plugged inI refer to the years from 2005 to 2008 as my “dead zone.” Prior to 2004, I had subscribed to the daily San Francisco Chronicle and the Sunday New York Times, watched a couple of films each week, kept up with the latest TV shows, and read celebrity gossip magazines as a guilty pleasure. In 2004, when I began the process of starting a nonprofit organization, my contact with the world outside my immediate circles began to dwindle. In 2005, the year Spark started running programs, communications ceased altogether. The program launch coincided with my moving to an apartment with no cable and no newspaper. I think I watched just a handful of movies that year and read an article or two online. I just got out of the habit of keeping current and didn’t have much time to spare.

Things only worsened as Spark began to grow. My brain grew so full of work-related logistics — student histories, school site details, strategic plans — that when presented with even the most innocuous information, it freaked out. My brain didn’t want to hear about the general election in the UK or protests in Uzbekistan. When it also ignored the Ethan Hawke-Uma Thurman breakup and the birth of Britney Spears’ first baby, I should have had reason for concern. But I just chose to stick my head further into the sand. When people would ask if I’d heard about a current event, I shrugged and said, “I haven’t been following the news lately.”
brain
“Lately” grew into “during the last few months,” which somehow grew into “for the last three years.” Now, in July 2008, a month after leaving Spark, I’m finally beginning to make room for new information. I’ve slowly let go of most of my responsibilities and even my work laptop. I now actually have the mental bandwidth to hear a new song on the radio instead of listening to the same CD on loop for the 50th time (I’m not joking), and I can glance through the news headlines without my mind shutting down. It’s as if my brain were a computer hard drive previously at maximum capacity. Self-centered as it may have been, I just didn’t have the mental energy to care about anything outside the people and events in my immediate experience. Once I started purging old and outdated information, however, there was suddenly space for the new.

This week, I’ve started plugging in again. I feel like Austin Powers coming out of cryogenic freezing, into a changed and unfamiliar world. You’re kidding — you can store your entire music collection in this tiny device and watch movies on it, too? Vicente Fox isn’t the President of Mexico anymore? Lance Bass from *NSYNC is gay? It’s like Austin Powers said incredulously about Liberace: “But women LOVED him!” (My friends like to remind me that I myself had a little a crush on Lance Bass. In college.)

I’ve been slowly waking up to my surroundings, as if from a deep sleep: paying attention to the news again, exploring technology and the arts. In order to reconnect with the alternative education world, I’ll be going to the annual International Democratic Education Conference, the one where I met my co-founder Chris five years ago. School begins just a couple days after I return, and I look forward to continuing to plug in by learning alongside the kids, as if for the first time.

At least a few times per week, I’ll share what I’m learning at the schools and on my own. Forgive me if anything is obvious to you — even before my dead zone, I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge. If something does happen to be a review, you’ll get to feel good about yourself for already being in the know, and revisit old material with a fresh perspective. One of the best parts about hanging out with kids is their contagious excitement and sense of wonder about what grown-ups take for granted: Wow, this machine turns bananas and ice cream into a milkshake, and this one turns orange juice into a popsicle! That is pretty cool.

Alien baby
I also hope to make sure that you don’t slip into your own dead zone, no matter how busy or consuming your work may become. In an election year full of change and drama, it would be a particular shame to miss the action. And, let’s focus on what’s important here, you’ll definitely want to find out whether Suri Cruise is really an alien baby.

Flickr Creative Commons images courtesy of AMagill, bebob717, and jurvetson, respectively.

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