I am a visual person. I like art and images with sharp angles and clean lines. Angles are strong. Lines are reliable, predictable. I am drawn to Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of line and angles in his architecture and stained glass. I can stare at long stretches of city skyline for hours, mesmerized by the tall vertical lines of the buildings and the linear expanse of horizon beneath. A line represents decisiveness and control of self, as in “This is where I draw the line.”
I often photograph objects that are defined by prominent lines. I took the photo for this blog’s title page (take a look above), with its clean lines defining perspective and sense of predictable destination. Some of my friends have asked me about the photo subject: “Is it a retro disco bowling alley?” No, it is not. “Is it an airport runway at night?” No. Although, now that you mention it, rows of runway lights at night would make for an exciting photo shoot! “Did you snap this photo during a near death experience as you slowly moved toward the light?” That one made me laugh. No. That didn’t happen either.
I shot this photograph in Pittsburgh. The photo is from inside the Fort Pitt Tunnels – or, as the locals call them, “the tubes” – that cut through Mount Washington. I grew up in Beaver, Pennsylvania, about 35 miles north of “the tubes”. Going into the city was always a treat when I was a kid. Weekend day trips to see Willie Stargell and the Pirates beat the Phillies at Three Rivers Stadium, the Barnum and Bailey circus at the Civic Arena, or the annual river regatta always began with a trip through the tubes.
As a kid, the drive through the tubes was magical. Still is. If you are from Pittsburgh, you know what I am talking about: Entering the tubes, light momentarily turns to darkness. Eyes adjust to the glow from pale yellow lamps lining the tunnel ceiling. The AM radio station goes static, replaced by the hum of the car wheels bouncing off and between tunnel walls. Looking ahead through the windshield, a small hole of light in the distance grows bigger, and bigger, until a sudden blinding flash accompanied by the blare of returning radio music announce the majestic downtown Pittsburgh skyline and its adorning three rivers. The way the city just appears, poof!, as if out of nowhere takes your breath away. I’ve made that thrilling trip hundreds of times, each time with obvious and absolute certainty about where the tunnel leads. Completely predictable, familiar, and safe. Confining walls serve as guiding lines and provide a sense of control over where I am headed . Tunnel vision, I suppose. I like to know where I am going.
My mom is the same way. My dad often lovingly says of her, “The woman knows what she wants.” Mom relies upon predictability and control of her space. My children went to visit my mom and dad for a weekend this summer. When they returned home, the first thing my daughter reported was a description of going to church with Grandma. Apparently, even at church, Grandma tries to control her space. My daughter recounted: “Dad, there was a pillow on the pew.” I replied, “I’m not surprised. I remember those pews being hard on the hind end.” My daughter clarified, “No. Dad. It was Grandma’s pillow, one from her living room, waiting there for us. Dad, she saves that seat by leaving a macrame-covered pillow on that same pew each week. A pillow from her living room. Did you know that? She leaves it there, Dad. Each week. Don’t you find that weird?” Aside from the macrame, I honestly did not. It makes perfect sense to me. Grandma, like me, finds great comfort in the predictable and in the familiar. And, if she can control her space by marking it with a tacky pillow from her living room, by golly she will do it!
The problem with permanent pillows on pews and predictable trips through tunnels is that inevitably one day Grandma’s pillow will be moved to another pew and my tunnel vision will limit a view of what could or might be. Then what? And, those reliable lines? Illusion. They are not really all that reliable. There are no straight lines in life. While I may be able drive through a tunnel and look in the rear view mirror to see where I have been, there really is no telling with certainty where I am headed.
Life is full of uncertainties. Life is the sum of a succession of uncertainties and constant change. Change simply IS. And, because change IS, we can’t see the future and we can’t control what will or will not be waiting at the end of the tunnel. When we experience unexpected change, we can choose to fold or we can adapt and embrace the change as an opportunity.
I am currently experiencing unexpected change. Six weeks ago, I thought that I was on one path, only to find that God had a different plan for me. In my case, the change presented a career opportunity. And, while I struggled mightily with the absence of a clear line, I seized the opportunity. As a school leader, I am trained to lead adaptive change, to encourage and guide my school community through necessary change for the benefit of student learning. I feel very comfortable in that role, and I enjoy it. But, when the shoe is put the other foot, and I am experiencing unexpected change, I find it unsettling. This is a good lesson for me as school leader. It teaches me empathy for educators who experience disequilibrium when change, planned or unplanned, flips their teaching worlds upside down.
Take one more look at the photo of the Fort Pitt tunnel at the top of this page. The photo is actually upside down, as if we were driving alongside the ceiling lights. When I set up this blog several months ago, I intentionally flipped the photo to remind me that even the most familiar and seemingly predictable of life comforts will eventually, and probably without warning, be someday turned upside down. When that day arrives, I will have to adapt to that change and still find my way to the light at the end of that tunnel.
So, filing in the blank in the title of this post, for me Change is . . . like traveling through a tunnel toward a destination I’ve chosen, and suddenly realizing that the tunnel has been turned upside town creating disequilibrium and life uncertainty. If I view this topsy-turvy ride as liberation from tunnel vision and an opportunity to grow and learn and contribute, I will adapt and thrive. I can experiment and take risks, and give myself permission to fail. I can redirect my line of vision and refocus my sight on a new light at the end of my tunnel.
Epilogue: Hoping to gain some different perspectives regarding “change”, I recently asked my #PTcamp PLN, educators from across the US, to send me Voxer audio clips finishing the sentence, “Change is …” and to provide insight regarding the change process in education. They gladly accepted the request. You can listen to their comments on Coloring Outside the Lines at BAM Radio Pulse here.