Post-SotA Reentry Feels

A couple months ago I posted about School of the Alternative – a self-directed art camp for grownups that I applied to go play at. This week, I went and came back again. I’m still processing, and there’s a post that I’m dreaming up about slime and soma and distributed networks and non-hierarchical education for all (or maybe a book I’m writing, or a notpoem, or a big ole’ installation…) but I’m not ready to write it today. Today I’m writing about reentry. It’s been hard, and I see three reasons for it.

One is that I’m simply tired – I ran my body to the ground because I wanted to get the most [waking hours] out of the 6 days that I was playing with the brilliant humans who came together at SotA. Your human body is made of meatstuff and it needs sleep and water and good food and regular schedules to feel good. Fine. I live with these choices.

The second is that I feel a real loss of the intimacy of the community of SotA – the shared vocabulary that mushroomed up among us after days of Clump and slime and sharing and falling and late nights and early mornings and workshares and meals and being present with one another and our bodies. I miss my friends and the liminal space we created staying up until 2 in the morning making stickers, or walking through the woods in the pouring rain to go scream into the void. I’m unbelievably grateful to have had the opportunity to be there, to make obscene amounts of slime, to commune with other weirdos, to yell about my soma, to hold and be held by the brilliant, creative, generative artists who are collaborating there and carrying on the legacy of Black Mountain College. The depth of my grief is a testament to how powerful the spacemaking at SotA is. I’m grateful for this grief.

The third reason that re-entry has been hard is that, for as much as ALC-land is aligned in principal with SotA, there is a massive difference between being an adult communitying with other adults, and being an adult who is responsible for the safety of children. This is the bit I’m working out here, today.

Part of my intention behind going to SotA was to experience being facilitated, to be a participant in a space that I was not actively coherence holding. A coherence holder, as I’m using it, is the person who makes the thing happen – who makes sure everyone’s dietary restrictions are accounted for and there is enough to eat, or that the right doors are unlocked, or the tape and scissors are where we need them, or the schedule is hung up, or the translation work is done, or everyone on the email chain is clear which piece of the puzzle they’re holding. In the abstract, as an adult coherence holder for this ALC space, it’s my responsibility to make sure that ALC-NYC is as physically, mentally, and emotionally safe as possible, so that the childpeople of this community are free to play, explore, learn, create, choose, heal, and thrive. It’s a job I don’t take lightly.

I’ve noticed, upon reentry, that we aren’t our usual May selves this year. Usually by this point, the school culture is so strong that safe-space-making is held between the ALFs and the kids easily, lightly. When I think about May, I remember the feelings of twice-a-week field trips and playing with visitors and going to the park every day and finishing all the last-minute magic that comes up. I’m acutely aware, this week, just how much energy I’m expending reminding people not to bring their chase game into the quiet room, or that pushing someone is breaking our “respect yourself and others” agreement, or that you should only have to say “stop rule” once. I’m expending energy on volume management and clean-up logistics. I’m repeating myself. At other points in the year, this is par for the course – in May, it’s frustrating.

The primary difference between this space and any other where I might be working with kids is the amount of agency they have – the degree to which they are empowered to collaborate in our culture. I’m curious how we found ourselves, this May, expecting the adults to hold cleanup, and conflict resolution, and community care. I do this work because I believe in science fiction – I believe that children are brilliant people who have the ability to generate visionary worlds. Looking at the last four (ahh!) weeks of school, I’m wondering how we can aid and abet our best selves, the ones who actively care for one another, rather than do the minimum of harm. I’m thinking about how care is pleasure, and dreaming of ways to share these thoughts that are careful not to use my power-over to impose these beliefs on children.

Not all of these last two days has been frustrating, and I don’t want to overemphasize the parts that have been hard. Some of these frustrations will always be a part of this work – I’ve never been to a self-directed space for kids that isn’t constantly talking about how to make cleanup go more smoothly. The nature of this work [with children] is that children are constantly changing – they ramble through chaos which crashes back through them as they change and that’s growing. The place of difficulty is also the wellspring of magic.

In the last two days I’ve collaborated with children in playing at least 6 varieties of tag in two parks in the rain and the beautiful spring sunshine, singing the Steven Universe theme song really, really loudly, watching ants crawl on our hands, making art messes, hugging a tree, hanging upside down, learning how blood clots, punning around, and discussing the healing power of visionary fiction. I’m dreaming of ways to spend the last weeks of school putting my attention on collaborations like these (what you put your attention on grows!).

I’m deeply grateful to my #SuperALFTeam for making space for me to leave and come back again. I’m grateful to School of the Alternative, for making space for me to come play with their magic. I’m grateful to all the past-three-years Mels who did the work of holding contradiction so I could write this post. I’m grateful for slime, and flocking, and Emergent Strategy, and the lessons of distributed networks that are clamoring all around me. And I’m grateful we’re not done yet.

Thanks for witnessing.


Pre-Break Focused Blog Brilliance

I was working on this blog post but then we were retelling jokes and redrawing old drawings and talking about your flesh seashells aka your ears and old timey music and queerbaiting and the Titanic and who belongs at Pride and how testosterone humans grow later in life and your address and your identity and get on my level and cat sounds and being a person who shares the world with others and 11 hours of sleep tiredness and the perfect sleep method and taking out the dog and pay-per-google and and and… it’s the day before break and (surprise surprise) focused blogging is not-so-focused today.

I am writing a very nice coherent blog post about tracking my trackers and I will post it here soon but I am putting down the struggle now; my three-years-in facilitator self has learned a lot about going with the flow instead of fighting the momentum. I’m grateful for the ways that the cycle of the year makes space for work and play, makes eddys of silly time and productive labors, of movement and rest. Happy break!

Gratitude for Gratitudes

Today, I’m feeling really grateful for Gratitudes – my favorite part of our daily routine here. It’s an optional meeting, every afternoon, but I try to never miss one. It’s been an anxious few weeks for me, but I can always rely on Grats (as I affectionately call it) to be a safe, quiet space (or a silly one, on those magical days when we decide to run an upside down meeting). We use the custom Gameshift board pictured above (featuring secret menu – you have to be here) and take 10 or so minutes to draw a ritual space together. All 4 ALFs usually attend. The kids are more varied – Timo, Iphy, and Hugo are pretty consistent participants and Tamia, Mason, Ash, Aniya and Olive come more occasionally. Even when no kids come, the ALFs hold the space (a rare but not unheard of occurrence). We’ve increased enrollment recently, so there are a lot of bodies in the space, and spring fever has us real energized (though not necessarily eager to go to the park as the early-spring chill continues) and I am a human that is sensitive to noise and others’ energy – when I arrive at Gratitudes after a particularly raucous day, I can literally feel my nervous system relax a bit. That’s because praciticing paying attention to what your grateful for is really good for you – it’s science. Today I’m grateful for water, and the space that is this blog, and a Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, and for my fellow ALFs, and that the magnolia tree on my block is starting to bloom….

On the Work of Love

When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities or, if they are already a part of who we are, we can learn to extend them to ourselves.

True love is unconditional, but to truly flourish it requires an ongoing commitment to constructive struggle and change.

-bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions

The Self, the Mind, Time, the Brain and Reality

The question is, what precisely makes something what it is; and what makes it the same thing with the passage of time?

Phenomenal consciousness is about the temporal “depth” of the present moment. The subjective “now” is, paradoxically, extended in time: it is “temporally thick.” We experience it not as an infinitely thin sliver of time but as a moment in which times present, past and future overlap. We travel through life as if in a “time ship,” which “has a prow and stern and room inside for us to move around.”

There is no clear dividing line in the brain between inner imaginings and perceptions of the real, solid “world out there.” Reality and fantasy are built into the same neural circuits.

It takes roughly seven billion billion billion atoms to build a 70kg human being. Adjust this figure according to your weight. The bulk of you (93 percent) is made up of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen, with nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus atoms accounting for most of the remaining 7 percent of your mass. Hydrogen has been around since the Big Bang, but the other elements are spewed out from the fusion factories of dying stars.

Neuropsychology is the study of the relation between brain and mind. We know what the brain is. It’s an organ located in the head. But what is the mind?

What Is Magic?

What is magic? There is the wizards’ explanation, which comes in two forms, depending on the age of the wizard. Older wizards talk about candles, circles, planets, stars, bananas, chants, runes, and the importance of having at least four good meals every day. Younger wizards, particularly the pale ones who spend most of their time in the High Energy Magic building,* chatter at length about fluxes in the morphic nature of the universe, the essentially impermanent quality of even the most apparently rigid time-space framework, the implausibility of reality, and so on: what this means is that they have got hold of something hot and are gabbling the physics as they go along…

What is magic? Then there is the witches’ explanation, which comes in two forms, depending on the age of the witch. Older witches hardly put words to it at all, but may suspect in their hearts that the universe really doesn’t know what the hell is going on and consists of a zillion trillion billion possibilities, and could become any one of them if a trained mind rigid with quantum certainty was inserted in the crack and twisted; that, if you really had to make someone’s hat explode, all you needed to do was twist into that universe where a large number of hat molecules all decide at the same time to bounce off in different directions. Younger witches, on the other hand, talk about it all the time and believe it involves crystals, mystic forces, and dancing about without yer drawers on. Everyone may be right, all at the same time. That’s the thing about quantum.

Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies