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I could not be more unplugged right now if I tried.

Some of the decision for unplugging from my position at the University of Mary Washington last Thursday was my departure to participate in Unplug’d 2012. This is the conference event thing (?) where 40 some educators go to a retreat near Algonquin Park in Ontario, to a lake side retreat that is off the internet– to have in depth conversations about “what really matters.”

It was almost a year ago, on my trek across Canada, when I started meeting people who had just returned from the first iteration. I’m not sure if my stays with Dean Shareski and then Alec Courous in Saskatchewan was after this, but I know by the time I got to Winnipeg and listened to Darren Kuropatawa, Chris Harbeck, and Andy Mckiel I started hearing (and seeing a fuzzy look in their eyes) about this magical experience.

It was later as I met up with Heather Durnin, Andy Forgrave, Giulia Forsythe, Stephen Hurley, Kim Gill, Rodd Lucier — and heard/saw that same… what i started to call “kum-ba-ya” expression when they talked about being at Unplug’d.

I found the right term when I talked about it this yeat, it was like getting a Second hand Unplug’d Experience, not quite the same high, but still something.

So I was very eager when Rodd sent me an invite.

It was an easy yes.

And I could not be more glad I went, for many reasons- the people made, the feeling of acceptance, the change of pace, that all worked.


I remain unsettled, through no fault of the event, this is my own bag of stuff to unplug. And I think its a start.

So here it goes, in no real order or stucture.

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The Northern Edge Alqonquin is indeed a place of magic and mystery, and this year was shrouded in mist and rain. It all works. Todd and Martha and Greg and Kim and all the others I might forgot could not have been better hosts, and the food blew my mind (that is a compliment).

The presence of Jowi Taylor and the Six String Nation Guitar was, at a minimum, a presence that represents something that is bigger than us as individuals- yes it is a guitar, but it is comprised of the very materials and symbols that are part of the Canadian shared history and fabric. So while I cannot identify with all of it, I can identify with the feelings I could sense it brought from others, especially the connection with the Golden Spruce (who’s rare wood makes up the top of the guitar).

It was one thing to have Jowi do a presentation on the project at the opening reception, but more than that when we learned he and the guitar would spend the weekend with us too. And who could really forget the shared feeling with Bryan Jackson played two of his own songs that first night

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It was more than a song, I was somewhat half expecting a Canadian folks song, and pleased when Bryan brought a song/story from his heart. We all adore, admire, respect Bryan- his whole open and caring/sharing spirit radiates. Who knows where his talent will take him, we can say we knew him as a humble teacher. An amazing humble teacher.

Thank you Bryan.

The real gains of this experience, for me, again is that reinforcement of how much the meeting in person amplifies and magnifies and superfies the connections we make online. I can have very fulfilling relationships with my online colleagues, but my travel last year, and this weekend at unplug’s again slaps me in the head with how much that direct interaction just- makes -it -better.

Many of these folks I had never met before and had not much online interaction with either. Now my circle is much bigger, though the time went so fast and my own inability to get to talk to many people kind of leaves me with “you should ahve talked to more people” (keep that glass half full, half full, half full).

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It was the writing process I will remember vividly. We were asked to write a letter to someone, or ourselves, that would be paired with a spoken story, that would shape a shared experience with some relationship to learning, education, or life.

My first idea would have been easy to do, it revolved an experience in 2nd grade which sent me down one path of school with an awareness and confidence that took me far.

That would have worked, but was easy. So I dropped it (sorry Mrs Foreman) after talking with Giulia during her visit in Arizona; she suggested I look to experiences from my travels last year, and make that my story.

I knew that would be harder, and something I have not really got deeply enough into. There were some closed up trunks of emotion I left in boxes somewhere.

I’m not going to go much into what I wrote, but let’s say it was me writing to me with some wisdom I could have used in the beginning of the trip, though, as it is, I would not have wanted the events to play out much different.

I cannot say enough about my small group; the process of reading our letters out loud, and giving feedback in a group is not an unusual process for people in writing programs, but was new to me.

It worked in many ways- not just for what I got, but that part of trying to be an active listener and wanting to give as much as I hoped to get back. At first glance, I might have thought “I have nothing in common with this group” but we ended up having– not as much as “in common” but in caring.

There’s my kum-ba-yah- my group experience.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

We had started with a large group process of sharing a rock we brought and shared its meaning, and drew connections. It was the first of many of the bits where I ended up rather emotional, here with my rock from my home in Strawberry, and talking about the uncertainty with where I am headed.

There’s so much more to mix in, the music, the camp fires, the sauna, canoes, paddle boarding, bicycling, labyrinth walking, playing Wolves and Townspeople, the loooooooooong bus ride back. A lot was packed in, and te agenda was a tad overly structured for me- I really need my down time, which I ended up taking as camera time.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Another memorable bit was a story Todd told of a trip he took to Greenland, where he was exploring the tundra (?) snapping photos to try and document the scene for an environmental project, and at some point he panicked as he realized he had dropped his iphone. After some panic, he calmed and heard an inner voice that said, “Take the picture with your heart” — meaning stop trying to capture capture capture and just “be” with the place.

I appreciated the idea, and heard a lot of folks repeating that sentiment.

I did talk to Todd later, and mention that I feel more connected with a place, a time, when I am in connection with it, but also when I am able to see it through my camera lens. I cannot really say it any more than that, but doing that process of framing, finding an angle, looking for details, enriches the memory, the experience of it. I connect when I look through the camera. It’s not that I dont see things without it, but I generally feel better when I am in that mode.

I connected that later when Giulia was talking with a group on the bus about how she pulls things out of a talk or discussion when she is doing her visual art. In a way it reminded me of the proces of photography when you are out on the world- there is this large amount of “stuff” information, detail, and its a similar process (they way I heard it) or more or less “cropping” (the way you frame things in a camera) of focusing on a detail or framing an idea.

Now I am not sure what this all means, but there is some similar process of filtering or focussing going on here.

So here I sit, not sure how to come up with the Grand Monumental Statement, but my case being more of an issue of being a bit mired in this transition to something unknown. I noticed that on meeting people I really fumbled/babbled completely when trying to answer the question, “What do you do?” (even “Where are you from” yields a complex jambalya of an answer)– I decided I would just answer it as “I am Living”.

We’ll see how that works.

So yeah, I went, I unplug’d, I connected with people, and now I am back amongst the world again. I did write something about every bit of a journey changes /forms you, so this experience definitely has impact, even if I cannot articulate it as a web site quotable testimonial.

I thank everyone who was there, and ask that you help me with what I asked for. I know its on me, but just asking for it was kind of big for me.

Now on to that living thing….

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Alan, I was truly honoured to be in your small group. I admire your wisdom and passion and I look forward to maintaining and strengthening our friendship. Always remember, you’re NOT alone.

  2. I was so glad to share that kumbayah feeling with you this year, Alan, and heartily agree that these face-to-face meetups create massive amounts of momentum as we spread back out into our individual corners of the world. To sit around the fire talking life, and love… and then later about wolves and such, was a real gift we all shared this weekend that such a wonderful place, filled with such wonderful people (and a magical guitar) had no small part in.

    Hopefully we can do it again sometime.

  3. It took me two months of thinking and talking to people and thinking some more before I felt I could articulate my unplug’d experience to other people in a way that wouldn’t come across as sappy. When we met in Winnipeg it was still too fresh.

    Andy McKiel asked me to share my perspective on unplug’d at an event here in Winnipeg. When I couldn’t make it he asked if I would give him a short video to share with the group instead.

    The process I went through (final assembling and editing took me a full day) telling that story helped me a lot.

    Your being there this year is one of my major regrets of not being there. Would’ve liked to just hang out. I guess it’s a “when waiting is filled” kind of thing. ;-)

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