Where Have You Been?

We’re back at it! It’s the first full week of school after a wild, adventurous summer of travel; I’m in the library hosting Writing Time and enjoying the magic of shared quiet writing together (it actually took me a week to write this blog post – it’s very long. Be warned). It’s my third year as an ALF here at ALC-NYC, and I’m excited to get to documenting that, but first I needed to get this post out of my head. I did so many magical things this summer that I want to share; I want to acknowledge all the ways that this summer challenged me, gifted me joy, shifted my perspective. I traveled for 7 weeks, all told – longer than I’d ever been away from New York in my whole life! Ready? (I wasn’t.)

Mt. Hood, from the plane

First, I flew to Portland, where I stayed with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time and her two rad pooches. Portland was a really car-dependent city, which I didn’t love, but they have the largest bookstore I’d ever been to in my life, which I did! Powell’s books is so massive, it’s like 4 Strands put together! I wound up spending an entire day there, meandering through the children’s books and the science fiction section, spending hours picking through some dense astrology texts in the cafe with an excellent cup of tea.

Marie Ponsot and a book about Saturn (in retrograde all summer…) and a beautiful cup of green tea in my happy place

I was grateful to get to start this journey off with some intense introvert time – basically 3 straight days where the only thing to do was whatever I wanted. Coming off of ALF Summer NYC and knowing that I would be spending the next 6 straight weeks with people, I took advantage of the solo time to process, reorient, recalibrate myself; what does it mean to take care of me? If I can do whatever I want, what is it that I want?

The answer was, obviously, read books but also: lots of nature stuff! Exploring the Hoyt Arboretum and International Rose Test Garden, specifically, drawing and painting and taking pictures and breathing in the good air. Swimming in the Williamette River. Eating ice cream made with locally foraged berries. (The last one is maybe a stretch but it was delicious…)

at the Hoyt Arboretum, under the Firs

From Portland, I took a train intended for San Francisco. I love train travel; between the slow, steady motion, the scenery, and the other people on the train, I find it’s a really creative place for me. This trip, however, was not destined to be a smooth one. We left Portland at 2 in the afternoon and traveled steadily throughout the day, among the pines of the Cascades, along the river, through sunset and twilight and under the nearly-full red-faced moon. I fell asleep, looking forward to waking up the next morning at my destination, but a scant hour later I woke abruptly to the woman in the seat behind me yelling about FIRE!

Not only was there a wildfire up ahead (the Carr fire, which would go on to burn for 38 days across 358 square miles, destroying 1600 structures and claiming three lives) but it had jumped the Sacramento river and our next stop – the northern California city of Redding – was literally on fire.

The train hesitated there, on the border, overnight and I sat up and waited, stomach roiling, for confirmation of the rumor that we would be turning around and going back the way we came. Eventually it became clear confirmation wasn’t forthcoming that night, and I bought a plane ticket from Eugene, OR anyway, despite my gut uncertainty-discomfort. It would becoming a familiar feeling over the course of my travels; the discomfort decreased every time I chose to move in uncertainty.

Finally, I fell asleep, and woke up the next morning to the news we were, in fact, going back to where we’d come from. While I certainly wouldn’t be arriving in San Francisco when I had originally intended, there was nothing I could do about it. Mercury was in retrograde, after all, and at this point I’ve certainly had plenty of experience with travel trouble during Mercury retrograde. 5 hours later, 23 hours after I left Portland, I got off the train in Eugene.

on the train, at hour 20, headed back to where I came from…

From Eugene I got a flight to San Francisco, where I met up with Abby and Nahla in Oakland. We spent the next three days running around the bay – exploring murals, bookstores, and apothecaries, strolling across a bridge to Alameda island into a street fair, riding the ferris wheel, admiring the bougainvilleas, walking through a tunnel-portal, taking the ferry around the bay, laughing in a cloud, scrambling around the ruins of the Sutra Baths. I enjoyed San Francisco immensely, though I hadn’t quite packed for the weather…

The ruins of the Sutro Baths, in SF

From there we decided to take a day jaunt to Lake Tahoe before ALF Summer Sacramento – we rented a car and drove across the (increasingly hazy) state to the mountains. Nahla and Abby had been to Tahoe before, but I never had. We arrived at the Sierra Nevada just as the sun was setting, so we did most of the climb in the dark, through the pines. The smell of smoke grew thicker in the air the further east we drove – not because of the fire that had caused my earlier turnaround but because Yosemite was also on fire. I had hoped to see the stars, but no luck.

We spent the night in a motel and the next morning we went to a watersport rental place and rented jet skis! None of us had ever ridden them before and we had a blast – Nahla and I on one jet ski and Abby on the other. The visibility was low because of the smoke, and I’d like to go back sometime when I can see more – it was hard to get a sense of how giant the lake was (although we did spend a lot of time driving around it, so I do have some idea). After jet skiing, we swam in the water – clear and cool and so refreshing. I later learned that Tahoe was formed almost 2 million years ago, when the earth’s crust puckered and formed the mountains. It felt like that being there; I felt held by the water and the earth.

Post-jetski family photo which does not at all do justice to how stunning the overlook was

After Tahoe we drove to Sacramento for ALF Summer! It was a blast – in part because the program was a perfect mix of humans I knew and humans I got to meet for the first time. Our first night in Sacramento we got to stay with Mia, her dad and her sweet puppers, Ala and Bama. After a day of water sports and highway driving, we were quite frazzled and so, so grateful for Mia’s hospitality as we collapsed into human puddles.

After the night at Mia’s, Abby, Nahla, and I drove over to the AirBnb where we’d spend the rest of the week with a crew of rad people: Antonio (of Abrome, in Austin, TX), Mercer and Joe, who came for the first few days of the program, and then Lavonne and Binairbah, who flew all the way out from NYC just to attend bonus week! We had so much fun cooking, eating macaroon ice-cream sandwiches, watching Steven Universe, singing along to Hamilton, and playing Cards Against Humanity (which Mercer had never played before, and cracked me up by cracking herself up with her own jokes. Such a Leo). As an introvert, facilitating all day can be really draining, and facilitating with adults doubly so; I’m grateful that I got to stay in this particular houseful of people, both because they were supportive and joyful company, and because they were super understanding when I needed to retreat into my room and close the door to recharge.

ALF Summer itself was an inspirational, productive, fun, creative, challenging whirlwind. I’m particularly grateful to Beth, Mia, and Emily, Spence, and all the Free to Learn kiddos for their enthusiasm, playful groundedness, and support facilitating the program. Listing to Nahla talk about deschooling was definitely a highlight for me, as was doing Acro with Mia, Emily, and Jordan, swimming in the creek with the tinies and making self-portraits with 8-year-old Evie 🙂 Also shoutout to the puppers Checkers and Oreo, who brought a lot of levity to some heavy conversations. An ALF Summer is always a time of tremendous growth and change for me, and this one was no exception – for brevity’s sake, I’ll leave it there for now.

Swimming in the creek!

There was a new moon&solar eclipse the after the program in Sacramento ended, and I desperately needed some alone time. So I took the train by myself to San Francisco – trains, as I mentioned, being a restorative, creative space for me – and then cut off all my hair. It was an emotional day, but ultimately a relief. Haircuts and train time: the medicine I need.

I’m an airbender!

From San Francisco I took another train out to meet a friend from NYC at a hostel at a place called Point Montara, which was on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean! As with Lake Tahoe, Abby and Nahla had been there the year previously, but Kirsten and I didn’t know what to expect – we got there and were totally floored by the beauty of the place. The cliffs, vivid with succulents and sandy, ocher soil, the grey-blue of the pacific, the susurration of waves, the gulls, the bands of clouds.

We ate Mexican food and watched the sunset together eventually Abby and Nahla joined us (having spend the day scrambling to help everyone else get home as Mercury Retrograde messed with their travel plans…). The next morning we woke up and climbed over the cliffs where the ocean broke on the shore, and I stood with my feet in the freezing water, and we marveled at it all.

 

 

Arrived at the hostel to this sunset <3
At the base of the cliffs (the ocean was freezing!)

We spent the rest of that day driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to LA – a muuuuuuuuch longer drive than any of us were anticipating. Since it runs literally along the coast (on a cliff, next to the roaring ocean and a bank of clouds…) it’s relatively slow going, and very windy. Luckily, Abby is a really great driver.

View from the car on the PCH – where you spend most of the drive ABOVE the clouds

Then we were in LA! What we were planning to do there… we didn’t know! But we made it! We dropped off the rental car and trusted each other to be honest about what we wanted to do on this vacation week – we wound up spending a few days at Venice beach, exploring the California Science Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Griffith Observatory, and the Getty Museum, (I like museums…) hanging out in a gay coffeeshop and a super cool bookstore, and spending a LOT of time in ubers. Turns out, people are not exaggerating about LA traffic…

This view from the Getty Museum was my absolute favorite… and the art was great too!

After a week, Abby and I dropped Nahla with her family and Kirsten at the airport and headed inland, where we rented another car and went on an unexpectedly surreal road trip. We drove up into the “sky island” of San Bernardino National Forest (which is classified as such because the flora and fauna that live at elevation are radically different from those in the surrounding lowlands) and hiked, tried to swim in a lake that had mostly evaporated, and then drove down the mountains and across a stunning desert as the sun was setting to go camping.

A wild Abby in her natural habitat…

We car camped in Sequoia National forest and woke up the next morning to swim in the Kern River, which is remarkable for the ferocity with which it flows at 5,000 feet. We were looking for a hot springs and never found them; the river was cool and clear and fast-moving but not too deep or strong – a joy to swim in. I didn’t take any pictures of the river, because I was too busy being present. I regret nothing.

We woke up here…

Going into camping, we were feeling very pleased with our route-planning; after our road trip, we were headed to Fresno, CA, where the crew at The Bungalow had invited us to stay (Manny and Miranda came to the training in Sacramento, and we’d met Jenny on several Monday evening ALF calls). But the Mercury retrograde/fire season combo struck again, and we discovered quickly that all of the roads ahead were closed because parts of Sequoia were on fire as well – all the parts between us and our intended destination. We wound up having to double back almost 2 hours of driving (and the beautiful deserts of the night before were somehow less exciting the second time around…).

We did eventually make it to Fresno, though, and (after stopping at an “underground garden” that was really weird and cool) were received by the generous company of Manny and Barbara, two of the Bungalow facilitators, and their family & dog Banjo. We spent two days with them and the whole Bungalow crew climbing trees, playing games, planting the garden, practicing headstands, drawing with kiddos and offering words of support in their first few days of school – they’ve got a really rad space and group of (creative, mess-making) humans to fill it, and I’m so excited to see how they grow!

It was an actual underground garden… and that tree is nearly 100 years old!

After Fresno we took a detour to Yosemite (still on fire, but Mariposa grove, where the giant sequoias are, had recently been reopened to the public), where we took the most expensive photos of our trip (entry to the park is $35/car… and good for 7 days. We only had an hour. Whoops!) and then drove out to Santa Cruz. The next day was the first day of VIRGO SEASON, which I opened by pulling tarot cards at the beach and swimming in the freezing ocean; after, Abby and I explored the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary center, ate vegan food, and headed off to San Francisco.

Worth it though…
Abby & a pal at the Marine Sanctuary

It seems appropriate that our California adventure began and ended in San Francisco; closing that loop was deeply satisfying. We stayed with a friend, Nicole, who we’d met at the AERO conference in June – she’s a play master, and was so generous with her books and art supplies and musical instruments. Over the course of the week we built a blanket fort in the living room, talked art education and play, and saw the SF Neofuturists together. Besides hanging with Nicole, I went climbing with some friends who had just moved to Oakland from NYC; a comforting reminder that I have all kinds of community all over the country.

I also took a solo day and went to a Magritte exhibit at the SFMOMA, which was SO COOL – I knew the famous apple-in-front-of-the-bowler-hat painting, but seeing it in context really shifted how I saw it. Magritte is a surrealist, but his surrealism is primarily concerned with perception – how do we know that we’re seeing what is when we’re limited by our perspective? How does the naming of things shift what we see? What if something is magnified? What if it is a paradox? The best moment came when I turned a corner and came into a room full of his Night Street/Day Sky paintings; I hadn’t realized that my favorite painting in the MOMA here is part of a series!

SFMOMA also had a bunch of Calder sculptures, as well as a large exhibit on Sol LeWitt, whose abstractions are concerned with the intersection of process, instruction, language, and construction. All in all, it was a great museum experience and I highly recommend it.

Calder @ SFMOMA
Back on the wall!

After that we flew to Mexico City, via Guadalajara. We only got to spend 6 hours in CDMX (which is the local abbreviation for Cuidad de Mexico) but it was incredible there – the cool, humid air a welcome change from the hot, dry California desert, and the lushness and vivid color of the city, a delight. We visited the Frieda Kahlo museum at Casa Azul, where I was particularly struck by the exhibit on her clothing.

Frieda contracted polio as a young child and then, when she was 18, she was in a bus accident that left her in pain for the rest of her life – her famous dresses were, in part, a cover for the many braces, supports, and corsets that allowed her to move about independently despite the severity and extent of her injuries. As someone who has been struggling with my own body, I felt a real connection with her. I’m grateful we spent the one day we had in her city there, and I’d love to go back someday soon and explore more.

Mexico City from the air

From Mexico City we took an (incredibly gorgeous, 5 hour long) bus to Xalapa, where we stayed with Rubén and Vivi! Xalapa is a city of about a million people – not orderly, like the grid here, but narrow and colorful and turning, full of surprises. Our ten days there were beyond delightful – Rubén, Vivi, Omar, y Moni were incredibly hospitable, the food was delicious, the city was bustling and the surrounding area was green and cool and alive with plants and rivers. We spent a day with the crew at Educambiando, which was so so fun (We played capture the flag! I learned to embroider! I taught Ruben and Vivi a counterbalancing pose!) and also so good-challenging for my translation skills – I speak baby spanish, only in the present tense. We drove out to Vivi’s house one day, which is like a beautiful dragon egg, and she made me tea from Yerba Buena from her windowsill garden and then we swam in a cold, fast, clear, shallow river while Ruben balanced stones. We went to a park and played on a slackline while Abby made friends with a beetle. We had a party and played a giant game of ninja and an absurd game of charades.

Walking to Vivi’s
Counterbalancing
Captura la bandera!

My favorite, most unexpected adventure in Xalapa was group singing! Leon, who is friends with the whole ALC crew in Xalapa, runs a music and arts program there, where every Wednesday night he leads a singing group. He’s a brilliant facilitator – he had a group of a dozen people of vastly divergent experience and musical knowledge singing together right away. He’d teach us a simple, repetitive, 3-part foundation – a blues baseline, or a chord – and then, once we got the hang of that, he’d point to a person in the group and have them sing, call-and-response, with him over that foundation. Every person sang each “song” – it was incredibly satisfying and brilliantly scaffolded so that even people who might otherwise be afraid to sing in front of a group felt comfortable, since we were all singing together. Afterwards, he kept saying “it’s so healthy for your soul” and that’s how it felt – like my soul was being watered. After, I sang with just Leon – he played the guitar and we worked our way through the jazz standards we both knew – and it was like I was discovering my voice for the first time.

The magical, musical Léon

It wasn’t all playing and exploring – there was work to do. Ruben, Vivi, Omar, Abby and Moni spent a lot of time working on/prepping for the Agile conference happening in San Luis in November (and seriously, props to them for the incredible amount of work they got done in a week. Abby is a programmer now!) while I painted, and read, and rested, and walked, and took myself out to breakfast, and admired the light, replenishing and renewing myself to be present for the school year. Xalapa was both an incredibly restful and productive place, and I’m so grateful to everyone I was with there – Ruben and Vivi in particular – for a beautiful final destination for my journey.

The rooftops of Xalapa

In the end, we took a bus back to Mexico City, and a plane to Chicago, where we spent the night with my rad cousin Elizabeth, who just started grad school there. The next morning we woke up and flew back, finally, home, and I cried in my plane seat when I finally saw the skyline…

I love you, New York

That’s where I was! Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through this very long post!

On a final note, I want to thank everyone who read my last blog post. It was a very cathartic piece to write, and and I’m grateful for the feedback I got, and for the sense of relief I feel at being out as a non-binary person on this blog. This piece felt very different to write, but they are two sides of the same coin; as I traveled, as I practiced sitting in uncertainty and being present and not knowing, sometimes, where I would sleep tomorrow or how the next leg of the journey would feel, I was also traversing my subterranean landscape.

This summer was a long journey, in a season of upheaval, astrologically speaking –  lots of planets in retrograde and three big eclipses. I changed a lot, and realized a lot about my self and my work and the ways I am growing – I filled 4 notebooks with drawings and watercolors and writing, writing, writing. I’m grateful that I left, and awed at the size of the world, and grateful to come home, to think about what home means for me.

As always, this has been an incomplete report. Thanks for witnessing.

<3
Mel

This Week: An Ending

“It’s more of a negotiation now,” says Chuck to Timo, on the far side of the makerspace. It’s project time; they’re building longbows, which are clamped to the tables in front of the window, waiting for a cut by the circular saw.

On this side of the room, Siena is painting a flower and Saylor, next to her, is painting a waterfall. Lili is repairing her checkerboard sweatshirt with green thread. I’m here, writing. There is New-Orleans-style jazz playing quietly. The afternoon sun is shining, there’s a wind rustling the leaves of the sapling across the street. A fan is on, whirring quietly. The air is light and warm. We all give our consent for the longbow-builders to use the circular saw. The sound rips the room; roars and then suddenly ceases. Now Lili is pretending to be hard of hearing. We all laugh at her joke. I feel content and present.


The new moon is tomorrow; our last day in the space is tomorrow. So much has happened this year. The kids are growing and I am growing too. My relationship with time has shifted. I am learning to hold all my selves – past, present, and future – in love. I am learning to take up the right amount of space. I am learning what it means to live as an artist, as a traveler. I am learning the names of my demons. I have been wounded; I am learning to heal. My being has shifted but my words haven’t, yet (have they?).


I just got sidetracked by a conversation. Saylor asked me a question and, in response, I shared a framework my painting teacher gave me: painting is a physical meditation. You are present, holding the brush, moving the paint, mixing it and observing its hues, making strokes and observing their forms, having the patience to be in your painting, your hand, your arm, your body, your mind. This is what a meditation is.There is no other way to do it than to paint. Saylor wasn’t as interested in the framework, but Lili was, so we talked through it. I made a gesture of offering, my hands open, placing it on the table between us.

I am aware of how much is lost in this retelling. The space that our relationship opens is ephemeral; the space we make in conversation is discovery. I could transcribe my experience. It could be true. But would it be real?


It’s time to go now – I’ve promised Siena we could read Frog and Toad Are Friends at 2:30 in the hammock. I love you, I am grateful that you read me. This has been an incomplete report.

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

This Week: Schema, writing, introvert time and sunshine

I made so much art this week 🙂 It felt wonderful.

Monday was a visiting day, the first ever dedicated exclusively to humans who want to “see the space in action” but aren’t otherwise connected to us. It went super well – all of our visitors were really respectful of everyone’s space and time, plus they were rad humans in their own right. As the visitor coordinator, I couldn’t be more pleased 🙂 Three of them came on an impromptu trip to the art supply store on 125th with us – that location is closing (unfortunately) but everything is 50% off (fortunately). Nahla and I bought a bunch of paint and canvases. Lili got supplies/started making a (terrifying) puppet so that she can do stop-motion animation – she keeps leaving it in places around the school where it’s just looking down at me, all scary and uncanny-valley-doll-nonsense. Its name is Ti and it uses “it” pronouns.

 

(I took lots of photos with equal parts horror/hilarity/oh god it’s following me…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday I made more art and then the cook noobs made beignets! Nancy donated us a deep fryer, which I’m totally going to make french fries in, and also made the beignet dough because she’s super generous with her time. I didn’t eat any because gluten makes my gut mad, but I heard they were delicious. They certainly looked it!

 

Wednesday Ry took a group to Brighton Beach and so it was very quiet in the space all day. I was really grateful for it, because I’ve been spending lots of time with other humans and I hit an introvert-wall, which is the point at which I stop being able to process auditory input. It sounds weird but it is a real thing in my brain. I made myself a (glorious) breakfast omelette and then went and started painting in the makerspace. I did not take a progress photo, but I did start painting a scene of Zoe, Saylor, and Sterl based on a photo I took when we went to Brighton last year. Nahla joined me, and we got to have quiet-art-morning time, which was just what I needed. In the afternoon, Roan and I collabra-drew creepypastas with charcoal that turned out so cool. Also, my notes from Wednesday just say “Doug is trying to trade up from a paperclip to a…?” I wonder how that’s going for him. When he left I think he’d made it up to a painted rock and was trying to convince Timo that he needed that rock in his life…

Thursday I made a big art mess with Nahla, Beth and Hannah and it was so rad. We made flow art! I got paint all over me! We used a blowtorch! In the afternoon I added a tulip to the painting. It was going to be a bunch of sea monster tentacles, but as soon as I put the brush on the canvas I knew it wasn’t a monster at all. Siena and Jiana both painted with me in the afternoon – I notice that our Tauruses are into visual-art-making, which makes sense as Taurus is an earth sign (into the physical realm) that is ruled by Venus (the planet of beauty). Before all that, I got to sing with Seb and Timo – Seb was playing the keyboard and I just jumped in. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody and American Pie and some Beatles songs. I started re-learning Yesterday, which is one of my favorites of all time, and got to talk to Seb about SUS chords, which he points out are both kind of cheesy and really beautiful. They really give movement to a song. I made a video of myself playing and singing it just now, but I’m feeling too selfconscious to post it. Quick, here’s my painting to distract you!

Today, I went to the Barnard Zine Library and got to spend some time writing in a quiet, dedicated space with Nahla, Beth, and Hannah. (Thanks, Beth, for planning the trip!) I love libraries – I love the hushed feeling of all the knowledge around you. Libraries are magic. It’s beautiful outside – 70 degrees and sunny, the trees all leafed out, finally, and the sky the clear, bright blue of spring. The birds are out in the park. It’s been a good week. I’ve got so much more to write about and only 5 weeks left to do it before the school year is over – eek!

<3
Mel

Practice (a Verb)

On Tuesday, I started editing the facilitation guide again, with the intention of refining and articulating my language now that I’m a year more practiced in this work. I wrote:

“Remind yourself that facilitation is a practice. A practice is the repeated exercise of an activity, skill, or habit to obtain proficiency; practicing, the verb of it. There is no other way to become a facilitator than to practice facilitation in a space with children. Our intention for this guide is to provide the theoretical and practical framework which structure our own practices so you can orient yourself in the work.”

And then I thought “Huh. I wrote it, and it feels true. When did that realization happen?” Frankly, I wasn’t always so hot on the verb “practice”. In fact, as a kid I had a really fraught relationship with it because I primarily used it to describe practicing my instruments (I grew up in a family of musicians and played piano and flute from a young age), which felt more like homework than a joyful standalone activity. But over the last few months I’ve realized that a necessary part of my growth as a facilitator has been shifting this relationship; one doesn’t get trained in ALFing and then poof! You’re done! There is no way to prepare a human for every imaginable thing that will come up in the course of a day with self-directed learners; one can have all the theoretical knowledge and still be taken by surprise when the conversation takes an unexpected turn and suddenly you’re talking about the nature of evil on the 7 train in Queens, or a child comes up to you, hands you a tooth, and walks away, or you walk by the water fountain where a kid is gulping water and sobbing because, it turns out, she ate a whole habanero pepper. (These are all real things that have really happened to me in the last almost-two-years of my practice. Only one of them happened this week…)

Facilitation can sometimes feel like traversing the parts of old maps labeled “Here Be Dragons”: you’re beyond the part of the world where you can expect clear mile markers, and you’re pretty sure that there aren’t actual dragons out here in the unknown, but you’re drawing the map as you encounter things and you can’t rule it out until you’ve explored it all. And if you do encounter dragons, you’ll figure it out. You recognize that you’re adaptable; you’ve found you can hold boundaries with your anxiety about the unknown. You’re armed with the tools of your trade. And then once you’ve practiced what to do when you encounter a dragon, the next won’t be so scary.

Outside the daily facilitation practice I do here at ALC-NYC, I’ve also developed personal practices that have been extremely helpful in supporting me through this work: I [bullet] journal, I keep a personal kanban and make mosaics, and I do work with an oracle deck. An oracle deck is a deck of cards (like a Tarot deck, which I sometimes use, though my preferred deck right now is the beautiful Animal Spirit deck by Kim Krans) with a spiritual aspect; they’re a powerful tool for focusing your energy and for self-reflection. For a long time, my work with my deck was private: every night before I went to bed, I would shuffle the deck and concentrate myself, thinking about my day or trying to release it, and pull two cards, which I would then draw and write about. It started, at first, as an aspiration to keep a journal and to find a (sorely necessary) private space to connect with my introvert inner self, but as I filled up one notebook, then another, and another, I saw the ways in which I was learning to take up more space, to take more risks, to be reflective not just on what I did, but how it felt, how I wanted it to feel. I still do that, and I’m still refining that private practice, will be for a long time (until it doesn’t serve me anymore…). But recently I’ve leveled up: I now pull one card in the morning and photograph it and put it on instagram! It feels a bit scary to make public what has been, until now, a deeply personal practice; I’m practicing sharing my self with the world (on this blog, in the art I’m making, and now this…) and finding that, while it is intimidating at first, the connections I’ve deepened by putting myself out there have been well worth getting over my fear.

There are all these ads on the subway recently that say “life happens while you’re waiting.” For a long time, I was waiting for things to be perfect before I shared them with the world; facilitation has pushed me out of perfectionism into practice in ways that have been deeply uncomfortable and profoundly transformative. Turns out, I like it here. Turns out, I’m much more free. Turns out the world doesn’t care if something is perfect; it would rather be a part of my practice.

Here are last weekends’ cards:

(I usually make boomerang gifs and wordpress is giving me a hard time about posting them here. Follow me on Instagram if you want to see them daily!)

This Week: Fruit Appreciation, Returning to “Normalcy,” and Chavela <3

First of all, I ate a mango today that was absolutely perfect. Can we all just take a moment of silence and appreciate that mangos exist?

Thank you.

This week was fast and slow, strange and homey, quiet and raucous all at once. Ryan, Chuck and a bunch of the kids were visiting Mosaic in Charlotte (actually, they’re probably back any minute…) and as a result the days still haven’t fallen back into their usual routine (as usual as a routine can get, at a place where everything is different all the time…) since it was interrupted by my visit to Australia (which you can read about here, here, and here…).

On Monday and Tuesday we Mega-Spawned in the office – it was such a surreal feeling to have the whole school in one room. Abby reminded me that there was a time where this was a regular occurrence but knowing that and doing it are two totally different things. Wednesday, we opted to split into two different Spawns because Mega-Spawn was taking too long – and I’m grateful for the reminder that we’re so practiced at speedy Spawns that a 15 minute meeting feels too long. It was fun having Saylor, Timo, Joaquin, Luca, Siena, and Serena join me and the Library Spawn crew. Also, routine human that I am, it was kind of a relief to be back in the Library, which is the only room I’ve ever Spawned in and also happens to be my favorite room in the school (maybe because I rearranged it just the way I like it and decided which books go in here??????). Thursday I was supposed to take a trip to The Cliffs to go bouldering, but since just Savannah and I wanted to go, we opted not to take a two-person trip. Instead, Abby and I spent a lot of the day re-arranging the back room so that the cooking space would be easier to use (e.g. running extension cords so we can run the microwave and the hot plate at the same time without blowing a fuse…) and in the hopes that it wouldn’t attract so much clutter. I’m hopeful it will help, but also aware that the space needs a good, deep “get-rid-of-it” in order to make space for people’s stuff and cut down on our clutter-culture. Today, we had the shortest-ever Check-in and Change-up, then I read Ancillary Mercy for an hour with Timo and Ash. After that I wrestled with some technology for a bit trying to screen a movie and ultimately wasn’t successful; I decided to walk away when I realized I was grumping much harder than was necessary due to dehydration and low blood sugar. I felt much better after tending my body, and then decided that I would tackle the tech again next week, when Ryan was back, since he knows the most about the project. I spent a bunch of the afternoon cutting out photos of macaws and then sharing a mango with some humans in the back room – I’m certainly missing the tropical beauty of Australia after the freezing-New-York-spring week we’ve had. All in all, a good week but I’m looking forward to everyone returning next week and swapping out the season-of-ALF-travel Aries fire energy for some everyone’s-home-let’s-settle-into-our-spring-routine Taurus earth energy (the sun moves from Aries to Taurus tonight at 10:13 PM EDT).

Finally, last night, I saw a documentary about Chavela Vargas and I want to end this blog post with a moment of appreciation for this unbelievably talented performer and queer icon. She was a Mexican ranchera singer who wouldn’t let anyone tell her what to do or how to live her life: she wore pants in her performances in the 1940s. She sang music written for men; she didn’t change the pronouns. She was a shaman. She loved Frida Kahlo. At one point, she disappeared from the public eye and reappeared 12 years later; she revived her career at 71 when she went to Europe for the first time! The documentary, called simply Chavela, was brilliantly put together and Chavela herself is the inspiration I didn’t know I was looking for. Some pics:

<3

Mel

what a week

My Nana is in the hospital this week, and I’m so scared and worried for her. She’s my favorite person in the world and she’s also 88 years old, so I have so many complicated, hard feelings that I’m not sure what to do about them. I’m also feeling a bit self-conscious, wondering – do I have a selection bias for sharing my upset/bad feelings on this blog more than my good ones? It’s hard to tell – sharing is the hardest part of writing for me, and my self-consciousness makes accurate self-reflection hard. I feel more comfortable writing my bad feels here, in a blog I’m not sure anyone is reading, than sharing them by telling someone about them, or posting on social media where I know people will see them. But I don’t want to seem as though I’m experiencing all bad things, so here’s a video of a thing that made me smile this week:

I’m so grateful to be a part of this community, particularly when hard weeks come along, because I feel so supported and surrounded by love here.