Those who have spent any time with me know know that I draw a great deal from the life and the writing of David Foster Wallace. Without him ever knowing me, our lives became intertwined the day he committed suicide. The particulars of those events are relevant for this little story.
What is important is that I have found great comfort in his words in times when there was not a great comfort anywhere else.
My students have likely heard me reference “This is Water,” the title of DFW’s famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, at least once during their time in my class.This speech is, in just a few minutes, the best description I’ve ever heard of the meaning of life. (This piece meant so much to me that my wife and I made it our theme at our wedding in January.)
In the last few days, somebody released a fictionalized film version of DFW’s talk. I have watched it repeatedly, oftentimes with tears streaming down my face for reasons that, like the particulars from before, aren’t particularly relevant to you.
But I suspect if you watch it, you will draw your own meaning from it.
“The capital T truth is about life before death.”
Most of my students probably don’t know him. They should. At the very least, they should know this.
A decade has passed since that awful day on September 11, 2001. In terms of your memory, that’s a long time. The major moments tend to stick, but the bits and pieces of it all flitter away into the mind, gone from most purposeful thought.
What it leaves, though, is a filtered version of the things that mattered that day — and the days after. Those moments and emotions that have stuck have become my defining view of that day’s events.
I am prone to disappearing. I find ways to sequester myself from the world, whether driving alone when I could take the train or locking my doors on the weekend and emerging again only when it’s time for work. I am, and have always been, a solitary creature. That’s not to suggest to don’t love people. In fact (and surprisingly), I have a great passion of them.
Many times, I just find all of the emotion to much to handle. I get overloaded with expectations, with disappointments, with joys. To survive, I need solitude to recharge and reboot.
In those terrible hours and days and weeks after 9/11, I remember not wanting that solitude. I remember looking around at the faces in the offices of Wired.com, professionals who were trying to find a way to make our stories make a difference from 3,000 miles away, and wanting to stay with everyone. On that awful day, people lingered about, not wanting to go home. I ended up sitting in a bar with my editor, one with whom I had a terrible relationship, and just processing through what we had seen. There were few words. Just silent drinking.
I met this dude in 1996, the year I rolled into Austin. We worked together at Trudy’s. We also became best friends over a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey while discussing how we’d ended up in Austin.
The short story: the women we’d been with decided to not be with us. Good enough: we bonded as men.
Much has happened since then, but one of the constants in my life has been our friendship.
We lived together for two years then, when I moved away in 1998 to go to graduate school I’d stay with him when I’d return for SXSW Interactive, and when I moved back to Austin in 2002 I bought a house where he’s lived since. (I lived here for two years until the job pulled me away.)
Grades don’t matter.
This is what I tell my students ever week throughout the school year. Education is about the process, I tell them as they roll their eyes, not the product. I implore them to focus on squeezing out every bit of knowledge from their assignments. I want them to attack uncertainty without fear of failure. I encourage them to fail.
Because in failure we learn.
But the truth is that even those students who try – try – to focus on learning and not grades still fall victim to that red letter penned upon their assignments. I can see it in their eyes, the smiles that beam across their face when they earn As and the sunken, silent despair when they earn Fs.
I want to grab each of them, look them in the eyes, and remind them that grades don’t matter. In class or in life. What matters is the process. What matters is the way you approach your education, your relationships, and your life.
Of course I can’t convince my students to think this way. Too much of our educational system is built around grades. So I do the only thing that I can: I tell them my story.
This is The Tigger Talk.
Part 1: On Life
Grades don’t matter. I’ve told you that throughout the semester. Before every assignment. After every assignment. Grades are simply irrelevant to what you have learned and what you know.
I’ve told you this but I haven’t told you why I know this. Today I am going to do that.
Social Media Revolution 2
Social Media Revolution 2010:
A Vision of Students Today
In keeping with the week’s theme, Apple CEO Steve Jobs tells Stanford graduates three stories from his life.
Continuing our Week 7 theme of “Failure…” Please consider: