At the end of the third floor Hall of Fame exhibit is the "Power of Rock Experience," a small, stadium-style theater with a big-screen, state-of-the-art showing of Jonathan Demme's highlight film of Hall of Fame Induction concerts. Strobe, lighting effects, and fog machines give you a powerful, close-up concert experience, even though you are in a small, stadium-style theater in Cleveland.
What stayed with me was the climax of the film, the joyful, posthumous concert tribute to George Harrison, in which Tom Petty, Prince, George's son Dhani, and a number of other amazingly famous RRHOF inductees gave their own burning-down-the-house tribute version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It was a killer tribute to a killer song that has meant a lot to me in my own life. Prince's guitar solo, tearing up Eric Clapton's original version on the Beatles' recording, blew my mind.
When I called my husband later that night to tell him about it, David said, "Isn't that the one where Prince throws his guitar into the air and it never comes down?"
I laughed and said, "Yep, that was it."
That's when it hit me—the lesson I have taken away from my seven years of attending Twitter Math Camp: Find what you need. Refuse to be stopped.
The story of that song, as I understand it, was and remains amazing to me. George was frustrated by his inability to get his songs onto the Beatles' albums. He felt like he couldn't get John and Paul to pay attention to this song and he vented to everybody he knew. Finally, after venting to his good friend Eric Clapton, Eric came to their next recording session to support George. He sat in with them, played the guitar solos that made them really hear the power of the song, and the rest was history.
Seven years ago, when we conceived and held the first Twitter Math Camp in St. Louis, nobody noticed us. Nobody cared. We were 39 North American math teachers who had a yearning for community. A couple people came from Canada. One person came from Amman, Jordan. I was the only person who came from California. In fact, we had more participants from Mississippi than we had from California.
And we created something powerful, something we needed.
It was a stone soup effort, and it still is. What people may not know is that this is something that was created out of thin air. A core group of about 15 of us agreed to provide the core structure. There was no organization, no staff at that time, except for Jason Henry, who was about to join an effort he didn't even know much about.
People just showed up and brought what they had.
And what they had to share was amazing.
I learned a lot from that experience, but the most important thing I learned was what I consider to be the essence of Twitter Math Camp:
Complain and vent if you must, but then find what you need and refuse to be stopped.Know that there is going to be loneliness, there is going to be heartache, and there is going to be risk.
But also know that there is going to be a miracle.
When the Beatles started, they were four dudes from Liverpool who wanted to play rock and roll so much that they spent their adolescences doing what they loved, making music and playing for people in dark, dank basement clubs in Germany.
They did this over and over and over — for years.
They had no idea that what they were going to become was THE BEATLES. They had found what they loved, and they committed themselves to honing their craft. They refused to be stopped.
By the time they got their first recording contract, they had gotten so good they could bang an amazing album out in just a few takes.
They kept doing it even after it became tougher to do.
Eventually, they gave up giving live concerts altogether. The thing they had loved the most had become dangerous and damn near impossible. But they never stopped loving it. In the last "public" concert they gave together, on the roof of Apple Records in London, they played to the sky and to anybody within earshot who could hear them. Fortunately for us, one of their managers had the foresight to film this event, which occurred not long before they broke up forever.
But for me, sitting in the darkened theater, watching Tom Petty and Prince and Dhani Harrison bring down the house with this performance of a song that almost never saw the light of day, there was joy in remembering how this same spirit of determination brought me this annual retreat/conference/event that has become so dear to me.
Find what you need. Refuse to be stopped.
Here are some of the other important secrets I have learned from seven years of TMC.
Get busy and recognize belonging as blessing. Find what you need and need to share. Refine your own craft. Trust that people like you need you and are searching for you. If one group is unable to see and value what you need yet, refuse to be stopped. Continue under all circumstances and keep searching for your people. If you haven't found them yet, keep searching.
We were nobody. I'm still not sure how we became somebody. I remember The Great Facebook Friending of Winter Break 2011, when I was certain that I was going to wake up and discover why you should never friend and meet people you have only ever met on the internet. I was sure I was going to have to go into Facebook Witness Protection. But it turned out OK. In fact, I made a number of lifelong friends that way.
So keep following and keep friending. No risk, no reward. Remember that the people you are looking for are also looking for you.
Practice Gratitude. Gratitude is a giant, holy yes that I keep saying over and over and over. When I found someone who was generous with their blog and their tweeted advice and their encouragement, I said thank you. My way of saying thank you in those earliest days was to say "thank you" over and over but when somebody was inconceivably generous with me, I knitted them a small, stellated dodecahedron and mailed it to them. I didn't ask. I didn't promise. I just did it. I did this thirteen times.
I've been just as blessed — and surprised — to receive things for my own generosity. During a dark time, Tina Cardone crocheted me a unicorn that now sits on my desk. @veganmathbeagle crocheted me an otter. @caseymcteach mailed me a monkey lanyard. Kristin Fouss gave me a Fiona the baby hippo t-shirt. And other treasures too numerous to elaborate here.
The point is, the practice of gratitude is a big part of the essence of Twitter Math Camp. It's one of the invisible threads that bind us together.
If you need this kind of connection, keep searching and keep practicing gratitude. It will come back to you many times over if you let it.
Be unconditionally constructive. This is especially important on Twitter itself. With all the negativity in our world right now, I think the best thing we can each do is to contribute unconditional positivity wherever we can. That's a big part of being a teacher, to be sure, but it's also a critical part of being a digital citizen.I am constantly trying to remember to ask myself, What am I contributing right now?
The Power of 'Yet.' Refuse to be discouraged. If people haven't come around to your point of view yet, recognize that you just haven't reached them or persuaded them yet. Keep going. Keep growing, Keep working. If you're right, you'll convince people eventually.
Make what you need. While #tmcjealousycamp is fun and funny, it's beside the point. What is important is to figure out what you need and push forward and make it. That is the power of un-conferences and salons and all the other forms of community. If you are committed to finding your community of math teachers, that's it. Don't let anybody stop you. Figure out what you need and create it. You'll be astonished at the support you get back from the Universe.