Choose how your nature shapes you. Embrace it. Find the strength in it. Or fight yourself and remain forever incomplete.
-N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods
Choose how your nature shapes you. Embrace it. Find the strength in it. Or fight yourself and remain forever incomplete.
-N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods
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
Wow we’re silly today. I usually feel a rush to get started in writing time but today I feel really spacy and all over the place and you know what that’s fine that’s what we’re doing I’m not wordsing great but I’m wordsing and that’s what counts. It’s Wednesday and it feels like this week has been endless and that’s probably because I didn’t give myself any introvert space this weekend. I’m not mad about having plans – I went to painting class and saw my family and hung out at Chuck’s birthday party and met some cool humans – but then suddenly it was Monday and I had school and it’s a visiting week and on Monday nights I do the ALF call and then I went to bed and had some really intense dreams and woke up and it was Tuesday and it’s still a visiting week and with all the people in the space we had almost 40 people here! And then after I took saylor and zoe home on the subway and then my roommate locked herself out and our train was delayed and so I was texting everyone to meet me at the climbing gym and then everyone did and I felt weird about having my life spheres all colliding – introducing Saylor to my friend Mimi and then giving my roommate my keys and pointing out Zoe to her (she’s heard many tiny Scorpio stories). And then I went climbing and that was awesome because I did so good and I finished a V3 I’ve been working on for WEEKS and it felt so good and then I also almost finished another V3 and then I went out to dinner with my friends Mimi and Lou and Yael and that was wonderful because it’s a safe queer bubble I get to be in every week that feels so good but also it’s a late night and I didn’t get home until after 10 and Arielle (that’s my roommate) had to let me in cause she had my keys and it’s her last week at work and so we talked about that and so I didn’t get to bed until after my bedtime which was fine but then I had more intense dreams (Neptune and Mercury are dancing around each other all week, which might account for it – they’re not bad they’re just out of reach and I wake up thinking and it’s loud in my head)
I’m anxious that I embarrassed Saylor yesterday when I introduced her to Mimi and that I’m just repeating myself about volume stuff and nothing is moving and I have plans tonight and tomorrow and Friday and Saturday and I had to tell a friend who I’ve been having a hard time connecting with that no, we can’t hang out Sunday and I didn’t say that it’s because I desperately need time to myself alone with no plans, even though that’s true, because I feel guilty about needing that even though that’s being mean to myself. I want to absolve myself of that guilt but it’s hard when our culture is like GO GO GO especially in new york where everyone has plans all the time and that’s not my preference but I’m doing the best I can to exist in capitalism and take care of my mental health and my vibrating nervous system and[that’s the point at which the timer ran out – for instructions on how to do a free write, check out Beth’s blog post here and mine here. What follows is an addendum.]
Some days (especially when I haven’t had introvert time to soothe my body and listen for what I really need in what can feel like an endless monologue of brain-chatter-anxiety) I feel really overwhelmed by it all. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder – when I say I feel anxious I mean it clinically. I am doing a lot of work to try and move through the world in ways that ease it – from therapy, to journaling, to learning to meditate. On the other hand, I feel an intense impulse to edit the self that I present to the world – to appear at ease and in control, to not ask for space or time that I need, to put the [perceived] needs of others before my self. I’m posting this as-is to counteract some of that editing, to put out into the world some of my self as I experience them. Thanks for witnessing <3
It’s been a weird few weeks, y’all, and I’m blaming Mercury retrograde. You’ve probably heard of this astrological phenomenon, since it’s sucked up into pop culture in recent years. That may be because it happens fairly often – three times a year, for a few weeks at a time – but I think it’s because it’s really, truly annoying. Mercury is the planet that rules communication, travel, technology, and commerce, and when it goes retrograde (appears to move backwards in the sky) it makes those things go wonky – tech malfunctions, communication goes awry and travel gets snarled.
when a planet goes retrograde it appears to move backwards in the sky because of the relative locations of their orbit and Earth’s
The wifi has been in and out of functioning for no apparent reason all morning, here at ALC-NYC, and I’ve been in and out of a not-fight with a friend for three weeks now. On Monday, I got to the train station to find that my metrocard expired, and all three of the machines at my station were only accepting cash. Luckily, I had enough cash for a single ride, but not for the monthly unlimited card that I rely on. When I swiped the card at the turnstile, though, it told me to swipe card again at this turnstile… and then it told me that I had an insufficient fare. I went and argued with the stationmaster about it, and they opened the gate to let me in. Then I went to school, did a whole day, and forgot about it – until I got on the bus in the afternoon. I swiped 2 different (empty) metrocards, shrugged at the driver and got on the bus. When I got to 86th street to transfer to my train, I thought to myself finally, I’ll be able to get my unlimited and I won’t have to deal with this any more. But, of course, none of the machines at 86th street were working either – every one of the (seven!!!!) machines at the station were only selling single rides. Knowing it’s Mercury retrograde helped me find a sense of amusement about it as I bought a single ride, explained what was happening to a tourist, and swiped into the station just in time to miss my train.
Mercury retrograde is annoying, but it’s not just an annoyance. It forces us to slow day, and slowing down things we take for granted makes us notice them – like how I discovered that I could, in fact, hold boundaries with my anxious brain on my Mercury retrograde journey to Australia last year.
I’ve been spending a lot of time, this retrograde, with my old notebooks and past selves – 25 books worth of them. I got sick the first week, and was forced to slow down all the way to a halt. I spent 4 straight days in my apartment, sitting with my changing selves. It is still loud in my head, but not a cacophonous as it once was, I’m noticing.
As I record my present selves – in free writes, in staff check in notes, in journals and reflections on tarot cards, in blog posts – and the data available to me about my patterns piles up, becomes several-cycles-worth of observations, I can see my self getting better at slowing down. I can trace the path of learning to hold my paradoxes: all of my thoughts are valid, even if they are not all as urgent as my brain would have me believe.
It’s a shift that I didn’t notice until this retrograde-review-cycle, but it’s been a seismic one. It didn’t start now, but now is when I can finally feel it: not all of my strongest thoughts and feelings are urgent and need to be acted on. It’s really hard for me to just sit with them – to not go racing down the mental track of contingency plans and what-ifs and hypothetical conversations – but it is possible. When I read my traveling-to-Australia-through-Mercury-retrograde thoughts I can see the buds that are now flowering – I can’t wait to discover the buds under this flower when I check back with this post in a year, or five, or ten…
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I’m so excited to go play at @schoolofthealternative this May!! I’ve been thinking about this drawing since I made it for their application, and while Pisces season mercury retrograde has me swirling in past-present-future unknown-undefined-unknowable time, I don’t feel as helpless as I once did – I feel rooted, and grateful, and optimistic, and unfurling. Non-hierarchical education for all, indeed! 🕐🕑🕒🕓🕔🕕🕖🕗🕘🕙🕚🕛🕜🕝🕞🕟🕠🕡🕢🕣🕤🕥🕦🕧
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 and expanding; 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. I’ve thought abstractly about my childself over the course of the last few years, ALFing and deschooling, sure. But thinking about the child I was at 10 years old, standing in the atrium of C.V. Starr Intermediate School feels shockingly concrete – the kid 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, 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 based on the lessons of the atrium, angry that I live in this pain. I am trying to honor my anger, to exorcise it. Some days I mourn the sense of safety, dignity, and belonging that 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 this body, now.
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.