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!

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

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!

Gratitude for Gratitudes

Today, I’m feeling really grateful for Gratitudes – my favorite part of our daily routine here. It’s an optional meeting, every afternoon, but I try to never miss one. It’s been an anxious few weeks for me, but I can always rely on Grats (as I affectionately call it) to be a safe, quiet space (or a silly one, on those magical days when we decide to run an upside down meeting). We use the custom Gameshift board pictured above (featuring secret menu – you have to be here) and take 10 or so minutes to draw a ritual space together. All 4 ALFs usually attend. The kids are more varied – Timo, Iphy, and Hugo are pretty consistent participants and Tamia, Mason, Ash, Aniya and Olive come more occasionally. Even when no kids come, the ALFs hold the space (a rare but not unheard of occurrence). We’ve increased enrollment recently, so there are a lot of bodies in the space, and spring fever has us real energized (though not necessarily eager to go to the park as the early-spring chill continues) and I am a human that is sensitive to noise and others’ energy – when I arrive at Gratitudes after a particularly raucous day, I can literally feel my nervous system relax a bit. That’s because praciticing paying attention to what your grateful for is really good for you – it’s science. Today I’m grateful for water, and the space that is this blog, and a Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, and for my fellow ALFs, and that the magnolia tree on my block is starting to bloom….

Mercury Retrograde: a Review

It’s been a weird few weeks, y’all, and I’m blaming Mercury retrograde. You’ve probably heard of this astrological phenomenon, since it’s sucked up into pop culture in recent years. That may be because it happens fairly often – three times a year, for a few weeks at a time – but I think it’s because it’s really, truly annoying. Mercury is the planet that rules communication, travel, technology, and commerce, and when it goes retrograde (appears to move backwards in the sky) it makes those things go wonky – tech malfunctions, communication goes awry and travel gets snarled.

Retrograde GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

when a planet goes retrograde it appears to move backwards in the sky because of the relative locations of their orbit and Earth’s

The wifi has been in and out of functioning for no apparent reason all morning, here at ALC-NYC, and I’ve been in and out of a not-fight with a friend for three weeks now. On Monday, I got to the train station to find that my metrocard expired, and all three of the machines at my station were only accepting cash. Luckily, I had enough cash for a single ride, but not for the monthly unlimited card that I rely on. When I swiped the card at the turnstile, though, it told me to swipe card again at this turnstile… and then it told me that I had an insufficient fare. I went and argued with the stationmaster about it, and they opened the gate to let me in. Then I went to school, did a whole day, and forgot about it – until I got on the bus in the afternoon. I swiped 2 different (empty) metrocards, shrugged at the driver and got on the bus. When I got to 86th street to transfer to my train, I thought to myself finally, I’ll be able to get my unlimited and I won’t have to deal with this any more. But, of course, none of the machines at 86th street were working either – every one of the (seven!!!!) machines at the station were only selling single rides. Knowing it’s Mercury retrograde helped me find a sense of amusement about it as I bought a single ride, explained what was happening to a tourist, and swiped into the station just in time to miss my train.

Mercury retrograde is annoying, but it’s not just an annoyance. It forces us to slow day, and slowing down things we take for granted makes us notice them – like how I discovered that I could, in fact, hold boundaries with my anxious brain on my Mercury retrograde journey to Australia last year.

I’ve been spending a lot of time, this retrograde, with my old notebooks and past selves – 25 books worth of them. I got sick the first week, and was forced to slow down all the way to a halt. I spent 4 straight days in my apartment, sitting with my changing selves. It is still loud in my head, but not a cacophonous as it once was, I’m noticing.

As I record my present selves – in free writes, in staff check in notes, in journals and reflections on tarot cards, in blog posts – and the data available to me about my patterns piles up, becomes several-cycles-worth of observations, I can see my self getting better at slowing down. I can trace the path of learning to hold my paradoxes: all of my thoughts are valid, even if they are not all as urgent as my brain would have me believe.

It’s a shift that I didn’t notice until this retrograde-review-cycle, but it’s been a seismic one. It didn’t start now, but now is when I can finally feel it: not all of my strongest thoughts and feelings are urgent and need to be acted on. It’s really hard for me to just sit with them – to not go racing down the mental track of contingency plans and what-ifs and hypothetical conversations – but it is possible. When I read my traveling-to-Australia-through-Mercury-retrograde thoughts I can see the buds that are now flowering – I can’t wait to discover the buds under this flower when I check back with this post in a year, or five, or ten…

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

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.

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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.

The Last Blog at the End of the Universe

It’s the final focused blog of the semester and my brain is a puddle. Iphy has a santa hat on her face sticking out like a cone nose; Hugo is reading his own nonsensical date-making out loud next to me and making himself laugh; Ash is drawing; Doug is playing Kingdom: Two Crowns; Timo is playing Super Crate Box. We just had a conversation about how the meaning of inane is meaningless. We’re quiet, mostly, but companionably so, around the big office table. The fluorescent lights are on overhead, because it’s pouring rain on the shortest day of the year, the darkest day.

I am comfortable here, and tired, and ready to close this part of the cycle. My hands are bandaged because my eczema broke out again two weeks ago; in the last year I’ve had to square with my body in a way I never did before. It’s been transformative and formative; exultant and exhausting. I’ve changed how I eat and how I identify; I’ve felt better and worse for it. I’m sure I’ve got more to say on the subject but I just told Iphy “your body is a very squishy, delicate machine,” and that about sums up where I’m at right now.

I’ve got a lot more to say (including forthcoming posts on how my weekly schedule shook out and what Writing Time looks like for me) and I look forward to my brain working well enough for me to be able to say it! See you next time! <3