The End of Year 3

The whole time I’ve been ALFing, there’s been something about the end of year 3. An aura, or a promise: threes are magical. When I was uncertain, blindsided by a question for the first time, moving through a situation I had never encountered, traversing the part of the map labeled here be dragons, I felt that promise – things would loosen. I would find ease, after year three. I would be able to keep the tops spinning. I held hands with that promise, I believed in my future-ALF self.  Now I am that future-ALF; today is the last Writing Time of the school year. Tomorrow is the last climbing trip. Friday is the last Check-In and Change-Up. Next week is the final week – the time for picnics and park trips and the Rockaways. The roses on my block are blooming. I am tender. This cycle is closing.

This post is an aggregate of what I’ve learned this yearcycle – an incomplete and earnest attempt to get better at sharing my learning. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the first three years of ALFing, a lot about the ways that I learned to relate to and disassociate from my body to survive schooling. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I started this year by spending my birthday writing a long, hard post about what I want, the question at the cornerstone of SDE. It was scary to post – prior to publishing it, I was not out on the internet as a trans person, and I didn’t know I was ready to occupy a public space so vulnerably. Sitting here, on the other side of the year, I’m grateful for my day-of-birth courage (I’m 27, which is three nines…). In three years, the most profound lesson I’ve learned is that the things my body wants are valid, even if those things are hard. A lot of the rest is just variations on this theme. (See the two featured posts below for my years 1 and 2 ramblings on it.)

Since then, I’ve been on 25 field trips, made an obscene amount of slime, practiced 3 instruments, learned to crochet hyperbolic corals, played an exuberance of tag, learned a ton about anatomy and physiology, played many writing games, fed my body lots of fruits and veggies, read the entire Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series (among many other awesome books), discovered the delightful puzzle game Baba Is You, shared my love of Steven Universe with the school, and spent more time outside playing at the park than ever before in my life. My facilitation comes more easily now that I’ve discovered the embodiment of it. It’s not always smooth and I don’t have all the answers – but I’m much more comfortable with unknown unknowns than my three-years-ago self ever believed I was capable of.

Abby just handed me a letter from my September self (one of our favorite traditions here at ALC-NYC), and in it I said “I intend to share my writing in the world – my works and my art – because I am inspired by these humans and the work I’m privileged to do with them – their chaos and humor and joy.” The thing I’m proudest of this year is achieving that goal: I’ve published 22 blog posts this year! They’re all listed below – the long and the short alike. Thinking about my next-three-years self, I’m looking forward to the ones I haven’t written yet, and I hope that they’ll help other facilitators who are finding their way through this strange journey, practicing and deschooling and collaborating and playing. Happy end of year three, and I’ll see you in the future.

9.22 Where Have You Been? 

10.02 What Are You Up To? 

10.03 Quiet Morning Writing Time 

10.14 This Week: Rose, Bud, Thorn 

10.19 Another Cycle, Another Practice Reflection 

10.26 On Rest 

11.16 Practicing Cycles and What We’ve Been Up To 

11.30 Your Bones Are Wet 

12.21 Last Blog at the End of the Universe 

1.18 What Is Writing Time? 

1.18 Share Your Learning 

1.18 What Are You Up To Now? 

2.01 On Kindness and the Soft Animal of My Body 

2.15 Describe Your Relationship to Work 

2.12 On Facilitating In Your Joy

3.22 Mercury Retrograde: A Review 

3.27 An Unabridged Free Write

4.05 Gratitude for Gratitudes 

4.12 Pre-Break Focused Blog Brilliance 

5.17 Post-SotA Reentry Feels

5.31 Tag! Tag! Tag!

Tag! Tag! Tag!

This is a list of tag games that I like! We play a lot of tag, and these varieties keep it interesting. The descriptions under each are as close to word-for-word how I explain them to new players. [Notes in brackets are my reflections on the game conditions.] We often play many rounds of tag in a row. All of these games can (should!) be modified to meet the needs of the players. The ideal tag game is really intense and leaves everyone breathless, bone tired, and full of endorphins.

Banana Slug Tag

Everyone is It. If I tag you, you are frozen until I get tagged. When you are frozen, you must t-pose until I am tagged so that other players know you’re frozen. If we tag each other at the same time, or if there is any dispute, then we play rock-paper-scissors and the loser is frozen. You win by freezing all the other players. Go!

[This is a hard game to win! It’s best played in a space where it’s easy to see all the other players – open fields, small playgrounds, a gym. The minimum number of players is 4, but the more players you have the more fun it is.]
Hide and Seek Tag

One person is It, everyone else hides. Once you get tagged by the person who is It, you also become It. You don’t have to stay in your hiding spot – you can move around as much as you want. The last person tagged gets to choose who is It for the next round.

[You can play with 3 or more people, but this is also much more fun with more humans. Obviously, you’ll want to play this game somewhere players will have lots of places to hide…]
Toilet Tag

One person is It. When you get tagged, you are frozen and you have to kneel down on one knee (now you are a toilet). To unfreeze you, an free player must run over, sit on your knee, and “flush” one of your arms. You win by turning everyone into a toilet.

[This game works in a lot of different settings! Be careful of your knees, grownups…]
Hug Tag

One person is It and everyone else is running – to avoid getting tagged, players can hug for up to 5 seconds (they should count down from 5 out loud). If you are hugging, then you are safe and cannot be tagged. If It tags you, then you are It.

[This is an infinite tag, and great to play with a group who is practicing trust-building with each other…]
Shark Tag

There are two bases, on two different sides of the room or field or playground. One person is the Shark – they’re It. They stand in the center. Everyone else starts on the base on one side, and must all run over to the other base. If you get tagged on the way across, you also become a Shark. Last player standing wins.

[We play endless varieties of this one. Sometimes, the Shark has to tag the other players by throwing a gator ball at them. Sometimes, we add other bases, or institute a time limit on how long you can linger on base. I like playing this game in a place where there are a lot of obstacles, like a playground. I also played this in a pool as a kid…]
Blob Tag

Two people hold hands and they are the Blob. They are It, and if they tag you then you will hold one of their hands and also join the Blob. The last player standing wins.

[This is best played in a smaller space with fewer obstacles, which makes it progressively easier for the Blob to trap free players.]
Monster and Sausage Tag

One person is the Monster – they are It and they are chasing a Sausage. Everyone else lays on the ground in groups of 2 – they are a Sausage Pack. The Monster chases the Sausage until the Sausage lays down a joins a Sausage Pack. Then the Monster becomes a Sausage, and the person on the other side of the pack gets up and becomes the Monster.

The really important part about this tag is the screaming. The Sausage must sound adequately terrified (no one wants to get eaten by a Monster!!)  and the Monster must sound appropriately terrifying (or else what kind of Monster are they??). If the Monster tags the Sausage, the roles are reversed.

[Monster and Sausage tag is an infinite tag, and best played somewhere you don’t mind laying down on the ground. Obviously, don’t play this game somewhere where you will subject people to your screaming who did not consent to it. Also, this game is hilarious. Play when you need a good belly laugh.]

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!

An Unabridged Free Write

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

Describe Your Relationship to Work

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.

On Facilitating in Your Joy

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

On Kindness, and the Soft Animal of My Body

“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.

Share Your Learning

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.

What Is Writing Time?

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.

What Are You Up to Now?

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!).

Big pyramid! Top-bottom, left-right: Iphy, Sterl, Doug, Me, Timo, Saylor, Ryan, Yoni, and Savannah
Down dog pyramids with Savannah and Siena (on top)
Me balancing Timo on my head!

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.

Iphy and her cookie, Jeff the Killer
Cook n00b cleanup is no joke…

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…

Banana slug tag in progress…
Savannah’s a great climber…
Saylor as Banana Slug Tag causality

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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.

Priorities
Sterling and Starling
A box of Matilda!
The hazards of art-making…
Giant lego blocks!

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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.

Aiden!
Even
Demian and Beth!
Hugo!
Matilda!

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.

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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….

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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.