The Boardwalk

Walking off the Q train at 8am on Coney Island isn’t as funny a scene as you might expect. People are meandering to work. Some are certainly still coming home from the nights’ activities before. But generally, it’s quiet. Peaceful.

Turn a corner and there were 200 odd photographers and models gathered for a photo meetup. I’d never been to one. My own fear of being exposed as a fraud coupled with my dislike of meeting strangers in large groups meant this group looked twice as large as it was. But yea, it really was 200 people.

But once the initial ‘holy shit I’m here’ wore off, I began to wander around, get my bearings. I didn’t even know there would be models at this thing so I did what felt more comfortable - found a few ‘real’ strangers to chat with and photograph. See, my fear isn’t of taking strong photographs of people or talking to strangers. The latter part is still hard, but I do it. The former part I know I have so much work to do, but yea, I’ve got some chops. My fear is of showing up and not having the creative juices to impress other creative people. Everyone seemed just so on point. They said things like ‘Fire’ (and I wondered if that’s some new version of lit) and "whats your IG” (the new gram?).

I hadn’t gotten up at 6 and trekked out to Coney Island just to question myself though, so I joined the fray. Initially I was hesitant - crowding around the dozen or so other photographers all going paparazzi with the few models (the ratio wasn’t great). But then when the initial buzz died down, I found a few models kinda hanging on their own. I found my in. I didn’t have poses but asked them to tell me stories about the beach, the water, being at a theme park. I was grateful for every minute we had together and I learned so much in just a few hours working with these talented folks. I had never worked with models before and it was a good lesson in shared-space, creative collaboration, and humility. Knowing when to direct and when to back off.

I’ll be on the lookout for more.

SXSWedu 2017

I've been to one other conference before - a "web 2.0" type thing in Boston focusing on collaborative and open work. I went alone, met some interesting people, attended a few thought provoking sessions, but overall embraced my inner introvert and went all wallflower. 

So my expectations for SXSWedu were all over the map. I knew it was going to be different - I was traveling with a group of folks from the NYCDOE and that companionship alone would make a big difference. I had an opportunity to meet up with friends and former colleagues who I hadn't seen in years - some in over a decade. There were workshops that provided an antidote to wallflowerism and truly engaging sessions on race and equity that by far bested more traditional panels.

But I also knew that it could be completely overwhelming.

In the end, it was all about the people. There were courageous conversations on race and identity, practical workshops on making design thinking less racist and more oppression-aware. There were early morning taco runs and late night food truck jaunts with friends new and old. There was Chris Emdin who spoke truth to power and, at the opening event of the conference, called out over half the audience as frenemies. Yea, he did that.

Sure, there was also Tim Ferris doing a great job of showing what a frenemy looks like while espousing the values of Japanese Horseback Archery that you can learn in a week.

The most valuable time was what happened in-between and after though. That's where conversations went from abstract to personal, flush with emotions, rants, raves, and everything in between. I met with a group of past and present data fellows who were working across the country to help districts and schools do better for kids. I connected with local entrepreneurs who are helping teachers innovate in their classroom and others who are providing coaching and funding for entrepreneurs of color to address a systemic gap in venture capital.

And then there were the pedi cab drivers. I'm not sure what drew me to them, but their stories were illuminating. From the Golden Lion, an aspiring ukulele player, to Yaw, a music producer from Nashville who comes down to Austin during the festival to make some extra coin. Their stories brought home the changes and challenges that the rapidly gentrifying and changing Austin is feeling and I'm grateful for the time they spent to chat with me and share some of their story.