Destiny

I spent six months as Director of Community Life on The TAG Project. It was a very positive, life changing experience for me. I recently described it elsewhere in glowing terms and ended my remarks with "10/10 Would do again."

That perhaps begs the question: If it was so awesome, why was it so brief?

Having thought about it, I think the correct answer is "Destiny."

My family and I moved to Ft. Irwin, California the summer that my oldest son turned 11. He started sixth grade that fall and began coming home from school in tears daily. This was not acceptable to me, so I began researching our alternatives. Ultimately, we learned that homeschooling was our only viable alternative and we went with it.

Because of those circumstances, I joined some email lists. I could not find the support I needed in person. Ft. Irwin is very middle of nowhere and I have health problems. I did look into other options, but none worked out. Online support was the only thing that really worked.

We had been homeschooling a bit over a year when Valorie King, founder of TagFam, put out a call for volunteers. She had plans to take this website and set of email lists and turn it all into a real charitable organization, complete with board of directors and tax deductible status.

It was around the beginning of December. I volunteered to be a moderator.

At the time, I only belonged to one of the email lists she owned: TagMax, the homeschooling list. With becoming a moderator, I was also added to a newly formed private staff email list. I don't recall anymore if I was also added to all the email lists at that point or if that came a few weeks later with my directorship.

The TagFam lists were some of the oldest email lists of their kind. At the time that I joined, they were being given server space for free from a university as part of some pilot program. It was later discontinued and the lists were moved elsewhere.

Valorie King is an IT professional. In order for her to found all this stuff, this was basically a necessity. It was before the days of plug and play products like Yahoo Groups or, later, Google Groups. You really needed some serious IT chops to do something like this. The tech end of it was very much over my head.

But what I did have was nearly 15 years experience participating in army support groups. These were called Army Wives Groups when my husband first joined the army. They were later called Army Family Groups or Army Family Support.

In short, I had social skillz and a visionary bent of a sort that apparently impressed Valorie. After about a month or six weeks, she asked if I would accept a directorship. I said "Let me think about it." and ultimately said "Yes."

This ultimately resulted in me attending a related conference that spring in the Boston area. The conference was probably Beyond IQ. There, I met esteemed luminaries from the gifted world, such as Carolyn K (author of Hoagies Gifted Page), Kitt Finn (the current director of The TAG Project), and Kathi Kearney (founder of the Hollingworth Center. I also saw Stephanie Tolan speak, as well as one other big name author whose name escapes me at the moment.

Getting to the conference meant crossing the country from Southern California to the Boston area. I flew to Atlanta, GA with my sons, borrowed my sister's car and drove up to the Boston area.

This conference was a really, really big deal in my life and the lives of my sons. Kathi Kearny gave a presentation where she gave the example that if an 11 year old has an IQ of 180, they are the intellectual equivalent of an 18 year old or a senior in high school.

This hit a nerve for me. I did not have IQ results for my sons, but, at the age of 11, my oldest son had tested as the equivalent of a senior in college in some subjects.

Kathi Kearney was internet acquainted with me from my work on The TAG Project. IIRC, she had helped me arrange to become a low level presenter so I could afford to attend the conference as that gave me a discount.

After her presentation, I asked her "If an 11 year old with an 180 IQ is the equivalent of a senior in high school, what is the IQ of a kid who tests at the senior in college level at age 11?" Professional ethics prevented her from naming a number, but she said something perhaps more telling: "You will be okaaay, because you homeschool!"

I went back to my hotel room and had a minor panic attack. I called my sister, who had previously tried to suggest that my oldest son was wicked smart, an idea I had blown off completely. I apologized for blowing her off previously and then hyperventilated a bit about this big realization.

My big emotional crisis lasted all of two hours. Then I decided he was nearly 13, I had been handling him just fine so far and it really would be okay. But my view of him was permanently altered, and my understanding of the challenges involved in parenting him and homeschooling him had been deeply changed as well.

I spent a month on the East Coast. After the conference, I returned to my sister's house to take care of her child while she was in the hospital, and then take care of her after she was discharged from the hospital.

I got back home to Southern California and I was just beat. I thought I was tired from the trip and just needed time to recover. But time was failing to replenish my energy. Unbeknownst me, I was in the beginning stages of a dramatic health crisis that would cause my entire life to unravel, ultimately also resulting in my divorce.

Valorie King was beginning to say things that made it clear she felt betrayed or something, like I wasn't working hard enough. Neither she nor I knew the seriousness of the medical drama that was on my horizon.

Then one day she tried to tell people on Tagmax to stop being so chatty. She asked them to keep things "on topic" and limit their discussions to homeschooling. The list exploded with activity, with people literally saying things like "Please don't take our sunshine away!"

There is a long, long backstory to this incident that goes back literally years. I was a johnny-come-laterly and largely oblivious to it at the time. She had hired me to foster community and I had done so, apparently all too well. The result did not fit within her concept of what TagMax was supposed to be.

The origin story for TagMax is that the list was started when discussion of homeschooling on TagFam hit some percentage of traffic and was viewed as interfering with more general parenting discussions. The idea was that TagMax was for discussing homeschooling stuff, and TagFam was for discussing parenting stuff. Valorie had apparently promised everyone that this would not undermine TagFam. You were not supposed to talk about parenting topics on TagMax. It was supposed to be limited to discussions about homeschooling. Parenting questions were to be referred to TagFam.

But Valorie did not actually require anyone to join TagFam first in order to join TagMax. So, over time, the populations of these two email lists began to differentiate. What had started as an offshoot of TagFam had gradually become a distinct community. The populations of the two groups substantially overlapped, but they had diverged in important ways.

People who only belonged to TagMax did not want to be told they needed to join TagFam to ask parenting questions of total strangers. They wanted to ask the people they already knew and trusted. Plus, people who homeschool have a really hard time separating homeschooling questions from parenting questions. In practice, there is no clear demarcation between the two things if you are a homeschooling parenting.

I wasn't really fully aware of the origin story of TagMax. I was a latecomer. Plus, I fundamentally think this was a broken system.

Since there was no requirement to first join TagFam in order to access TagMax, this expectation simply does not work. Even if it had been set up with that as a requirement, there still would have been friction from the fact that homeschoolers cannot readily separate out parenting questions from schooling questions and from the fact that people still would have wanted to ask their trusted circle of friends with whom they spoke regularly.

When I sided with the people saying "Please don't take our sunshine," Valorie felt betrayed by me. She felt I was stabbing her in the back.

Her reaction went over poorly with me. I felt she had no understanding at all about how social dynamics worked and did not understand what she had "hired" me to do. I was good at fostering a sense of community and getting people to talk. I understood how that worked. She did not.

In a nutshell, that incident led to my decision to quit. I didn't feel understood nor appreciated, and it wasn't a paid position. So, I chose to leave.

But it's a nit. The reality is that The TAG Project had already gotten the best they were going to get from me.

I believe I quit in July. By November, I was in serious crisis while also in the midst of moving from Southern California to Northern California (a move that would help save my life). The following January, I ended up bedridden.

I basically dropped off the face of the planet, socially speaking. Friends could not find me for months. I would not have the strength to be on an email list again for another two years.

So, I think the universe saw that I had Skillz that could benefit The TAG Project and that my participation in it would also be life altering and life enhancing for me and my family. Thus, the universe tossed me through The TAG Project knowing I had a date with medical drama coming up and my involvement in the project would, of necessity, be short-lived.

Even had Valorie King and I communicated better or worked harder at overcoming our differences or whatever, my involvement was simply destined to be brief. There really wasn't any way around that fact.

I kind of suspect a lot of people from the online gifted community basically hate my guts and probably figure I hate theirs. While I am aware I shall never be forgiven for whatever sins they hold against me, I certainly don't hate them. Overall, it was an extremely positive experience and, ultimately, my health drama was the driving force in my departure from the project.

That health drama was rooted in a genetic defect, so it was literally written in my DNA that I would some day have a major health crisis. That was completely unavoidable.

The only real surprise twist is that I lived through it.

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