The wind at our back; full steam ahead!

I could probably start every blog entry from now on with the following sentence, but I’m choosing to use it now:  This phase of TMS is blowing my mind.

oh Nelle Night Owl brain, how I've missed you.

Oh, Nelle Night Owl brain, how I’ve missed you.

When I was in grad school, I often found myself awake at 3 am; scribbling notes and project inspirations on big sheets of butcher paper, arching lines of Sharpie between the ideas to create mind-maps. Something similar has happened this week. I don’t have butcher paper, but my biggest sketchbook is filled with connections between my students’ strengths, interests, and dreams – and my own.

It’s fascinating to me how much each class has its own personality. With all four classes, I have covered myself in chalk dust illustrating the same camera diagrams, and with all four I have perfected my comic timing by repeatedly acting out + storyboarding a tale about my pup Thisbe. But each class has moved forward differently; giving new answers to the same old questions and drawing unique conclusions from identical statements. It’s exciting to see this happen naturally. It’s also exciting to discover each class’s idiosyncrasies and link them to thoughts in my own life. I believe teachers and collaborators are most successful when they work from what they know, and so I am committed to the mutual discovery of these connections with my students.


Hill Street sports photogs captured many an action shot. I think they would enjoy interviewing the trainer at my gym!

We are keepin’ it active, healthy, and weird at Hill Street. “You wanna meet some crazy Baltimore kids??”

I see connections between student ideas and Hyderabad activists, organizations, and artists I have met. I envision collaborations between my 8th class at Railway and former students in a Baltimore, Maryland middle school. I watch themes emerge from a discussion of why girls should make media that were present in my thesis work. I can’t wait to see how these relationships will enrich our TMS projects, and how TMS projects will then enrich a multitude of different media communities.

But first, a qualifier: while it is valuable to me to strengthen these connections, it is far more essential that these students remain the creative producers of their own stories. And so, on these four Ships O’ Learning, I am careful not to let my creative experience and enthusiasm turn me from crew member to Captain.

I am sometimes, perhaps, a light-house beacon who keeps our ship from wreckage, or a friendly mermaid who guides it in a beautiful direction; but I am not the one with her hand on the ship’s wheel. I do not yet know for which coordinates we are headed, only that I shall discover them alongside my first mates.


  1. Carl Byrne

    July 28, 2013 - 8:20 pm

    Nelle, this all sounds wildly fascinating. My mind boggles at the effects this experience will have on your future development and perceptions. More so, I think about the effect you will have on your students. They will receive such a positive view about what Americans can be like. What they carry into their futures will change the way they look at life and the world. Hopefully, each student will live a more interesting life thanks to the work you and your associates are doing. You are helping to form a different future in that village and country than would have transpired had you not been there.

    What a wonderful gift you are giving and receiving Nell!

    Love, Carl

  2. david dunlap

    July 28, 2013 - 9:48 pm

    We trust in a Far Shore. O me o me, o so, so beautiful these things written of mermaids and captains, ship wheels and coordinates.

    Hello Nelle. Admiral David Farragut called out ( at the battle of New Orleans ) “Damn the torpedos full steam ahead!”. I think of this when I read about the wind at our back.

    This all sounds great, great and beautiful. Damn the torpedos Nelle Owens Dunlap, full speed ahead!

  3. Peter Feldstein

    July 29, 2013 - 12:42 pm

    Other than the facts that I miss you, and that I envy your wonderful experience, what more can one say than what your friend Carl Byrne has said. Nothing new; you’ve ALWAYS been a very special, wonderful presence. Whenever I hear of, or think of you, I remember my friend’s 5 year old daughter Esther, upon seeing you dressed in a fairy costume (I think you were around 6 or 7), saying, “Daddy, Is she real?” You are as real as it gets.
    Love, Peter

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