This Week: The End of Ancillary, Actual Springtime, and Three Field Trips

ALERT: THERE ARE ONLY THREE WEEKS LEFT IN THE SCHOOL YEAR>> ALERT: THERE ARE ONLY THREE WEEKS LEFT IN THE SCHOOL YEAR>> ALERT: THERE ARE ONLY THREE WEEKS LEFT IN THE SCHOOL YEAR>>

It feels bittersweet to be reaching the end of the year. I’m grateful to have made the long trek through winter to May – my favorite ALC month – and yet I feel a bit stunned that we’re here already. I’m energized by the beautiful weather, the field trips, the fun we’re having now that we’ve hit our stride, but I’m also tired. That might just be my body trying to get my attention, though, and after the week I’ve had I can’t blame it…

From the top, I just want to acknowledge myself for moving my body both days last weekend – climbing on Saturday and riding my bike Sunday. Yay body! Yay self!

Monday morning started with Acro, as it does, and I’m so excited about the ways that my body has gotten stronger and better at Acro in the last few months. This week I based several different people (including Ash, who is almost as tall as me…), but I also did something much scarier: I flew. I was laying on my back on the ground and Yoni and Ryan each grabbed one of my arms and one of my legs. Then they began to swing me – one, two, three – and swung me all the way up and over so I was standing on their shoulders. It was terrifying, but I did it! Yay body! Shoutout to Yoni and Ryan, for being extremely dependable humans. I didn’t do much else on Monday (including writing time… which I feel guilty about skipping) because I developed some pretty intense nausea after Acro. I don’t think it’s directly related to flying through the air in a terrifying lift, but doing Acro without first eating a good breakfast or drinking enough water is not a good idea. Lesson learned.

Also on Monday: doggo visitor.

On Tuesday, Ash, Timo, and I FINISHED ANCILLARY MERCY!!!! It’s an all-caps achievement for sure – the whole trilogy clocks in at 996 pages of hard science fiction, diving through deep questions about who is a person, what is justice, and how to change the status quo (and what does any of that mean to begin with). It’s a series that doesn’t shy away from moral quandaries, which I love. (Personally, I believe that all good sci-fi is actually philosophy, but much more interesting.) Getting to share a deep, brilliant story that I love with two teens who invested their time and attention to delving into the complexities of it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had so far as a facilitator. I’m really grateful to Timo and Ash for sharing it with me, and proud of us for finishing it!

Also on Tuesday: fabric store trip and painting with Saylor, Latin American and Industrial Revolutions in Histoy, I cut Abby’s hair, and “Ry on Shark Tag DL – Xander told him not to do the god arm but he didn’t listen…”

Wednesday I went to Brooklyn Bridge Park with Saylor, Zoe, Beth, Siena, Doug, Javair, Serena, Hannah, Erez, Even, Demian, Chuck & Ry. We watched a super cool glassblowing demo on a barge and played at three different playgrounds. All told, I walked 5.5 miles! Plus, I got to talk to Timo about the NYC skyline, history, and broken-windows policing for a while…

Yesterday we went BACK to Brooklyn Bridge park to go bouldering at the Cliffs @ DUMBO boulders. We had to wait a while for them to open, so I hung out in the ship-shaped park with Douglas, Saylor, Zoe, Beth, Siena & Siena’s mom and sister. Ry, Demian, Even, and Hannah came and met us, and then all of us walked down to the East River waterfront to eat lunch and hang out for a while. Then we went climbing – there too I can feel my body getting stronger, more confident. DUMBO boulders is right under the Manhattan Bridge, which is pretty cool except that it’s SUPER loud with trains going by every few minutes – after an hour or two there I always feel really mentally exhausted from all the noise. Plus, the routes were kind of confusingly marked. I was talking to Even afterwards, and I think we’re going to go back to the Cliffs’ regular location in Long Island City, which is more clearly labeled and less overwhelmingly loud. David and Jessie came and visited from Philly, but I missed them because I was in Brooklyn all morning (I am super grateful that I got to meet other people directly at BK bridge park instead of coming up to East Harlem and all the way back out both Wednesday and Thursday…).

Today Tomis, Nancy, and Huxley are visiting! Huxley is so tiny I actually don’t know what to do with him quite, but it’s lovely to see all three humans. Ry and I took a big group to see SOLO today, which I was worried was going to be terrible but actually was pretty passable. Lots of high-speed chases and double-crossing, which is exactly what I wanted from it…

Finally, a puppet update: there’s a new one and it’s equally terrifying.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last three field trip week of the year… Tune in to find out!

<3
Mel

This Week: Intense Astrology, Rainy Days, David Bowie and the Art of Omelettes

It’s been overcast every day this week and raining most of that time – the energy is a mirror of the weather and I’ve noticed our stifled, humid tensity. Towards the end of the week things have been clearing up, thankfully, and it looks like the sun will come out soon. But, like I just told Siena, I cannot and will not predict the weather, I just live in it…

I had a great Acro day on Monday! I can feel my body getting stronger, which is so awesome, and I based not only Ash but Katherine on top of him! Yoni is a rad human for a lot of reasons, but I’m coming to appreciate his superpower of getting one to do something they didn’t know their body was capable of without making a fuss about it. I was basing Ash and then Yoni was like “okay, now Katherine is going on top” and then there she was and I was holding both of them with my legs! I have a skeleton and it is strong! Also on Monday: started my second astrology post (forthcoming) in Writing Time, watched “Why Does the Universe Exist?” and talked about genocide, dysentery, and the Oregon Trail in Philosophy, and read more Ancillary Mercy with Timo and Ash. We’re getting so close to the end of the trilogy…

Tuesday was a strange day, and not just for me. Astrologically speaking, there were two significant events: Uranus moving into Taurus, and the new moon, also in Taurus. The former is significant because of its rarity – Uranus moves signs only once every 7 years – and because it is the planet of unbalancing, of breakthroughs and breaking open, of unequal balances of power. In Taurus, the sign of the earth, stability, and groundedness, it’s not particularly comfortable, and this transit will certainly be an interesting one. With it conjuncting the new moon in Taurus, it was a potent day. New moons generally are – they’re a time of beginning, and powerful moments of inception, hence it intensifying the Uranus shift.

Astrology aside, I started my Tuesday by talking about the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, (quick plug for the Revolutions podcast if you’re interested in an in-depth look at both/either – his season on the Haitian revolution is particularly good) and the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict in History. The last felt especially important, and present after waking up to the news reporting the deaths and injuries to Palestinian protesters at the hands of Israel’s army (speaking of unequal distributions of power over land…). I then rolled into Spanish, where Abby, Timo and I translated “To Change the World Enough” by Alice Walker and then from there into Cook Noob, where fry-master Chuck spent three hours presiding over the production of french fries. I didn’t do much cooking, but I did talk at length to Even about how I don’t think that your brain is where your personhood solely resides – how I think all of your organs, your whole body as a system, is an inherent part of your person. If you’re new to this blog, check out this post for more rambles on this topic.

On Wednesday we had Dan and Grace Ports come and visit with their three under-4-year-old children. It was fun having tinies in the space and seeing our small humans react to them being around (shoutout to Abby, for being a baby whisperer). It definitely felt like an ALL THE THINGS day, although writing about it now I’m grateful for the opportunity to get one-on-one and one-on-small-group time: I worked with Beth on writing for over an hour, and read more Ancillary with Timo and Ash, and screened Labyrinth (one of my favorite movies OF ALL TIME) in anticipation of Thursday’s trip…

Because Thursday we went to the Brooklyn Museum (a.k.a. my favorite museum…) to see the Bowie exhibit! The whole day was so great. I met Beth, Saylor, and Siena there right when the museum opened since we’re all Brooklyn-based, and we went up to the 4th floor and rambled through the period rooms and also Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Saylor took all the incredible photos below (except the ones she’s in…) and I want to acknowledge her for capturing the creepy/cool/beautiful sense of hauntedness that I feel in the period rooms in particular.

Then we met up with Hannah, Nahla, Ash, Joaquin, and Abby, who had traveled down from east Harlem, and we went and checked out the mummies and then went to BOWIE.

First of all, can we just have a moment of appreciation for the human that was David Bowie? Not only was he a rock star – he released 27 albums in 50 years! – he painted and drew and danced and wrote movies and starred in movies and and and… There are over 500 artifacts in this exhibit, from costumes to videos to handwritten pages of lyrics. David Bowie is one of my heroes – his prolificness as an artist, his rejection of gender, his fascination with space and reinvention of the self all inspire me in the creative life I seek to live. Most of the kids on the trip weren’t familiar with Bowie beforehand (some of them had seen Labyrinth, but that was about it) and so there was the fizzing magic of getting to share in that first-time seeing on top of my massive baseline excitement. Saylor and Ash and I moved slowly through, reveling in all the work. We sat for a long time in a room with several giant projectors where they play a loop of him at a live show as Ziggy Stardust. Honestly, David Bowie is magic and the fact that he existed is proof enough, for me, that the universe is full of infinite possibility. If you have a chance to see the exhibit, I highly recommend it.

Today has been mostly chill – it feels like the humidity has broken. Wally, Roan’s dad, was here taking portraits, which was so fun, and Svetlana, Rachel, and Adrienne came in to start on an ALC Memory Book (a kind of scaled-down yearbook project…) which I’m super excited about. I went and pulled out all my school photos from this year and there are over 400 of them! It feels like a lot but it also feels right. I made a four-egg omelette with broccoli and mushrooms for lunch that was so delicious. I’m really mastering the art of omelettes. The key is to get the pan very hot and well-greased before adding the eggs.

That’s about it. There’s only 4 weeks left now (AHHHHHHH!!!!!) and I’ve got a lot of writing started so watch this space – I’m trying to channel the prolificness of Bowie…

<3
Mel

on boundaries

Humans are mostly water –
electricity run through meat –
bounded by our skin;
our largest organ
divides the sea within us from the air outside,
holds together our private oceans.

Skin is our primal boundary
our primary boundary.

Humans are mammals
we grow in someone else’s skin
and require the intimacy
of skin-to-skin contact
as infants or else we spend
our childhood, our learning-to-personhood
unable to trust other humans.
Biologically, we require
the physical manifestation of the boundary
between the self and others.

Our infancy is learning
that we are a person apart
from our mothers –
discovering “I” and how to meet its
demands, – then, in childhood,
learning that others’
“I” is as powerful and deep as our own –
learning empathy.

Boundary is definition
by binary; you can’t have yes
without no

“that” is also “not that”

“me” is “not me”

This Week: Schema, writing, introvert time and sunshine

I made so much art this week 🙂 It felt wonderful.

Monday was a visiting day, the first ever dedicated exclusively to humans who want to “see the space in action” but aren’t otherwise connected to us. It went super well – all of our visitors were really respectful of everyone’s space and time, plus they were rad humans in their own right. As the visitor coordinator, I couldn’t be more pleased 🙂 Three of them came on an impromptu trip to the art supply store on 125th with us – that location is closing (unfortunately) but everything is 50% off (fortunately). Nahla and I bought a bunch of paint and canvases. Lili got supplies/started making a (terrifying) puppet so that she can do stop-motion animation – she keeps leaving it in places around the school where it’s just looking down at me, all scary and uncanny-valley-doll-nonsense. Its name is Ti and it uses “it” pronouns.

 

(I took lots of photos with equal parts horror/hilarity/oh god it’s following me…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday I made more art and then the cook noobs made beignets! Nancy donated us a deep fryer, which I’m totally going to make french fries in, and also made the beignet dough because she’s super generous with her time. I didn’t eat any because gluten makes my gut mad, but I heard they were delicious. They certainly looked it!

 

Wednesday Ry took a group to Brighton Beach and so it was very quiet in the space all day. I was really grateful for it, because I’ve been spending lots of time with other humans and I hit an introvert-wall, which is the point at which I stop being able to process auditory input. It sounds weird but it is a real thing in my brain. I made myself a (glorious) breakfast omelette and then went and started painting in the makerspace. I did not take a progress photo, but I did start painting a scene of Zoe, Saylor, and Sterl based on a photo I took when we went to Brighton last year. Nahla joined me, and we got to have quiet-art-morning time, which was just what I needed. In the afternoon, Roan and I collabra-drew creepypastas with charcoal that turned out so cool. Also, my notes from Wednesday just say “Doug is trying to trade up from a paperclip to a…?” I wonder how that’s going for him. When he left I think he’d made it up to a painted rock and was trying to convince Timo that he needed that rock in his life…

Thursday I made a big art mess with Nahla, Beth and Hannah and it was so rad. We made flow art! I got paint all over me! We used a blowtorch! In the afternoon I added a tulip to the painting. It was going to be a bunch of sea monster tentacles, but as soon as I put the brush on the canvas I knew it wasn’t a monster at all. Siena and Jiana both painted with me in the afternoon – I notice that our Tauruses are into visual-art-making, which makes sense as Taurus is an earth sign (into the physical realm) that is ruled by Venus (the planet of beauty). Before all that, I got to sing with Seb and Timo – Seb was playing the keyboard and I just jumped in. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody and American Pie and some Beatles songs. I started re-learning Yesterday, which is one of my favorites of all time, and got to talk to Seb about SUS chords, which he points out are both kind of cheesy and really beautiful. They really give movement to a song. I made a video of myself playing and singing it just now, but I’m feeling too selfconscious to post it. Quick, here’s my painting to distract you!

Today, I went to the Barnard Zine Library and got to spend some time writing in a quiet, dedicated space with Nahla, Beth, and Hannah. (Thanks, Beth, for planning the trip!) I love libraries – I love the hushed feeling of all the knowledge around you. Libraries are magic. It’s beautiful outside – 70 degrees and sunny, the trees all leafed out, finally, and the sky the clear, bright blue of spring. The birds are out in the park. It’s been a good week. I’ve got so much more to write about and only 5 weeks left to do it before the school year is over – eek!

<3
Mel

Astrology I: Why Astrology?

The first thing you need to know about Western astrology is that it is a cycle. The elliptical path of the earth around the sun makes it appear as though there are fixed stars in the sky, called the Zodiac, which occupy the space directly overhead at different times of year in a repeating pattern. Astrology divides that year-sky into 12 equal parts, called the signs, and tracks the movement of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets as they travel through it. Each sign is named for the most prominent constellation in that section of the sky, and has a collection of qualities or traits associated with it – I’ll go deeper into this in a future post. Usually, when people talk about astrology, they’re talking about these 12 signs and their qualities as they are reflected in themselves and others. When someone tells you their sign (“I’m a Taurus”) they’re actually telling you which sign the Sun was in, where it was relative to the skywheel of the Zodiac, at the time of their birth.

Western astrology is a prescriptive schema: it tells us how we are, based on something that exists exclusively outside our selves. We are moving through space; we experience mass and, therefore, gravity. Astrology is not a tool for predicting the future, but it can be a powerful means for making sense of the cycles we live in, and a reminder that the universe, and our selves, are not always in our control. I’m particularly interested in astrology as a schema in self-directed education, because I find that children display the traits of their signs more strongly than adults, whose personalities are steeped long enough in their experiences to complexify, like a soup that’s left to refrigerate overnight and tastes better, deeper, the next day. All the same elements are there, but their interplay makes it harder to distinguish the pure flavor of one ingredient or another.

The Sun is always moving through the signs (it’s in Taurus right now…), as are all the planets and the Moon, and astrology asserts, “as above, so below,” that movement affects our lives. The Sun takes about a month to move through each sign, though these astrological months do not line up with months on the Gregorian calendar, or start on January 1st (this is very interesting to me, but also not a blog post on the comparative history of calendars, so I’ll leave it for now…).The astrological year begins with the vernal equinox (i.e. the onset of spring) and can be divided into four sections representing the four seasons, running from spring equinox to summer solstice to autumn equinox to winter solstice and back around again.

The astrological calendar isn’t perfect (no calendar is perfect) because the year isn’t perfectly divisible; we’re trying to overlay structure on the motion of a rock hurtling through the void, trapped in the gravitational pull of a four-and-a-half-billion-year-old star. Humans are amazing in that we seek to make meaning of that senseless motion, and do, somehow. The universe is vast and unknowable. Schema are a flashlight and grappling hook and rope for splunking the unknown, or a field guide, or an atlas. They’re a language, they’re roadsigns for the psyche. The universe is outside us and inside us too. At its base, astrology is a schema for dividing the year that acknowledges that the motion of the heavenly bodies (the Sun, the Moon, the other planets) have effect on the ways we be here on the Earth. I like to think about their gravity; I think that we are all like planets, or solar systems; everything pulls on itself and that’s why there’s something instead of nothing. We are all representations of constellations of this cosmos in the moment we were born.

I’m into talking about the metaphysical. The why of astrology doesn’t necessarily matter, except that it does to me and you’re reading my blog post. You don’t have to believe all this to be into astrology; I like that it’s a schema that goes as shallow (or deep or vast or miniscule or cosmological…) as you like.

Next time, I’ll give an overview of the signs that make up the astrological wheel (and ramble less about schema and spatiotemporality).

<3
Mel

Mind/Body/Body/Mind

Even started up the Philosophy offering again this week, and oooh boy am I excited about it! (And not just because I get to reintroduce my fav tag to this blog 🙂 )

Hugo, visiting this week, posed this hypothetical: Say you’ve got a boat. And your boat is made of wood. It’s an old boat, and it’s coming apart slowly, but you really love it so as planks fall off of it you replace them with pieces of metal. Eventually, at the end of your journey, every piece of wood on the boat has been replaced by metal. Is it the same boat?

And we were off! I love this question, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few months in regards to human bodies, and my body specifically. Basically, every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years (okay, actually upon further research this isn’t entirely true; it’s a commonly-held factoid but it’s just an estimate – the cells in your body die and are replaced at different rates depending on what their function is. Some, like the cells that line your stomach, are replaced every few days, while others, like those that make up the lenses of your eye or the neurons in your cerebral cortex remain the same from birth to death. More info) – if this is the case, are we still the same person 10 years later, or are we a new person every decade? Or, is our selfhood not determined by our physiology at all (cell replacement or not) but rather by something more ephemeral – a spirit, or our experiences? If I travel through time and space to the other side of the world and come back with a wealth of new experiences, am I still the same person when I return? If I shave my head and change my name and move to Tibet am I a different person? If I hit my head and get amnesia and learn a new language am I a different person?

I love playing with these questions, and so I proposed we watch Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body? I’m a person who is wrestling with my body a lot recently; it feels like a part of my deschooling process to acknowledge that I have a body and that it is a vital part of my self. In my schooling (in most “traditional” schooling) your body is nothing more than a distraction – it’s meant to be kept still so it doesn’t lead you astray from thinking. I was good at school; I was skilled at keeping still. All those unpracticed years have definitely made reorienting myself in my body a harder process. I don’t regret anything, and yet I’m glad to be contemplating these questions in a philosophy class where everyone is free to move around as their body needs to. No matter what an institution might prefer, the reality is that we have bodies; that they are sometimes unruly and often need tending; that without them we couldn’t stop and smell the flowers and hold present in that moment of being. And without that, what’s the point really?

<3
Mel