I’m currently working on an application to go be facilitated at School of the Alternative, which is a really cool-sounding self directed program for adults. I’m feeling really inspired by one of the application questions, and wanted to share my thinking about it.
Describe your relationship to work.
I think of my [professional] work [at school with the kids] in cyclical relationship with my personal [self-care-and-growth] work. I’m learning to listen for the invitations and prompts they offer me; I’ve discovered children have an uncanny ability to ask me flat-out the questions I didn’t know I was avoiding: “How do you practice magic?” or “What does it mean to release something?” or “Do you consider yourself to be a cisgender person?” These aren’t hypothetical; they’re all real questions, asked of me by real kids. Learning to recognize these questions as invitations, not challenges to my authority is one kind of work; the work of discovering the answers is another.
I’ve been thinking about how being alive means that my meat is generating and consuming electric and kinetic and potential energy all the time. I’ve been thinking about how, in the spiral of time, I’m the same person I was as a child and how I will never be that person again. I’ve been thinking about how the universe is both infinite andexpanding; the thing that is, by definition, the largest possible thing, is still getting bigger.
Some days I am tired, or my mental illness is loud, or my need for rest is urgent; learning to respond to those feelings with patience and kindness is also work. Sometimes work feels like the right verb and sometimes it feels deeply insufficient; regardless, it’s the language that feels good right now. The work is the work of being curious and present in pleasure and pain, of being embodied and creative and stretching my limits, reaching, growing, unfurling. In physics, work is a transfer of energy; it’s when a force causes a displacement in an object. That means the opposite of work is not play, it’s stasis. To work is to live.
Looking back through this blog, I see myself working through a lot of hard feelings around facilitation; while that’s a big part of this work, it’s definitely not all of it. I want this blog to be an accurate reflection of my life in ALC-land, struggles and joys alike, and so today I intend to course-correct a bit.
I can feel it in my body when I’m facilitating in my joy; I feel the bubbling right below my solar plexus. I’m facilitating in my joy when we’re barefoot in the gym first thing Monday morning and the sun is streaming in through the windows and we’re playing a game of tag where everyone is it and we’re shrieking and chasing and rock-paper-scissoring and throwing the same hand sign over and over.
I’m facilitating in my joy upside down on the floor in Gratitudes, laughing helplessly with a teenager, laughing so hard we can’t even look at each other, because someone surprised us my elaborating on an inside joke and our faces are so red and every time one of us makes a little sigh and tries to stop we make eye contact and set off laughing again.
I’m facilitating in my joy in the library, curled up on the denim couch, reading a kid a book, or in the red room on a rainy day watching one of my favorite movies (Star Wars, or Harry Potter, or Howl’s Moving Castle) and I get to see a strange, fantastical world that I love as if for the first time, again.
I’m facilitating in my joy when I share a surprising fact (oooh how I love surprising facts) and a kid’s face lights up and they say really??? I’m facilitating in my joy when these roles are reversed.
I’m facilitating in my joy at the park, any park, and the sun is shining.
I’m facilitating in my joy when riffing on existential questions, or the nature of time, or surprised on the subway by an unexpectedly deep “this or that” from a kid I didn’t know was contemplating the metaphysical.
I’m facilitating in my joy when there’s paint between my toes.
I’m facilitating in my joy sitting deliberately out of sight, doing something with my hands to make myself invisible (crochet, or sketching) and listening to kids play with each other; co-create worlds with their Lego or tend the hamster in age-mixed clusters or…
I’m facilitating in my joy making up a dance outside the deli, or down the hallway, or after the big collective feast of Dancegiving with the music all the way up.
Playing in language facilitates my joy.
I’m facilitating in my joy on the subway, at the museum, on the rock climbing wall, in a bookstore or public library or exploring the zine collection, on the ferry, at the beach, under the Brooklyn Bridge, overlooking the East River, moving from island to island of this strange wondrous city and getting to taste and touch and see it all for the first time: the dumplings in Chinatown, the silver dome of the park at Union Square, the belly of the Great Blue Whale at my favorite childhood museum.
Facilitating in your joy is the goal, right? I’ve been thinking about it since I listened to the 2019 Panel on SDE and Racial Equity out of Heartwood ALC last week – which you can find and listen to here. (It’ll blow your mind.)
Of course not all of the facilitating I do comes from that place of joy; I’m still working through the shit from a childhood that wasn’t self-directed, where joy was not the goal. And that’s important work, no doubt. But joy is the work, too, joy is the medicine, joy is co-creating movement towards the world I want to live in. Thanks for witnessing <3
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver
I’m trying to be kind. It’s difficult, because the word is tied up in the abstracted character-building of my childhood. Around the atrium of my intermediate school there were a series of child-shaped cutouts, each emblazoned with different value: respect, responsibility, kindness. I stood below them for the unveiling – one each month, as we passed through the first year of the school. The building was new, the star-shaped entrance hall vaulted with red-framed skylights and walled in postmodern grey brick. A group of us were selected (though I don’t remember how, or for what reason) to be the Character Ambassadors; we would gather in the center of the hall as a janitor climbed the ladder and hung the silhouettes and we went through the motions of ceremony. I remember feeling self conscious about my hair, my body, my new glasses. I don’t remember what was said about the characters.
When I think about being kind, the part of me that stood through that ceremony and tried, after, to fit in with the childscorn of cool that was budding in the girls’ room and the cafeteria, that young, confused part of me crystalized under those cutouts and in the gossipstreams after, still scoffs. What’s the point of kind?
Here’s what I really learned in that year as Character Ambassador: how to shrink my self to fit into the crowd. That it was fine to be honored but not too honored. Okay be special as long as I did not make my self a target with my specialness; if the crowd realized I wasn’t part of it they would eat me on the bus in the girls’ room on the line for lunch. Even with my careful observation and the one act of brutality with which I shrunk myself, even when I thought I understood the rules of how to be among and invisible, I felt myself a failure. Instead of kindness, I learned too much about the power of those who fit in over those who transgress. Instead of kindness, I learned to marshall my intellect to focus my body on performing my role correctly. Instead of kindness, I learned conformity.
Almost two decades later, the characters are still hanging there. The laminated poster paper has faded under the sky light – kindness is no longer true blue but stormy grey.
I haven’t thought about being 10 in a long time. Though I’ve thought abstractly about my childself over the course of the last few years, ALFing and deschooling, thinking about the child I was at 10 years old, standing in the atrium of C.V. Starr Intermediate School feels different – the one whose flute was perpetually at the wrong parent’s house, who loved the quiet of art class and the intimacy of music lessons, the newly-bespeckled one whose mind drifted while we read aloud in class because I’d already read the whole page, whole chapter, whole novel and I was just counting the minutes until we were done with this interminable readaloud exercise. 10 is first time in my life I can begin to remember feeling wrong in my body, the beginning of a self consciousness that did not originate with me but that I wrapped around my own bones nonetheless. The lessons in the atrium stuck, but not the ones that were intended to.
This is the point at which I feel compelled to tell you that I am an anxious, depressed trans person living in chronic pain; that those are clinical (and therefore somehow validated?) identities. Five years ago, I fell down a flight of stairs and injured my spine. Three years ago, I developed crippling eczema that makes the skin on my hands flake off and break open. One year ago, I realized with a shock that I am not a cisgender woman. I am talking to you about kindness not out of virtuousness, but selfishness; I don’t want to live in pain any more. All the years of punishing myself have come to a head and my body has said no more. It will not tolerate my bruising, fixated intellectualism any more; it will not let me push aside my discomfort in order to fit in. This is the limit of tolerance: nearly two decades of making myself less, for fear of being too much.
As the brilliant Sonia Renee Taylor reminds us in The Body Is Not An Apology, “You, my dear, have a body. And should you desire to remain on this spinning rock hurtling through space, you will need a body to do it.” This isn’t about the state of my soul, though winter does bring with it, for me, an existential dimension to all these musings. This is about the soft animal of my body, and what it means to be kind to it.
Some days I am angry, at the choices I made or felt forced into by the lessons of the atrium and this pain that has resulted. I am trying to honor my anger, to exorcise it. Some days I mourn the sense of safety, dignity, and belonging that all bodies deserve that I don’t feel. I am trying to honor my grief, to exorcise it. I am trying to be kind. To value my flesh enough to feed it well, to smooth salve over the places I’ve cracked open, to sleep and stretch and wrap my self in soft, heavy blankets and feel the sensuousness of their weight and texture here, in the soft animal of this body.
I have a confession: when I talk about the fourth Agile root, I often forget about sharing. “Growth happens in cycles of intention, action, reflection and sharing.” I’ve always had the hardest time with sharing, which I know is part of my deschooling. This year, I’m committed to examining that – and doing it publicly, as a meta-process.
I was thinking about it yesterday at ice skating, when I was watching Saylor and Savannah teach strangers to skate. Saylor has been skating for a few years now, but one of the first things she said when she got on the ice yesterday was “I forgot how to do this.” And Savannah skated for the first time ever just last month. She went from not being able to make it around the rink without falling down a dozen times, to holding hands with a stranger and encouraging them to lean on her, to keep going, to try what she’s doing. And as I watched them I was thinking, “well that’s definitely sharing.”
I’m sharing this today because I’m realizing there’s lots of different levels of sharing – and the more high-stakes it feels, the more I struggle with the gifts of my schooling: procrastination and perfectionism. I just paused my writing to have a chat with Timo about the difficulty of teaching someone a skill (like writing or, in his case, programming) that requires the person to generate work from their own ideas before you can practice the skill. We talked about “blank page syndrome” and I’m realizing that, while I’ve got a bunch of tricks for tricking my brain out of blank page paralysis, (check out this post on Writing Time for some of them) I don’t often use them with work that I’m planning to share. My reflection practices are robust in writing, but my sharing is sparse. Usually, when conceiving writing I’m going to share here or elsewhere, I get stuck in the planning phase because I’m carrying that blank page around in my head and beating myself up over it before I’ve even begun.
I’m sharing this today because I’m trying to lower the stakes in 2019: to bring my reflection and sharing closer together, to publish shorter blog posts, to remember that sharing doesn’t have to be formal and that no one is judging me. Each of us get hung up on different stages of growth and this is it for me; I am excited to grow even as I am apprehensive of being vulnerable. There is no such thing as perfect work. There is only us, growing together.
Writing Time is a space that I hold. Writing Time is an hour a week (Wednesday mornings at 10 AM) where I am committed to writing. The most important part about Writing Time is that it’s low-stakes; this is an open invitation to my self and members of my community to engage with our writing.
If no one else shows up, I use an hour for my own writing; I draft these blog posts, or work on my zine, or tend emails, or finally get back to those slack messages I’ve been meaning to return (this post was inspired by an exchange I had with Dawn Leonard at an ALC in Florida – she asked me what writing time looks like and I wrote back to her one morning in December when the kids were all busy working without me. Thanks Dawn!). I relate to my role as a facilitator as both a model and a support – I think there’s something really important about showing up for your own offering, ready to write, and willing to do it alone if no kids show up. I love this time, and managed to capture some of the sweet feeling in this post.
When kids join me (which is more often than not) I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. The first is a 10-minute free write, which is a practice that I learned from my poetry mentor Scott Hightower. These are the rules: I’m going to set a timer for 10 minutes. We will all write for the whole time – if you run out of things to say, write the word “the” until your next thought comes to you. I don’t care about your spelling, I don’t care about your grammar. Write about whatever you want. I prefer to write by hand, but you can type if that’s more comfortable. At the end of 10 minutes, the timer will go off and then we will all read what we wrote. Ready? Here we go. (Here’s any awesome blog post by Beth about free write, written during free write).
Another tool I love is the prompt box. It’s an old cigar box filled with little slips of paper that I’ve rolled up (there’s something enticing about this magical wrapper). They’re mostly story starts, like “I heard a crash from upstairs.” If a kid is stuck, or looking for something to free write about, or coming to writing time and unsure how to get started, I’ll suggest they pull something from the box. I also just leave it around for curious humans to find – you never know when someone needs a few words to kickstart the story in their head.
Sometimes Writing Time looks like a kid coming and pulling a prompt from the jar and the two of us writing a story together – her dictating to me because I type faster. Sometimes it looks like playing a collaborative word game – we really like one where we sit in a circle and go around telling a story one word at a time. Sometimes we make a recording of that storytelling circle and listen back to what we’ve told together, or transcribe that recording. Sometimes kids come with their own projects or intentions – I’ve got a teenager who’s practicing writing essays – and I support them in doing that. I deliberately keep it open; I really like to start with the question “What are you working on?”
In the end, most of the support that I offer is encouraging kids to be prolific, to start in a non-judgemental place and stay curious about what is taking shape under their hands. Having ideas about what you want to write is exciting, but ideas aren’t workable until they’re words on the page and you can play in them. And it’s hard to make time for that! So I hold writing time, and we make that time together.
I wrote a post back in the beginning of October about my weekly schedule here at ALC-NYC; now, at the halfway point of the year, it feels like a good time to check back in and see what’s changed and what’s stayed consistent.
Mondays still start with a protein-heavy breakfast, Set-the-Week, Spawn, and Acro, which remains one of my favorite offerings. In fact, I just passed the one-year Acro-versary, and I feel a deep gratitude to my last-year self, for accepting a kid’s invitation to playfully challenge myself. I’ve mastered my headstand over the course of these 12 months; now I’m working on my handstand (and I’m so close!).
The rest of Monday has changed a lot since October; for one, I’m not playing Pathfinders anymore. The crew – Iphy, Xander, Erez, Serena, Doug, and I – all started out really enthusiastic, but as the weeks wore on and we dealt with absences, general lack of focus, and a couple of key, in-character betrayals, we decided that we were more enthusiastic about creating our characters than we were about finishing the story we’d started. So, we decided to create NEW characters and start again, with a new DM… and then our DM was absent, or when she was present but they players hadn’t finished our character sheets, or someone was traveling and we decided to wait for them to get back before we started playing, or, or, or….
Sometimes this happens! Right now, I’m actively choosing not to shepherd the players back together. There’s a balance between supporting kids in following through on their commitments, and taking their autonomy away by deciding they must follow through on something. Because Pathfinders fell apart between games – after the group decided that the current dynamic wasn’t working for us, but before we’d settled into a new one – it doesn’t feel to me like a failure in follow-through. I’ve had reflective conversations with most of the players about this, but none of them have chosen to move back towards it; for now I’m waiting, and watching, to see if it will reemerge.
So, instead of Pathfinders, I’ve been spending my Monday afternoons running around playing Banana Slug Tag at Close Park (as we affectionately call the playground half-a-block away), followed by Werewolves!
Werewolves is a social-deductive game about a village beset by werewolves. The werewolves are trying to kill all the villagers during the night, while the villagers are trying to figure out the identities of and eliminate the werewolves during the day. A game requires at least 6 players and a Gamemaster, and takes about 30 minutes to play. There’s more nuance to it – some villagers have special powers, and some ALC humans have better poker faces than others – but that’s the general outline.
Many of the former Pathfinders players are part of the regular werewolves crew, which is interesting to me. It’s been a staple of ALC-NYC since I first arrived, but its popularity waxes and wanes. Right now, we’re playing a lot of werewolves – 2 games back-to-back most Monday afternoons, and 2-3 more games throughout the week – and I’ve been right in the thick of it. I even won a game this week as the Piper which, trust me, is extremely hard to do.
My Tuesdays, like my Mondays, start out the same as they did in October (with Magic School Bus – we’re on season 2 now) and end very differently; Cook n00b has returned! Nancy, our longest-serving volunteer and all-around delightful human, brings the supplies and we make a huge delicious mess in the back room. It’s a puzzle not just because of our many, sometimes conflicting, dietary restrictions, but because our space isn’t equipped with a real kitchen. We have a toaster oven, a hot plate, a griddle, a microwave, a grill (weather permitting), and a deep fryer (it was a gift). I appreciate the ingenuity our cooking situation inspires, the useful skill that is cobbling together a meal with what you have, considering all the needs of the humans you’re making it with. My favorite part, though, are the conversations we have while cooking and over the meal afterwards; it’s true in my life and in ALC-land too.
After cooking, I have free time; I’ll take a crew to the park for Banana Slug Tag (a delightfully chaotic version of freeze tag where everyone is it) or play a werewolves game or find a project. For a while, Timo and I were doing a grammar offering, but decided that we’d gotten everything that we needed from it, so we adjourned. Yesterday, I mentioned to a teen that I had a free half-hour and he replied, “Cool, do you want to talk about the death penalty?” Free time in ALC-land is always full of surprises…
Wednesdays begin with an hour of Writing Time, which is where I started this draft. For the first half of this semester I was hosting three half-hour long blocks of Writing Time, but I found that just as I started to get into the groove of it, the offering was over. I also found that it was easier for people to say “oh, I’ll come tomorrow,” and for tomorrow to never come. For more on Writing Time check out my recent “how I run it” post and this older “how it feels” one.
After this I’ll play another game of Werewolves (I told you, we’re on a kick) and then either join Board Game Time with Doug or maybe park trip, or crochet, or make some art – Wednesday afternoons are also unscheduled.
Thursdays are still field trip day; we’ve been Bouldering at the Cliffs in LIC consistently since October and some of the kids are getting really good! It’s also gotten cold enough to go ice skating again which, though the logistics of it are a bit trickier, remains one of my favorite things to do with kids. Both climbing and skating are about getting up when you fall down, trusting your body and your balance, about the stability you find in motion; topics we get to practice in ALC-land instead of just talking about them, like they do in conventional schools.
Like cooking, field trips always spawn interesting conversations; particularly the subway rides to-and-from our destination. The last time I went climbing, we got to talking about space on the subway platform and 8-year-old Demian asked “What keeps the universe spinning?” I’m still thinking about it.
Friday starts with Check-in and Change-up, our weekly culture-setting meetings. Over the week, we collect awarenesses on a board called the Community Mastery Board – anyone, at any time, can write an awareness on a sticky note and put it on the board for discussion. On Friday, we all gather together and read the stickies to check in (hence the name) about whatever’s on our collective mind. Check-in is mandatory, and our intention is to hold a space where all community members have the power to acknowledge the parts of our culture that are working and to shift the ones that aren’t. Several of our teens have been practicing facilitating this meeting, and it’s so exciting to hear them step into their voices.
We read out the awarenesses on sticky notes (which today included an announcement about an upcoming visiting week, a reflection that we’re not doing a good job cleaning after cooking, and a reminder that gator balls are expensive and if we keep ripping them we won’t have any left…) and write them on a different white board to make an agenda for Change-up; then we release anyone who isn’t interested in working through the agenda.
Most of the kids leave at this point, but we’ve had a really strong showing of culture-keepers, particularly among our teens, stay consistently for Change-up to talk through the awarenesses and make agreements based on them. Today, we made the agreement that committing to cooking means committing to cleaning up… we’re trying to practice keeping things simple in our agreement-making! There’s a lot more to say about these meetings, which are a cornerstone of ALC practices, but suffice to say they’re a dependable part of my weekly schedule.
After Check-in and Change-up I’m still doing portraits with Abby and Beth, and still loving it. Today, as I painted, I reflected that this time last year I wasn’t painting yet, hadn’t given myself permission. I often feel like working in the self-directed environment of ALC affords me the space to open the parts of myself that I closed in my own conventional schooling; art-making is one of those places. Here’s the finished portrait I started in October:
Post-Portraits is Anatomy and Physiology; Beth, Hugo, and I have been joined by Iphy, and we’ve switched form Crash Course to Kahn Academy for our content needs. Kahn is a lot more thorough, and their videos move at a slower pace so it’s much easier to take notes and retain information. It’s been really rad, and I’ve learned a lot (specifically about my circulatory system, because that’s the unit we just finished – did you know that, at any given time, 20% of your blood isn’t in your veins at all?).
After that is cleanup, then Focused Blogging, where I hold space in the office for anyone who needs a little more quiet to write. It often starts that way, at least….
Now that you’ve read all this, I must confess that this isn’t what my week feels like at all. 1500 words later I’ve captured the structure and none of the sense of it and this will just have to do. Three years in and I’m starting to feel comfortable sitting with the contradiction that documentation is necessary to track the spirals of growth and time, and that documentation is inevitably limited and imperfect. This is the impossibility of painting with broad brushstrokes a place where magic happens in the specifics. What can I say? This is just a schedule – time is another dimension.
It’s the final focused blog of the semester and my brain is a puddle. Iphy has a santa hat on her face sticking out like a cone nose; Hugo is reading his own nonsensical date-making out loud next to me and making himself laugh; Ash is drawing; Doug is playing Kingdom: Two Crowns; Timo is playing Super Crate Box. We just had a conversation about how the meaning of inane is meaningless. We’re quiet, mostly, but companionably so, around the big office table. The fluorescent lights are on overhead, because it’s pouring rain on the shortest day of the year, the darkest day.
I am comfortable here, and tired, and ready to close this part of the cycle. My hands are bandaged because my eczema broke out again two weeks ago; in the last year I’ve had to square with my body in a way I never did before. It’s been transformative and formative; exultant and exhausting. I’ve changed how I eat and how I identify; I’ve felt better and worse for it. I’m sure I’ve got more to say on the subject but I just told Iphy “your body is a very squishy, delicate machine,” and that about sums up where I’m at right now.
I’ve got a lot more to say (including forthcoming posts on how my weekly schedule shook out and what Writing Time looks like for me) and I look forward to my brain working well enough for me to be able to say it! See you next time! <3
Think about it. All your bones are wet, right now. It’s kind of uncomfortable at first because WET is one of those squishy words, but if you push past that initial discomfort it’s kind of beautiful. The whole inside of you is wet, actually, not just your bones; your inner ocean separated from the air by the boundary of your skin. Your bones are floating in the sea of your muscles and tendons and blood.
The last year has been a journey of rediscovering my body after my schooling taught me to disregard it as a distraction. It took my body hitting a crisis point for me to begin giving it my energy and intention again – a powerful (if painful) reminder that avoiding things does not make them disappear. The counterpoint to that pain was the pleasure I found in discovering Acro – learning the strength of my body as I trusted it to hold my flying partners, or to be held myself, listening to Yoni’s reminder that your skeleton is strong when it is stacked on itself, practicing and practicing and practicing until I could stand on my head with no other support.
Having a body can be hard. I struggle with mine, as a trans person, as a femme, as someone living with chronic anxiety and pain. I’m grateful for the healing journey that my past self embarked on, almost a year ago. I’m grateful to Ash, for inviting me to come play at Acro, and Yoni for his knowledge and facilitation. I’m grateful to Savannah for always modeling getting back up after falling down. I’m grateful for kale, and all the other foods that nourish me. I’m grateful for climbing and ice skating and dancing and vitamin D. And I’m especially grateful to my bones, for holding me up.
I got into this work not quite by accident but certainly by intellect – I read my way into it. I haven’t posted in a few weeks and I know exactly why: I’ve been practicing instead. I’m trying to write this post, but we’re laughing too hard about Juice Mom and Milkshake PAPA. I certainly couldn’t explain it here without ruining the joke in explanation – I couldn’t capture the timing and tone of voice that set me off laughing. When I first started ALFing I pictured myself as a steadfast and diligent scribe, taking notes to share about what the experience is really like – notes that would convey it all. The volume of my note-making has increased exponentially (which has expanded from simply writing to also voice-memoing and cartooning and drawing and photographing and boomeranging and still doesn’t cover all the things that are happening….) and yet the more I write the more aware I am that I can’t capture this.
Anyway, highlights from the last few weeks include collaborating with Zoe on her forthcoming short story, The Skeletons on 36th Street (part of the reason I hadn’t blogged – we’d been spending focused blogging time together working on it); going to Philly to visit the Franklin Institute (where I’d never been before – I got to run through the heart and climb through a brain and explore the vikings exhibit and see how high we can jump and play with physics and…); and celebrating DANCEGIVING (thanks to Taasha, who donated yesterday’s incredible feast). Yesterday I got back to climbing for the first time in 3 weeks. Anatomy and Physiology with Beth and Hugo has been equal parts challenging and fascinating. Halloween was full of hilarious and delightful costumes (including the return of the MELICORN). Iphy went to Australia and returned. I returned to Werewolves after a long hiatus – Luca and Erez have been DMing some really creative and fun chaos-vector games. We’ve hosted visitors from Bejing and the Bronx. Banana Slug Tag has taken off as the park-crew-tag-of-choice (Anyia, Xander, Saylor and Savannah have all won games – a tricky feat). Plus there’s been drawing and dancing and legos and board games and poker and Japanese and movie-sharing and word silliness and crosswords and bed wars and koalas and worm composts and passive voice discussions and room painting and kpop video sharing and accountabilipals and acro lifts and magic school bus and the usual stuff that feels incomplete listed off like this but truer to the spirit of all-the-things-all-the-time….
This week, besides acknowledging that my narrative perspective is limited, I wanted to acknowledge the conversation I had on Monday night’s ALF call. Amber, Momo, Jeana, Anthony, Katherine, Abby and I discussed conflict resolution – specifically we found ourselves circling the question “How do we move from ALF (adult)-led conflict resolution to a kid-centered process?” I loved our conversation – I found myself reflecting on adrienne marie brown’s point that “there is one conversation that can only be had by the people in this room. Find it.” We really did. Reflecting on the places our various ALCs are at, we agreed that such a movement requires trust, practice, and time, in a culture that values creating a space that feels safe to those in it – that is clear about modeling boundaries and defining violence, that sees and acknowledges the larger cultural narratives that US society holds but doesn’t excuse behaviors shaped by them. At the very end, we found ourselves talking about gender-based violence in a way that echoed around my mind long after we’d hung up – I’ll write something that will exorcise it eventually (I hope…).
I’m learning to sense the school year’s rhythms, this go-around. The first 6 weeks are the block where I blog very diligently, where the questions of the year begin to arise and we all choose the roles we think we’ll be playing. The next 6 weeks (which we’re smack in the middle of right now) play out the dynamics of the first 6, and I find myself elbow deep in them and I lose track of my documenting in the doing of it. What’s next? We’ll see…
This week I did something really hard for me: I took a day off.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly moving when the world tells us that our value comes from what we produce. I get caught up in it easily. I value hard work; I pride myself in being a dependable person. When I’m at my best I do my work well, cheerfully, and steadily – I get things done. But the flip side of it is resentment and burnout and, without taking a pause to reflect, it’s hard to tell which side of it I’m on.
Tuesday afternoon, I felt weird. I was in the middle of an offering (Boop: A Play! by Sterling…) when I suddenly felt dizzy – all the energy left my body. So I went and lay down in the library with some water hoping it would pass. Half an hour later, when it was time for cleanup, I was feeling much better physically but confused and concerned about what had happened – it’s unlike me to feel that way, especially after a good night’s sleep and a day of eating well and drinking water. Something was up, and I wasn’t sure what my body was trying to tell me.
When I mentioned it to the other facilitators at staff check-in, they encouraged me to take Wednesday off to rest, if I needed it; they would be fine holding down the fort. My initial reaction was a knee-jerk no, I’ll be fine. I felt like the suggestion that I rest was an implication that I wasn’t doing my job well, a backhanded way to say that I should be working harder.
But… that’s not what they were saying. They were saying what they meant – we see you’re tired. Rest, if you need to. We’ll hold you. Come back when you’re ready. It’s okay.
I thought about it all Tuesday night – as I went to therapy and went climbing with friends, on the train on the way home, all through my bedtime routine. I went to bed at 10, as usual, still in my must-keep-working spiral, still fully intending to get up in the morning and then do it all again.
And then Wednesday morning, as I was dragging myself out of bed in the dark at 6:30 in the morning, I finally paused to ask… why? I don’t need to drag myself anywhere – Abby and Chuck and Ryan all said explicitly yesterday that I should stay home if I’m tired. I don’t have to be sick or collapsing to deserve rest – I am allowed it if I need it. I can tend my body before I get to the point of catastrophe. I messaged them that I was taking the day after all.
As soon as I did, my brain offered up a zillion other things I should do – the freelance writing piece I need to complete for my side hustle, the budgeting I’ve been putting off, the editing I promised a friend I’d help out with, the laundry I’ve been meaning to fold, the appointment I need to schedule. My keep-working brain thinks that I can soothe my anxious by finishing all the things – that rest is the thing that I get to reward myself with when I’m done. But my day off was not for backlog catchup, it wasn’t for anxiety spiraling. It was for rest. I went back to sleep.
When I woke up at 9:30, the sun was streaming into my apartment. I reminded myself that I had nowhere to be, nothing I had to do. I pulled back the curtain to watch the leaves of the tree outside rustling in the October breeze, to admire the ways they’re turning. We’ve finished 6 weeks of school; the first stretch is behind us. I spent the day lounging around, crocheting, painting, watching tv, sitting in the sunshine, writing, reading the notebooks I’ve filled in the last few months. The moon was full on Wednesday, in Taurus, sitting opposite Venus (Taurus’ ruling planet) retrograde in Scorpio. I went back to Taurus season, sat with all the selves I’ve occupied since then, all the places we’ve been and things that we’ve done. It’s been a long time since I rested.
And that was it – yesterday I came back to school, feeling refreshed. I noticed all the little ways the day felt lighter, easier, than it did early this week. It was a long day; we had an Assembly meeting and I was here until almost 9, but it didn’t feel that way. I had the reserves I needed. This is a reminder for my future self: I’m grateful for the rest that carried me through.