I’m currently working on an application to go be facilitated at School of the Alternative, which is a really cool-sounding self directed program for adults. I’m feeling really inspired by one of the application questions, and wanted to share my thinking about it.
Describe your relationship to work.
I think of my [professional] work [at school with the kids] in cyclical relationship with my personal [self-care-and-growth] work. I’m learning to listen for the invitations and prompts they offer me; I’ve discovered children have an uncanny ability to ask me flat-out the questions I didn’t know I was avoiding: “How do you practice magic?” or “What does it mean to release something?” or “Do you consider yourself to be a cisgender person?” These aren’t hypothetical; they’re all real questions, asked of me by real kids. Learning to recognize these questions as invitations, not challenges to my authority is one kind of work; the work of discovering the answers is another.
I’ve been thinking about how being alive means that my meat is generating and consuming electric and kinetic and potential energy all the time. I’ve been thinking about how, in the spiral of time, I’m the same person I was as a child and how I will never be that person again. I’ve been thinking about how the universe is both infinite and expanding; the thing that is, by definition, the largest possible thing, is still getting bigger.
Some days I am tired, or my mental illness is loud, or my need for rest is urgent; learning to respond to those feelings with patience and kindness is also work. Sometimes work feels like the right verb and sometimes it feels deeply insufficient; regardless, it’s the language that feels good right now. The work is the work of being curious and present in pleasure and pain, of being embodied and creative and stretching my limits, reaching, growing, unfurling. In physics, work is a transfer of energy; it’s when a force causes a displacement in an object. That means the opposite of work is not play, it’s stasis. To work is to live.
Even started up the Philosophy offering again this week, and oooh boy am I excited about it! (And not just because I get to reintroduce my fav tag to this blog 🙂 )
Hugo, visiting this week, posed this hypothetical: Say you’ve got a boat. And your boat is made of wood. It’s an old boat, and it’s coming apart slowly, but you really love it so as planks fall off of it you replace them with pieces of metal. Eventually, at the end of your journey, every piece of wood on the boat has been replaced by metal. Is it the same boat?
And we were off! I love this question, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few months in regards to human bodies, and my body specifically. Basically, every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years (okay, actually upon further research this isn’t entirely true; it’s a commonly-held factoid but it’s just an estimate – the cells in your body die and are replaced at different rates depending on what their function is. Some, like the cells that line your stomach, are replaced every few days, while others, like those that make up the lenses of your eye or the neurons in your cerebral cortex remain the same from birth to death. More info) – if this is the case, are we still the same person 10 years later, or are we a new person every decade? Or, is our selfhood not determined by our physiology at all (cell replacement or not) but rather by something more ephemeral – a spirit, or our experiences? If I travel through time and space to the other side of the world and come back with a wealth of new experiences, am I still the same person when I return? If I shave my head and change my name and move to Tibet am I a different person? If I hit my head and get amnesia and learn a new language am I a different person?
I love playing with these questions, and so I proposed we watch Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body? I’m a person who is wrestling with my body a lot recently; it feels like a part of my deschooling process to acknowledge that I have a body and that it is a vital part of my self. In my schooling (in most “traditional” schooling) your body is nothing more than a distraction – it’s meant to be kept still so it doesn’t lead you astray from thinking. I was good at school; I was skilled at keeping still. All those unpracticed years have definitely made reorienting myself in my body a harder process. I don’t regret anything, and yet I’m glad to be contemplating these questions in a philosophy class where everyone is free to move around as their body needs to. No matter what an institution might prefer, the reality is that we have bodies; that they are sometimes unruly and often need tending; that without them we couldn’t stop and smell the flowers and hold present in that moment of being. And without that, what’s the point really?
Why are there physics and pumpkins and dumplings and python projects and jump-scare video games and lacrosse balls and sports with complicated rules and games with simple mechanics and rainbow keyboards and expo markers and existential questions and 8-bit philosophy and Cartesian uncertainty and schools where kids must be gently pushed out the door on Friday afternoons because they don’t want to leave and I don’t either which is why I’m still here, writing this blog post instead of going home to nurse the cold burgeoning in my esophagus and lungs, why are there places that feel safe even for strangers, why are some places safe and how do we know they are real if we can’t trust our senses?
Why is there a separation between the Mind and the Body? What do those borderlines feel like – high water marks in the sand of the beach or the time between night and day when it is neither or not or both? What is the difference between the darkness in the squishy part of my head behind my eyes and the darkness of the Nothing beyond space? Why did I stop asking myself these questions and can physics answer them? Can science fiction? What about realistic fiction or fantasy or memoir or first person shooters or 2D adventures or VR explorations or social-deductive games or Solitaire? Descartes believed that the only thing that is verifiably real is doubt because he was the sort of philosopher who mistrusts the body in service of the Mind but I mistrust all Minds that don’t trust their Body because what is computation with no inputs?
There must be Something instead of Nothing because Saylor carved this pumpkin today and my throat hurts and the sun is setting again, west of here.