Last week I finally gave my blog a name–Ross All Over The Map. Since starting it almost two months ago I have simply called it Ross’ Blog in part because giving it a real name might obligate me to keep it up for the long term and in part because I could not think of a title I liked. To be frank I am uncertain I will stick to this title; however, I picked it because my interests are indeed “all over the map,” and my family and I have a desire to continue to travel–quite literally to go “all over the map.”
My wife’s scholarship, writing, and teaching has taken us on some wonderful adventures “all over the map.” We had a great chance to travel abroad to North Africa for several weeks during the summer of 2010, and it was amazing the extent to which my daughter Eleanor’s experience defined the meaning of the trip for Katie and me. Eleanor has had some amazing birthday locations—Cambridge, England when she turned two and three, Vogogna, Italy when she turned six, and Tunis, Tunisia when she turned seven. On the North African trip, her ability to rise to new challenges awed us—in Egypt, she even rode a camel with me around the pyramids! The way she expressed excitement and joy made the trip extraordinary. She is so awake and forever ready for what is next before she even has a clue about what exactly is coming next. Her questions are endless—she goes to sleep asking them and when she wakes up she picks up where she left off. I want her to be this engaged forever. I want her to be challenged like this forever. And I want the same thing for the adults and students at the school where I work.
After years spent wishing I was a prodigy of some sort—a world-class tennis player or perhaps a musician as comfortable with a guitar as most people are with silverware, I have discovered that I am a generalist. To be honest I was quite slow to own this truth, for the evidence was in and was in front of me for a very long time. When in my mid-twenties I became Director of a boys camp in the mountains of North Carolina, I had already held virtually every job in the camp short of owning the place. I had been a counselor, Senior Counselor, and Head Counselor, and I had taught tennis, rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, orienteering, riflery, skeet shooting, white water canoeing, and…wait for it…I had even taught a few overly enthusiastic nine year old boys how to tie-dye cheap white t-shirts (it was no small mess!). I also drove the bus, and I was in charge of the Fourth of July fireworks (amazingly enough, I have all my fingers and no visible burn scars). Hence, my work was “all over the map.”
My generalist tendencies followed me into my career in education though it is easy to identify common denominators—my love of reading, my devotion to my students, my desire to seek out the best teachers and learn from them, and, most powerfully, my ambition to help the school where I work become better. From my first year as a teacher, I have enjoyed being the one who said “yes” when the question began with, “Would anybody be willing to…?” or “Does anyone know how to…?” even when, though I might have been “willing,” I may not have known yet exactly “how to.”
To me, a generalist is “all over the map” but that in no way means he or she is aimless. Instead “generalist” refers to a person who has interests in many areas and purposefully seeks connections and meaning from the intersection of those interests. For instance, my love for folk pottery grew out a recognition that a great piece of folk pottery is an emblem of timelessness and authenticity–two ideas that have driven my love for great literature.
So “Ross All Over The Map” it is…until it becomes something else.