ALF Summer, Take 3

“You keep saying that,” David pointed out. I was talking about how valuable it is to be able to go back and read all the things I’ve written in the last two years – blog posts, yes, but journals and notebooks and sketchbook marginalia, too. The other night I went back and read through all the blog posts here all the way back to the very first one and so much has changed and also I am still the same person, somehow.

Part of the thing that is doing this work (facilitating? ALFing? deschooling?) well is realizing all the ways schooling and other coercive systems we live in (gender, capitalism, white supremacy…) have put shit on us that is real trauma, held in our bodies, and we need to find ways to put it down without putting it on the children we’re holding space for. Writing is one way I do that work – as adrienne marie brown says in Emergent Strategy, “I have to write, in some form, every day. It’s how I understand the world.” Recently, I spent a day in bed with a sprained ankle reading the notebooks I’ve filled this spring, “witnessing my selves, all the ways they were hurtling through our changes without stopping to process the shift in psyche. Going deep, spiritually, and finding a different well than expected.”

But I don’t exist in a vacuum – it’s not enough to go into myself, to write and read in reflection and call the work done. Sharing my learning – being in relationship with other humans is scarier, but no less vital. It is harder for me to trust other humans than to trust my past selves. I was just in a breakout offering about challenges of ALFing where we sat around in the library (my favorite room) and talked to each other like we’re people and I could feel the space we made together – Stef and Momo and Beckett and Chuck and I – and the sanctuary in it. We spent a lot of this week talking about tools, which are useful because they are supportive in holding the structures of the school but aren’t the thing. Tools free us up to do the hard, real, important work of being in relationship with each other. Being in relationship is the thing.

We need to free ourselves to raise free people but that work is neither linear nor is that process ever really done. There is no waiting for things to be done because to be alive is to be changing. Recently, I find my words take me through a slurry of time in a ways that’s frustratingly imprecise; what I’m trying to tell you is that in the two years since I wrote this list of intentions I have done all of them and also undergone a profound psychic reorganization to do so. I want to tell you all about it – maybe, one day in the space of our relationship, you’ll feel like you know my story and I will know yours. But I’m not here to hold my life out as an example to convince anyone that this is the “right” way to do ALFing, to get validation for my experiences, to sell it. Rather, I’m here attempting to perform radical vulnerability in a way I don’t really feel yet, in an attempt to connect to other people who want to do this work too – the painful transmutations and joyful play alike.

I recently learned that caterpillars turn themselves into soup and digest themselves in order to become butterflies. It feels like an apt metaphor. Yesterday, Beckett came over and laid on the table between us a post-it that said “ALFs – what is challenging about this job?” and I looked them in the eye and said “everything” and we both laughed because they know what I’m talking about. Tools are useful and writing is helpful and this work is deeply, beautifully challenging because being alive is deeply, beautifully challenging – I have learned so much about myself with the support of writing and other tools in the last two years and I am grateful for that. But a next cycle is beginning, (is always beginning and ending and…) and in this one I want to be in relationship with other facilitators who can play in these waters of strange radical alchemy – who want to play there with me.

We’re almost through with today, but nowhere close to done.