The Anxiety of Influence: PCMI, TMC15, and [Trying to keep] Moving Forward

IMG_5793I returned from Utah 2 weeks ago, and am about to embark on my ‘real’ vacation – 2 weeks on Lake Dunmore, Vermont (aka heaven).  My final recap and reflection has been on the to-do list since July 18, but my return to Brooklyn was accompanied by a delayed crash from the end of the school year, some home disaster and drama, and my envious observation of TMC15 as it appeared in my Twitter feed (which I couldn’t always bear to look at) and blog reader.11782342_10205542168927228_3163533859352772846_o

11412004_10205487182992614_2989034904136514571_oPCMI was a gift for which I am deeply grateful on many levels.  The scholarship enabled me to attend, got me to confront a long-lived phobia (flying), placed me in the company of like-minded teachers who became dear friends that I know I will see again, and restored my teaching soul more fully than I thought possible.  The challenge I face in the coming year is maintaining that restoration and energy in an environment which, while personally supportive, pretty much works in opposition to many of the mathematical and philosophical teaching practices to which I aspire.11709954_10205462851144333_210506142907498134_o

As wonderful as PCMI was, the emotional backdraft from Twitter Math Camp is overwhelming. One by one, I have been reading everyone’s blog posts, getting a keen feeling of what I missed in California.  (The top hit for this, by the way, was Fawn Nguyen’s keynote, the slides and notes of which I read in their entirety, IMG_5880hearing Fawn’s voice loud and clear.)   But there has been a bonus for me – everyone’s heartfelt and articulate writing has left me with some TMC takeaways, and I wasn’t even able to attend.  And these takeaways reflect and magnify my experience in Utah, creating some kind of ultimate fractal/exponential virtual math professional development effect (there’s an acronym or hashtag in there somewhere – I’m sure of it).  Here’s what I’ve gleaned and what I continue to ponder:

  • Mary Bourassa wrote so eloquently about the growth of her participation in the MTBoS and how she finally felt she made a ‘real’ contribution with the Which One Doesn’t Belong website.  I’ve participated in workshops Mary has run (at Exeter), and thought she was the cat’s meow way before Which One Doesn’t Belong.  I share resources and participate as constructively as I can generously on Twitter; I would love to be able to create something as broadly useful.
  • Darryl Yong was awesome as the co-designer of the morning math problem sets at PCMI, but his post on Radical Inclusivity spoke directly to my heart.  I have a personal goal to speak out against the pervasive tacit racism at my school, and to try and start a diversity committee. Darryl’s post eggs me on.
  • Julie Reulbach and Anne Schwartz, two women who I really would like to see again after meeting them in Philadelphia at TMC13, both wrote about hesitancy in attending TMC after personally and/or professionally difficult years, and the restorative power of this community.   I know that at the end of the school year, I felt quite spent in both of those arenas, and approached PCMI with trepidation.  I was thrilled to find myself recharged within days (even amongst ‘strangers’), and I was glad to hear the same was true for Julie and Anne.
  • Megan Schmidt, my favorite person who I have never met, looked another scary issue squarely in the face in her post Safe Spaces at TMC15.  Megan’s posts speak directly to me, every time, and this post was no different.  The personal issue I dealt with at PCMI was the baggage I carry and the isolation it occasionally forced on me; it was difficult (I found it impossible, actually) to talk to anyone about the ravage alcohol abuse has wreaked on my home life or the ever-present watch for cancer recurrence that has become routine for me.  I’m not sure how to create those safe spaces wherever I go, but I love that Megan articulated the need for them, because there are times when group hugs just don’t do it.

In addition to the aforementioned keynote by Fawn Nguyen, there were two other quotes (below) that appeared numerous times in the blog posts that sum up, for me, not only both conferences – PCMI and TMC – but how I view my involvement online and why I continually seek these opportunities, and relish them so.

from Lisa Henry: “It’s the community, stupid!” (quoted from Dylan KaneIMG_5780

from Christopher Danielson:  “Find what you love.  Do more of that.

Thanks to everyone who shared, and you can bet you will see next summer!




  1. Megan Schmidt

    Wendy, this was so lovely. You truly put your heart and soul into what you do and we are so fortunate to have the opportinity to learn from you. Thank you for sharing all you do with us. I’m looking forward to when we can meet in person. I feel like we are such kindred spirits.

  2. Jasmine

    Thank you so much for sharing! Your recap (of an event you weren’t at!) took me to so many blogs I hadn’t read yet. I so appreciate your perspective and look forward to seeing you super soon! Vermont is so very magical!

  3. Suzanne Alejandre

    Wendy, having quickly met you face-to-face at PCMI I was struck by this part of your post,
    “The personal issue I dealt with at PCMI was the baggage I carry and the isolation it occasionally forced on me; it was difficult (I found it impossible, actually) to talk to anyone about the ravage alcohol abuse has wreaked on my home life or the ever-present watch for cancer recurrence that has become routine for me. ”

    I am a cancer survivor — I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer on January 6, 2014 and two weeks after my surgery on February 4, 2014 I found out that it was Stage 1A and had been caught very early. I did not need to have chemo or radiation which I was expecting to receive. Sometimes I feel like the cancer I’ve survived was the “easy” kind but then I remember the month and a half before I knew the results of the lab tests when I felt that every cell in my body was cancerous then maybe it wasn’t so easy. And, your phrase “ever-present watch” strikes home for me. I often wonder where it will strike next.

    Carol Hattan is also a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer and actually missed the second and third week of the Summer Institute because of her surgery. And, she had what she is hoping is her last surgical procedure the week after she returned home from PCMI. Vicki Lyons (another of my roommates) found out that one of her daughters has cancer. I’m sure next summer she’ll have stories. I confess I’ve not personally experienced the ravage alcohol abuse has wreaked on home lives but Carol has.

    If you return for a second PCMI Summer Institute and you prefer conversations to isolation (I say that because sometimes I opt for isolation over conversation) my bet is there will be people who are survivors of both of the circumstances you’ve mentioned who will engage in those conversations.

    • Wendy Menard

      Suzanne – thank you for this response. I don’t necessarily prefer isolation, but conversations can be difficult to start when in a new situation. I also know that I am usually not as isolated as I might feel, and reaching out is all it takes to ease that most of the time.

      My breast cancer was treated with surgery and chemo seven years ago, and more cells were found when I had my ovaries removed two years later. There hasn’t been a further recurrence, but I am still in treatment and get all manner of scans regularly; as I tell my oncologist, it’s a good thing I like him because I see him more regularly than most of my friends.

      I’m so glad to have met you in person [again] and that your new alliance is with NCTM – it makes logical and wonderful sense! Have a great year – I hope I see you again – at PCMI or elsewhere.

  4. Pingback: Summer’s-End Blogging | Global Math Department

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s