors" is in three lines of text, the first two lines with yellow font, the last line in large green letters. There is a venus fly trap in a pot in the middle
Little Shop of Horrors poster

There are things I want to do now in my personal and professional life. I want to create spaces where graduate students and the people who serve them in higher education get to know and nurture their authentic, creative selves. In our contexts that socialize us to productivity, competition, usefulness, I want graduate students and their guides to operate from joy, commitments, community, and love. 

I used to do a lot of musical theater in high school. We rehearsed scenes but rarely went from beginning to end. It was only in the dress rehearsals where we did complete run-throughs, where we worked out the rough patches. I’m currently at that dress rehearsal part of the next phase of my personal and professional life. As I recall from those high school performances, the last dress rehearsal was ALWAYS a mess. And the opening weekend performances were always a THRILL.

This is a new path for me. I have the skills, knowledge, experience, and opportunities. I am now following the bubbles. I’m going to stop rehearsing and consent to learn in public.

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