On Rest

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.

Another Cycle, Another Practice Reflection

Last spring, I wrote a blog post about practicing that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. You can go read the original post if you want – in it, I talk a lot about how facilitation is a practice, and reflect on pulling a daily oracle/tarot card as a supportive practice/what it looks like for me/how I level up that practice. Since then, I’ve achieved keeping it up – posting a daily card online for almost 6 straight months! I’m really proud of myself for maintaining the streak (though, somewhat ironically, I did not post a card today).

Other daily practices I’ve kept up with: note-taking at staff check-in, and journaling before bed. Daily practices that have fallen by the wayside: personal kanban, and mosaic-making. Interestingly, I feel equally good about putting down the ones that aren’t serving me as I do with keeping up the ones that do. Doing something daily strengthens my (mental) muscles in a way that I’m only now beginning to appreciate. In putting down practices that aren’t serving me, I’m practicing being kind to myself as I figure out what’s working for me and what’s not – an equally powerful, though somewhat more ephemeral, set of skills.

Recently, I’ve added new daily practice: drawing! I’m participating in Inktober – which is essentially a challenge to draw something and post it online for every day of October. It’s been incredibly fun, and in the last few days I’ve realized my drawing has improved tremendously. In my school district, students had to choose art or music when we were 10 – I choose music and, subsequently, told myself the story that I couldn’t make art. It was a powerful story and it’s taken me a long time to unlearn it – even still, sometimes I find myself telling people that I’m not an artist despite all the evidence to the contrary. It’s particularly interesting to me right now, because I’ve had lots of people tell me that they could NEVER make art like that – the exactly story I’ve been telling myself until recently. Only daily practice has helped me change that story; I feel really trite when I tell people that, even if ti’s true.

Here are this month’s drawings so far (starting with day 1):

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Today’s #inktober drawing is a collaborative doodle I did with a teenager today at school who started by telling me she couldn’t draw before she even picked up the pen. Young femmes are taught so early that we can’t – can’t take up space can’t have talent can’t be loud can’t say no can’t be too forward can’t walk home alone at night – that it’s sometimes an impossible-feeling journey into believing that we can. Today is #nationalcomingoutday and I’m sitting here tonight reflecting on all the power I’ve reclaimed believing that I can – can take up space can be out can change my presentation identity pronouns can draw can sing can learn new things – and all the places I’m still giving myself that permission. Coming out isn’t a one-time event – it’s a lifetime of giving yourself permission to exist in a world that thinks you shouldn’t – and I’m grateful to be alive, in this body, in my community and family (chosen and blood). To everyone out there: I witness you. To everyone not out yet: I love you. The world is not safe but together we can hold each other enough that it might be okay

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🐠🐠🐠🐠🐠#inktober #inktober2018

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This Week: Rose, Bud, Thorn

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve probably encountered “This Week” before – my day-by-day summaries of what we get up to here at ALC-NYC. This week, I’d like to try a different framework – Rose, Bud, and Thorn. I first encountered this reflection tool over the summer (in Sacramento? in Fresno? Both? Gratitude to those ALFs for sharing it with me!!) and I like it a lot. Basically “Rose” is the best part of your [time period] – the bloom of it. “Bud” is something new that you’re excited to watch grow, and “Thorn” is something that was hard or frustrating for you. I’m switching things up in the hopes of making these posts more concise – here goes!

Rose

My favorite part of this week was the impromptu field trip we took yesterday! As you probably know, I love field trips – here in New York there are more things to explore and do and see than one person could reasonably experience in a lifetime and it brings me such joy to discover (and re-discover) them with young people. The medium is the message and the experience of exploring this city is unlike any other (my New Yorker pride is showing…).

I have been feeling a bit torn, because Ryan and I have revived rock climbing field trips on Thursdays – while I love rock climbing, I really disliked the idea of forgoing all other NYC explorations in favor of the one activity. So I decided I’d go rock climbing every other week, and leave myself space to go on other trips on the off weeks.

And it worked great! Yesterday morning, as the rock climbers were getting ready to go, I was sitting in the lobby just repeating to kids that “no, I’m not going rock climbing today – it’s Ryan’s week. I wanted to give myself the option to do other things.” Siena heard the invitation under my statement and asked if we could go on a trip right now – and I was so excited! I offered two options – the Museum of the City of New York (a small, eclectic collection, free, and only 5 blocks from school) or the Metropolitan Museum of Art (a much larger collection, suggested donation for New Yorkers, and 20 blocks away). She chose the Museum of the City of NY, invited our visiting student, Tamia (who just completed her visiting week and will be a student here going forward!), and off we went.

The Museum of the City of New York is really a hidden gem. It’s in a grandiose old building and has a super-cool modern chandelier in the lobby made of points of light that reorganize themselves into spheres and hexagons and stars and fractals as you walk around it – there’s a big black-and-white marble staircase that winds its way up around it. We spent some time in the History of NYC exhibit, and then my favorite – Activism NYC. I’m grateful for the ways the museum humanizes and centers marginalized people, and I see myself really clearly as the kind of New Yorker that is part of their narrative. [I wanted to insert a picture here but the website is being wonky so I won’t.] We also visited an architecture exhibit, checked out a super elaborate dollhouse, learned about germs and epidemics in NYC, and viewed some photos by Stanley Kubrick from his early career as a photographer for Life magazine – all awesome stuff. It was a great trip, and I highly recommend the museum!

(After I wrote all this out, I realized I also loved being part of “Boop: A Play!” by Sterling this Tuesday. I’m not gonna get into it except to say it was hilarious, hilarious magic.)

Bud

This week, I introduced a game in Writing Time that I also learned in California! You need at least two people to play, though there isn’t a limit on how many players one could have. The goal is to tell a story together, going around the circle with each player saying only one at a time. It’s an awesome “yes, lets!” game and I had a ton of fun playing it with Hugo and Beth and recording our silly stories. I think we’ll do it again next week!

Thorn

Yesterday afternoon tempers were running pretty hot around the space, and it was pretty tough to be in. It’s interesting to notice the times when the group’s collective tension is ratcheted up – between the heavy humidity, the heat, the grey day, and 4 planets in Scorpio, we were definitely all on edge. It’s a tough time out in the world and I’m feeling particularly sensitive these days; I want to acknowledge myself for choosing to find humor in the grumps and for not caving into the group spiral.

That’s that! This has definitely been faster to write – stay tuned to see if I stick with it.

<3

Mel

Quiet Morning Writing Time

It’s Wednesday morning, and we’re doing writing time in the back room. I notice that I have a tendency to start my writing by rooting it in the place I am – many of my poems begin this way. “At the market” or “in Frida’s garden” or “In the installation I am overwhelmed”. It is loud in my head – when I place myself, I get outside of it. It helps.

It’s Wednesday morning, the first Wednesday morning of October, and the day is cool and damp and sunny – the reflection of the treeline in the Meer was a perfect symmetrical suspension of air and water and still-green leaves. The pallet is shifting as the wheel of the year turns again. I’m in the back room, where it is the quiet of people together – not silent but calm and companionable. I’m in my favorite seat, next to the doors, where I can see down the hallway. Roan and Jiji are dancing towards me – she just ran in and ran a hand over my head and whispered “pet the Melidew” and then disappeared. Beth, across the table from me, is laughing at Jiji and writing, and eating an apple that she split apart with her bare hands! Chuck showed her the trick – he split my apple, and now he’s sitting to my right, reading “On the Fly: Hobo Literature and Songs 1879-1941.” On my left, Ryan and Doug are seated across the table from one another, playing a game with black and white tiles and bugs. They’re on their third round and discussing the merits of a queen-first strategy, of ants vs. crickets vs. spiders vs. ladybugs.

Timo just came in and reminded Doug they forgot to do their spawn – the two of them (and Aniya and Serena) have been doing a “focused spawn” after regular spawn where they have a more in-depth conversation about their intentions. I think it’s such a cool idea, and I’m excited to see the ways these teens are holding each other as they level up their skills. I wonder how it’s working for them.

Behind me, Siena is watching a video on youtube, but quietly enough that it’s background noise. Hugo is on the couch next to her, also writing. The morning sun is shining through the windows, onto Abby’s plants. The back room in the morning is one of my favorite places because of the light – falling in golden through the wall of windows, the plants on the will and the leaves of the tree outside. In the far corner is a pile of books – mostly Abby’s, like the plants. The walls are olive green and butter yellow.

I’m trying to learn to quiet my brain – it’s been so loud in here for as long as I can remember that I can barely conceive of what that would feel like. Maybe it’s like this, like being in this space. Even as I write this, the dodgeball game at the other end of the hall has escalated into shouting, and Doug and Ryan’s game has resumed and the moment is past. It doesn’t have to be a forever moment. But if I could hold it, place it, what would that be? What would it feel like?

What Are You Up To?

I love how quickly the year falls into a rhythm. Perhaps it’s because we have so many returning humans, but we’re only on week 3 and already I feel like I’ve got a sense of how my weeks will go. It’s comforting to pick things up and feel in flow so quickly; from conversations we’re continuing, to knowing how to stock the fridge so that I can eat gluten-free and keep the hangry at bay, the beginning of this year has been pretty smooth sailing.

Mondays are shaping up to be one of my most intense days, as I’m committed to three different offerings, all of which require a different kind of intense energy. Basically I come in, eat breakfast (heavy on the protein, so I have brain and body energy to get me through the day!), do Set the Week and Spawn and then I’m off.

First is Acro with Yoni, at 10:30 in the morning. We usually start with some kind of tag – fan favorites include toilet tag, banana slug tag, and penguin and stork tag – before rolling into stretches, headstands and handstands as our warmup. The second half of Acro is where we do the counterbalances, lifts, and tricks you probably associate with acrobatics. Since I’m one of the larger humans (not as big as Ry but definitely bigger than the kids!) I’m often the base, which means my priority has been building up my strength so that the fliers can stand on me – or balance on my feet, or my shoulders or my back… In the months I’ve been doing Acro, my strength has already improved, and I’m excited to continue to get stronger – even on days like today, when I’m sore in muscles that I don’t usually remember that I have!

Acro Pyramid! [left to right, bottom to top] Savannah, me, and Katherine, Doug and Timo, and Hugo!
After Acro I have a free hour, during which I usually eat lunch and chat with people. It’s necessary down time after so much strenuous physical activity, which I’m trying to prioritize this year so I don’t burn myself out! Even though the running around portion of my day has ended, my Monday is far from over because next is Pathfinders!

Pathfinders is a a kind of scaled-down version of Dungeons and Dragons (though the rulebook is still MASSIVE) – a character-and-worldbuilding driven roleplaying game. I play Pan, a gnomic Bard, who is part of a ragtag band of outlaws who were roped into saving the world – after they accidentally upset its’ delicate balance by setting the whole thing on fire… Our party consists of a halfling barbarian named Gloves (played by Iphy) with a packful of cheese and acid who’s always trying to pick a fight, a dwarf Ranger (played by Erez) and his companion dragon Sparks, an elven Druid named Angelica (played by Serena), mourning the destruction of all the forests in this world, and a human Rogue (played by Xander) who’s just trying to survive this world – and maybe acquire some gold along the way. Doug is our Dungeon Master (DM) and so far the world he’s created has been super interesting – some kind of calamity destroyed all the nature, and all that’s left is a Frostland and a Desertland. The two were separated by the wasteland…until we came along and (sort of accidentally) set it on fire. Now everything’s gone to chaos, we got magically drafted by a queen to fix the mess we made (though so far all we’ve done is fight some goblins we were trying to bamboozle and get attacked by some pretty scary immortal bunnies…).

Finally, after Pathfinders I have writing time, which I’m still on the fence about keeping. Basically it’s keep it or drop it from Monday entirely; there isn’t really another place in the schedule it fits. I’ve got to see if this Monday’s brain-burnout is going to be a pattern (in which case I’ll see if someone else wants to hold Monday’s writing time, or drop it if not) or something that will decrease as I build my stamina throughout the year. I would like to write a summary of the Pathfinders quest, and so ideally I’ll be able to build up my endurance and do that. We’ll see!

**

Tuesdays are my unstructured day, right now, which is lovely after the intensity of my Monday. Tuesday morning kicks off with Magic School Bus, which is SUPER fun. It’s definitely dated (and delightfully nostalgic as a 90s kid) but the science holds up! We had a big crowd this week, and we watched an episode on pond ecosystems and another where the class investigated a rotten log. Good stuff all around.

The only other offering I’m scheduled to do on Tuesday is 30 minute writing time (where I started this blog post!). I’m still working out the ideal time for that block – initially I scheduled it at 10:00AM at the request of Hannah and Beth, but the last two weeks it was just me and Hugo on Tuesday morning and Hannah and Beth opted to write in another room (they’re working on a collaborative story that I’m super excited to read!). So this week when we got to Writing Time and realized we were both a bit bummed about missing Magic School Bus, Hugo and I decided to reschedule. We did it at 12:30, which felt a lot better – we’ll see if we decide to keep it there.

In the afternoon on Tuesday I wound up going to craft time with Chuck and started sewing a plushie friend with Ash. It’s v weird and cute and nearly finished; stay tuned for pics!

**
Wednesdays open with another Writing Time (I’m doing so much writing and it feels GREAT) and then rolled into Geoguessr. If you don’t yet play Geoguessr, you’re missing out! It’s a kind of puzzle game that drops you somewhere random in Google maps and then you have to use context clues to figure out where in the world you are. There are all sorts of more specific maps but usually we play the global one. It’s very very fun, especially when you’re playing in a group that all have different travel and language experiences so you can collaborate.

After Geoguessr I did some Duolingo (trying not to let my Spanish get so rusty… but it’s hard to stick with. Bleh.).

After Geoguessr was Board Game Time with Doug and Ryan! This week we played Captain Sonar, an 8 player, real-time battleship-type submarine game that was unbelievably fun. Me, Doug, Even and Xander (and later Hugo, who swapped with Xander) manned the SS Burrito to two consecutive victories against Ryan, Chuck, Serena, and Demian (later Madelyn, who was visiting from Cottonwood and swapped with Demian after a round) on the SS Good Question. Rematch next week? I hope so!

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Thursdays is field trip day! This week was my first field trip of the year; if you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you know that I LOVE field trips. It’s hard to live in New York City, but the payoff is that there are near infinite things to do and see here, and going out to explore them with kids keeps New York magical for me.

Yesterday we went to the New York Hall of Science, in Queens. It’s a long ride out there – over an hour on the train – but well worth it. We were intending to see the ecosystems exhibit, but it was closed because of this weekends’ Maker Fair. We did get to spend a bunch of time in the light and optical illusions exhibits, and we saw a demo where boiling water was combined with liquid nitrogen which created a super cool giant plume of smoke and then froze the remaining water. Chemistry! I didn’t get to check out the bodies and sports exhibit this time, but the people who did really enjoyed it. At the end of the day, we climbed trees in the rocket park. Good stuff all around. Pics!

Optical illusions are so cool!
Hugo, Beth, and Hannah checking out the displays
We watched a demo where they combined boiling water with liquid nitrogen – it made a giant cloud of vapor and froze the water into ice instantly!

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Fridays are shaping up to be the day of my favorite offerings: Portraits back-to-back with Anatomy and Physiology, with Focused Blogging wrapping up the day.

We do Portraits after check-in and change-up (which have been going super smooth so far this year!) and I’m obsessed. After drawing my first ever self-portrait last year, I went on a spree, painting and drawing over a dozen in a single month. I even made a large-scale one that’s hanging in the Brooklyn Museum right now!

Last week in Portraits we did blind contour drawings, which were very silly and fun, as well as studies of noses, eyes, ears, and mouths (just full pages of disembodied facial features…). This week, we all picked photos of ourselves that we liked and drew grids over them. We then used the grids to help us with the spacing and proportion of our images; as we learned yesterday at the Hall of Science, our eyes are unreliable and wont to play tricks on us! Also, my face is very round. Here is a (creepy) progress photo:

It’s a work in progress…

After Portraits we did Anatomy & Physiology – Beth requested it. We’re following Crash Course, and practicing our note-taking, which means we have to do quite a bit of going back because Hank Greene talks so unbelievably fast. I’m super excited to learn about body systems – another fact that probably won’t surprise longtime readers of this blog. (Check out Mind/Body/Body/Mind and Skin, the Bag You’re In! for past musings on this topic).

Today there was a werewolves game after A&P that I didn’t play, but did listen to a bit of (the village won). I did play some Machinarium, which is a suuuuuuuper cool puzzle game that Erez introduced me to earlier this week. It’s very hard, and I like that.

And now, dear reader, it’s blogging time and I’ve brought you up to speed on my week routine. How will it change? Who knows! I’m sure it will – right now, though, this is feeling good. I feel like there’s a good balance between scheduled and unscheduled time that I want to prioritize keeping – last year there was definitely a point where I was feeling burned out because Iw as in offerings all day, several days in a row. Will I succeed? Stick around to find out!

<3
Mel