Post-SotA Reentry Feels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for witnessing.

<3

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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!

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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!

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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

This Week: June Feels, More Field Trips, a Carving, and Where the Wild Things Are

For the last two weeks my countdowns have felt anticipatory, excited, tired, what-else-can-we-squeeze-in-before-we’re-done frantic; today I feel bittersweet and tender. There’s a week left of school but the goodbyes have already started – Beth’s last day was today – and yesterday at the Assembly meeting the parents held a gratitudes circle just for the ALFs and we all cried at the beautiful things they said to and about us. We’re here at the end; I feel relieved because I am tired, I feel satisfied because I see the growing we’ve done much clearer than I could previously, I feel sad because a cycle is ending and mourning is valid.

I was talking to Abby last night after the Assembly about cycles and time, and we’re in agreement that three years of facilitating feels significant. We’re approaching the end of my second year of ALFing – three-years-ago-me didn’t even know that this could be my life yet. Three-years-ago-Mel was working at a corporate job that I hated and couldn’t yet imagine my way out. Two-years-ago Mel knew they were leaving the safety of the path laid out by schooling and normie-culture expectations but didn’t yet know what that would entail. Last-year Mel thought they knew a lot and, though they’d grown a bunch in this work, they weren’t yet ready to sit comfortably in uncertainty. I don’t know yet that I’m comfortable with uncertainty, but I feel comfortable recognizing there are so many things that I don’t yet know – about how to be a good facilitator, a healthy human, a fulfilled person, about how all those things are connected – I feel wiser in my unknowing than I ever felt in my (many) years of chasing certainty. I’m not wise, but I am willing to play.

 

Alright, that’s enough navel gazing. Here’s to the week:

Monday we played Blind Horse Tag in Acro (a kid sits on an adults’ shoulders and covers the adults’ eyes with their hands/steers their “horse” around in a game of tag) which is both stressful and very fun – it makes me feel strong. We were trying to do a straddle-bat lift, but Ash and I kept talking about our meat and bones and laughing and falling over. After, he and I made a Sim of me, which was just as fun as I remember it being 15 years ago. Siena and I read Where the Wild Things Are – she’d never read it before, which meant I got to share in the joy of her first reading of it. Even and I did Philosophy – we talked morality, psychology, concrete examples, Leia and the trolley problem. Chuck and Timo started building a bow; Ry took Joy Burger and Central Park trips; Katherine made a great save in kickball. We all hung out with sleepy Chova the dog.

On Tuesday Sterl had a bit of a meltdown about Seb taking apart his lego creations and I mediated. It’s not the first conflict on this topic between these humans – in fact, we have a “no hoarding shared resources” agreement because Seb got sick of Sterl telling him that he was using all the pieces and came to Change-Up to do something about it a couple of months ago. What was interesting about Tuesday was how I felt different in my mediation than I had previously; how I could feel myself holding it lightly. We wound up talking about how entropy is the state of the universe, how stasis is impossible because everything is changing all the time. Even if you stay perfectly still, your muscles will atrophy. Are you moving towards growth or are you hoping for stasis? I’m not the only one who’s been growing – Seb, who came here two years ago, has developed a level of patience in mediation that his two-years-ago self didn’t know he was capable of. I’m really proud of him and, while I’m sad to say goodbye, I’m so excited for him to continue to grow his skills and talents at Special Music School next year, where he’ll be a vocal major for high school.

Wednesday we had visitors – Megan and Liz, who are hoping to start an ALC in the Philly suburbs, and their kids – and it was quiet enough in the space that Abby and I could spend two hours in the afternoon answering their questions. I was feeling kind of weird when I got home that evening, so I wrote a list of good things that I did in my day notes: “Reading Far from the Tree in the lobby w/ Chova the dog curled up on me & seeing Siena discover asparagus & laughing w/ Nahla about the first three questions everyone asks & getting surprised with biodegradable glitter gifted by Abby & a full gratitudes meeting & a smooth cleanup & Jiji and Roan playing tag in the hall…”

Yesterday was a two field trip day – Abby took Xander and Jiana to the Rockaways, and Chuck & I went mini-golfing on Pier 25 with Erez, Demian, Hannah, Beth, & Siena. Mini-golf was very fun, but I forgot my water bottle and so wanted to go back to school right after we were done. Demian opted to come with me, and we spent the subway ride talking about Harry Potter spoilers, King Arthur’s sword, metaphors, the Elder Wand, and swapping book recommendations.

After school was the final potluck and Assembly meeting of the year. Like I said, the parents surprised us by holding a gratitudes circle for everyone to tell us ALFs how grateful they were for us and I got ALL the feels. Honestly, I still can’t believe I have the incredible privilege to wake up every morning and come to work here; I cannot describe my gratitude.

Today was quiet – we had our final check-in and change up of the year. I finished carving my rose block and test-printed it; I’m very pleased with how it turned out. We had a culture committee on trolling, which felt really efficient (and we decided the consequence of not being able to troll responsibly is getting removed from the troll whitelist and not being able to troll at all for the rest of the year, which feels so fair to me…). Beth and I chatted for a while about the growing she’s done this year and decided we’d be pen pals again this summer. The next thing I knew it was cleanup and blog time and here we are…

 

This Week: Routine Interruptions, End-of-the-Year Chill, Beach Trips, Blooming Roses, and a Dog Friend

Another week has gone! Only two remain! The roses in my neighborhood are blooming already! What even is time!

This week felt a little strange the whole time, because Monday was Memorial day and we didn’t have school. I spent the day with my family in the suburbs, which was lovely (and very green) but my rhythm was all off afterwards. It’s as if the calendar doesn’t care about my personal qualms with messing up my routine, which I think is very inconsiderate of the calendar. Regardless, no school Monday (and no Acro!) so not much to report there. Here’s the suburbs, seen from my mom’s front lawn:

Tuesday we were joined by Chova the World’s Chillest Terrier. Savannah is her human, and we’ve been testing what it’s like to have a student bring companion animals into the space. So far so good; she’s honestly one of the sweetest beings I’ve met (which makes her a great match for her human!). Currently she’s sitting on Savannah’s lap next to me just gently licking her arm. Honestly. This dog.

The rest of Tuesday was really chill – I spent a lot of time reading Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, which is a wide-ranging exploration of the duality of illness and identity, and the ways those overlapping concepts play out in relationships between parents and their children. There are 10 chapters – Deaf, Dwarfs, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime, and Transgender. It’s not light reading (and it’s nearly 900 pages long, including all the notes and references) but it’s nuanced, well-researched, and compassionately communicated. It’s not the kind of book you necessarily need to read cover-to-cover, (I started with Autism and have been jumping around) but I find the more I read of it the more I want to read. I’m only about halfway through, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday we took a beach trip to the Rockaways! Ry met Beth, Saylor, Zoe, and Siena there, and I brought Xander, Erez, Aniya, and Hannah from East Harlem on the ferry. It wasn’t perfect beach weather but it was a great day anyway – the ferry was especially fun. Also, despite heavy cloud cover, Ryan, Beth, and I managed to all get sunburned. Just another reminder to always wear sunscreen!!

    

Yesterday I was so tired after Wednesday’s tripping – I wound up riding 9 total subways and walking 5 miles, on top of the ferry, because I went to acupuncture after all that. Chuck took Even and Doug on a field trip to the Museum of the Moving Image that sounded super fun. I wound up doing some more reading, and making art with Roan in the lobby (we’re working on a book!). I also wound up talking to two different groups at length about the weirdness of having a body, a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we are our bodies, how our bodies are our minds, how we turn food, through the complex process of digestion, into electricity in order to operate our meat, which in turn allows us to experience sensation and time and relationships. There are more cells in your body (about 37 TRILLION and that doesn’t even include the microbes that live in your gut!!!) than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. We are galaxies, each of us, we are superclusters. It’s pretty amazing.

Today has been quiet. There were no new awarenesses in check-in (a first for this year). I started carving a lino block inspired by the roses on my city block. It won’t capture their color but it will get at their lovely, loose shape. I love roses, even though I know it’s cliche – I love their variety, and their boldness. I love how flowers be, and I’m trying to be more like them; to trust that existing as my full, colorful self is enough to attract what I need to help me grow.  I’ve done a lot of growing this year, and I can feel this cycle coming to a close…

<3
Mel

Bonus photo: Ry wanted to go to the park but kids weren’t ready yet so I walked out in the lobby and found…

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

Return from Philly, Escape from Jury Duty, Heartwood, Leveling Up Tools, and Ryan’s Beard…

I missed monday because I had jury duty which was a bummer but I did not get placed on a jury and I did do my civic duty so that was no big deal (besides being mildly bored for a day when I could have been at school). I also voted Tuesday morning! Very civic week all around.

We went to Philly and Abby’s parent’s house last weekend! It was an awesome trip. I wish I had more photos but I took most of mine on something called “real film” so they are not instantly available – I will post them when I get it developed. Here’s some photos I did take:

I did not include the week number in the title of this post because I’m learning that if a thing I’m doing feels arbitrary, I don’t have to keep doing it for continuity’s sake!!!!! (Knowing this rationally and acting on it are different things. I’ve been in the former state for a while, it’s the latter action that’s hard for my Virgo self…)

It’s good that we’re practicing getting out in the world because we skyped @mjuliacordero and some of the Heartwood crew this week and our teens were so excited/are talking about coordinating a trip to Atlanta now… (You can check out a photo on our instagram.)

I finished two big projects this week! One is the Gameshifting board I’ve been working on with my spawn – it’s taken a while to get all the materials but today we finally had everything we needed. @simoneboss @spino @zoe6 and Demian helped with design and execution and I think it turned out fantastic.

The other project I did this week was impulsive, but incredibly satisfying. Since I first started at ALC (last September) the game room closets have been an explosion of orphaned board game pieces, mixed-up playing cards, magnet tiles, lincoln logs, random dice, marbles, go stones, shredded boxes and more things to horrify a Virgo such as myself. I didn’t go on a field trip yesterday, which is my usual Thursday activity, and so I found myself with a whole day to tackle something new and that something was that chaos closet! I didn’t take a before shot, but here is during/after:

It’s not perfect (I wish I’d had time to label things, and there’s still a basket of all sorts of random cards in there that need to be sorted into their respective games…) but it’s MUCH better than it was and it was so satisfying to see how much more space there was in there when I was done.

Bonus photo: Ryan came back from the park today with flowers in his beard and it was rad…