This Week! Steven Universe (the Movie), Pokemon Showdowns, Moon Photos, and more…

Today the school is really empty because a lot of people are at the Climate Strike (which is really exciting). My brain is not fully online this afternoon, though I’m not 100% sure why. I was saying to Xander earlier I’m still adjusting to a 5-day-a-week talking to humans schedule after a very introverted summer (true, v relevant). I’m sure there’s other stuff, but that’s at the top of the list.

Stuff that’s happening now: James is writing a blog post that’s just fun facts about Ash. Ash is volunteering the facts he thinks will freak James out the most. Interesting data: Ash owns 15 porcelain clown dolls and his favorite is named Cheeky. Cheeky smells very musty, apparently.

Stuff that happened today: The first edition of The Agile Learner was published by Hugo and Iphy. It is very funny and good and includes a profile of Ryan’s cat and Interesting Data (instead of Fun Facts) and also an exposé about Luca’s lunch. Big stuff.

I went to close park with Xander, Savannah, Sterl and Sebastian and we played shark tag. I tripped over my own feet while trying to be sneaky and Xander laughed at me.

Speaking of Xander, he beat me many times at Pokemon showdown this afternoon and I am feeling very salty about it. I used to be a very sore loser and I’ve gotten a lot more graceful about it over time, but still, it doesn’t feel good to have all your best Pokemon get one-shotted, especially when you’re about to use Crunch, the best ever move.

Lots of singing today, because I’ve had all the songs from the Steven Universe Movie (a v v excellent movie) stuck in my head all week. We’ve been singing the hits all day –

Other Friends

Happily Ever After

No Matter What

Independent Together

Drift Away

Okay as I’m making this list I want to add all the songs from the movie so… I recommend watching it. I really love Steven Universe and I really love musicals and to watch my two loves combined into this one glorious package is magical.

An interaction from the beginning of blogging time:
James: Every odd number has an “e” in it
Me: Cool. Doesn’t every number have an “e” in it?
James: Uhh no.
Me: Really?
James: Two.
Me: >.<

Some things from earlier this week: I went to the Met and looked at photos of the moon with Olive, Mason, and Hugo, which was delightful. We walked through Central Park to get there and it was an absolutely beautiful September day, just really joyful all around. Shark tag has returned as Close Park tag of choice. Chemistry started up again this week, as did Anatomy and Physiology (Meet the Gastrointestinal System!). Several Pokemon walks were taken. And lots happened in DnD on Tuesday (I still have to write the recap) including the party’s first fight! Also, many other things happened not noted here or elsewhere (if a kid learns something and no one records it, how will they ever learn math???? a joke, a joke…)

It’s been a Friday! Stay tuned for DnD updates, etc.


Dungeons & Dragons 2019!

This week, we officially started our Dungeons and Dragons campaign and I’m the DM! I am very, very excited about this game not only because it gives me an excuse to talk in funny voices but because I’ve never DMed before. The DM, or DungeonMaster, is in charge of worldbuilding – creating not only the landscapes that players encounter but the people, monsters, and adventures they discover therein. I’ve created a new tag on this blog to document what I can of this first adventure. The following is the intro to the world that I gave all our players as we sat down this past Tuesday to begin our first session…

Welcome to Susstra. This is a watery world, full of salt flats and marshes and evergreen islands dotting clear channels of fast-moving rivers and wide, deep slow sections where cities huddle, monopolizing a bridge or a ferry-crossing. This is a world of rapids and waterfalls, of canals and flood plains. The known continent – this one that we’re all inhabiting – is divided into many lands.

The creatures who inhabit these lands are as different as the waters that divide them. Some – like the halflings of the Shire – keep to themselves. Some – like the humanoids that populate the lowland salt flats – live in mixed communities where humans, half-orcs, dragonborn, teiflings, and all manner of elves live side by side. Lots of countryside is wild, and unclaimed; lots of it is also claimed by various kings, barons, councils, and collections of magic-wielders. Most clusters of people form townships; cities are rare and tend to be clustered around major ports. Generally, whatever local government runs the surrounding countryside with whatever magic, muscle, and manipulation they can manage; travelers generally stick to waterways, which are considered more neutral that highways on land (which tend to be dangerous, swarming with vicious highwaymen).

There are lots of gods in this world and demigods and semigods – lots of beings with power in this part of the universe. Here the streams of knowledge of how to manipulate energy, like the streams and rivers of the continent, are abundant and fractal. Magic is abundant. Wield enough of it, and you can call yourself whatever you want.

But also, be careful who you claim to be descended from, because the gods are present and can be prickly about how you talk about them. People worship freely to a pantheon of water deities like the many waterways of this land: fluid, branching, forever changing, sometimes nourishing, sometimes terrible. Parent gods are highly localized, often the anthropomorphization of rivers, lakes, harbors, waterfalls and other places of water that supports life. Clustered around them are their godly offspring and plentiful mortal children – both walk among mortal creatures. They called upon to bestow favors and, depending on how powerful they are, some can actually grant them. Not everyone cares, but the existence of the grandparents of all deities, the parents of all waters – Ocean, River, and Rain – is hotly debated among scholars, priests, and others interested in the divine.

This city, the city, Siilvan, is no mere sad feudal holding, it’s the greatest metropolis in this hemisphere. For as far as a boat can take you on this watery continent, all the way from ocean to unbroken ocean, this is where people – human, elf, dragonborn, teifling, halfing, dwarf, orc, and every bastardization thereof – came to live and die in hope and squalor. The city is tense and sprawling, crowded and squat, huddled on an archipelago of rocky islands, at the delta of three major rivers, where they flow together into one great channel and out to the open sea.

Some islands are for the rich, who rule the city by proxy through the governers, much spoken of but rarely visited, glimpsed only across the waters. Most islands are filled with the poor, and are filled with short buildings clustered chaotically around open-air marketplaces. The islands are linked by bridge and ferry; the waters between them are fast-moving and swirling with hard-to-predict currents which keep the poor from swimming over to and overwhelming the strongholds of the rich.

Everyone knows the governers are corrupt but most people feel neutral or resigned to them; this system has been in place for generations, becoming more and more corrupt but by slow degrees. Having the governers favor makes your life easier but they prefer to make life hard. You are here tonight because you’ve heard a rumor: someone here is a representative of the governers (or just one of them? a coalition? you’ve all heard different rumors) who is looking to assemble a multiracial team to do a big job, one that could earn you a spot on one of the nicer islands, a cushy life, gold for days, influence over the city, and the life you’ve only imagined. Only one job and then, your wildest dreams fulfilled. Seems almost too good to be true…

How I Became ALC-NYC’s Librarian

First of all, you should know that I love books, always have. Some of my first memories are being in a crib, full of books; I quickly grew to be the kind of kid who had to be told to stop reading and come eat dinner. My mother, a reading teacher, is a book lover herself, and so my growing-up was filled with trips to the public library and the bookstore and her classroom, where I could borrow whatever I wanted from the library she tended. Unsurprisingly, I’ve become the kind of adult who walks down the street reading; in fact, since I finished my schooling 6 years ago and rediscovered reading for pleasure, I’ve read nearly 500 books. I love genre fiction – fantasy and sci-fi novels are my bread and butter (metaphorically, of course, because I don’t eat bread) – but I’ve also been reading graphic novels, memoirs, nonfiction and basically whatever else I can get my hands on for most of my life.

I love reading but I also love the books themselves – the beautiful shapes and colors and art and poeticism of children’s books, the illustrative charts and maps and images in reference guides, the smooth feel of a new paperback, the musty smell of a well-worn hardcover. I love how they make a place feel like home. I love to run my eyes over the titles of books I’ll maybe read, maybe not; I love the promise of ideas.

When I got to ALC-NYC, there were already tons of books here. But they were unruly and overwhelmingly adult; the kind of library you get when well-meaning folks donate the books they no longer want to haul around their life. We had 5 copies of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but not a full set of Harry Potter. There were pockets of places where someone had clearly been poking at it – a few picture books displayed prominently on the back room windowsill, or a stash of Tamora Pierce novels at hand where a teen might find them in the library. I later learned a lot of those books were Abby’s personal books, brought in with specific kids in mind. There were lots of other kids books, but they were all about the space, willy-nilly; there was a library, but who knew what was on the shelves.

About a month into my first year ALFing, we had a staff work day; no kids in the space, just me, Ryan, and Abby, coming in to do what felt necessary for us. I gravitated towards the Library. Do you think it’s okay, I asked, if I move some of these books? I was a new baby facilitator, still deep in my ask-permission conditioning. I knew what I wanted, but I hadn’t yet given myself permission to act on my desires without first receiving outside approval.

Of course you can move the books, Abby and Ryan told me. Do what you want.

It wasn’t that straightforward, of course – I asked many times and received many variations on that answer. I asked about putting books out of sight so I could make others more visible, and about getting rid of old, outdated texts with harmful contents, and trusting my intuition about which books to feature. I don’t remember exactly what I asked my co-facilitators, three years ago now, but I do remember the feeling: is this real? Am I allowed? Am I taking up too much space? I’m grateful for their clarity and support: this is your real job. You are allowed to shape your role with your desires. The space you occupy is valuable to us, and to this community.

Offhandedly, a few months later, Abby told me that she’d listed me as the librarian on one of our mandated government forms; just like that, I realized I already was. It was my first medium-is-the-message experience in self-directed education and it was a powerful one.

I’ve rearranged the Library many times since then; I’ve come to understand the way it has aliveness and needs to be tended, like a garden. I’ve learned a lot about making a welcoming space, when to offer books and when to strew them in discoverable places, how to listen for what texts we need this season. Being Librarian means I get to be guide and guard and gardener; serving as librarian is part of facilitating in my joy. I became ALC-NYCs librarian by noticing my desire and giving myself permission to act on it, just as any good self-directed learner does.

First Week Wheeeeeee!!

Well, turns out three years of practice does make a difference. Earlier this week everyone in spawn was all talking at once, and the 8-year-old facilitator was completely distracted with his lego, and no one had written anything on the board, and I could hear kids from the other spawns already out in the hall, finished with their meetings when we hadn’t even started, and I wasn’t worried about it. Past Mel would have felt pressured to do something, but I didn’t. I resisted the urge to take control, to make the meeting more “efficient,” and I was able to tolerate the discomfort (less than it once was, after the practice of many chaotic spawns) because I really do trust the kids now. A big part of it is noticing where my schoolishness wants to eat that trust and actively choosing to reject the impulses of ordering, controlling, and making things smooth; another is recognizing the assumption that order, control, or smoothness are the primary goals of the meeting, rather than authentic presence, reflection, and relationship-building. Time is weird, but sometime in the last three cycles I’ve begun giving myself permission to relax in noticing the ways that it is circular. Things are how they are right now, so notice them. Be present in that noticing. Spawn is chaotic and that slows things down but we are here: a teen is trying to help the 8-year-old decide how to set the gameshifting board, a kid who has been practicing is sounding really good playing piano, everyone’s body posture is relaxed and sleepy this morning. This is only the second day of school. There’s plenty of time.

After a summer of littles, I’m particularly grateful to be back in a self-directed space with pre-teens and teens; I was reflecting on this after I spent a lot of yesterday talking to @timotree and @muffinsthecutest. We started with which language-learning apps we like (estamos practicando espanol!) and then, organically, moved through conversations about gender, patricarchy, the origins of hegemony, conspiracy theories, what money is, individual actors vs organizations, climate change, theories and schemas for manifesting cultural shifts, brains and bodies and networks and emergent strategy and so much more; a pretty comprehensive list of some of my favorite subjects to swirl my brain around. There are lots of kinds of self-directed spaces, and lots of kinds of play, but this particular kind – where we float on a conversational tide of our interests – is one that I love, and am grateful for the intellectual challenge of.

More first week highlights: ramping up a really big D&D game thanks to Xander’s enthusiasm and organization, lots of humans playing the piano, reconnecting over our fandoms, listening to culture keepers discuss culture hacking, a smooth(er) cleanup time than the end of last year, sharing books, listening to Sebastian’s evil laugh echoing down the hall, the return of geoguessr, wikitrails, and coup, the invention of a new currency, age-mixed roblox, naming the new projector, and listening to Timo and Iphy explain active voice to Hugo (happening right now!). Exciting things to come: field trips, park trips, the return of volunteer-led offerings like Acro and cook noob, art projects, anatomy and physiology, and a pokemon showdown tournament (that I might stand a chance in – we’ll see!). First things first: the D&D crew got $150 from finance club today to go to the Strand and Forbidden Planet on Monday to get supplies! Yay for a new year!

Year 4 Intentions!

Honestly, I can’t believe the summer’s over. I’m writing this on Labor Day; tomorrow, I meet up with the other ALFs to do some last-minute school prep and the day after, we start! While I’m sure it’s cliched of me to say that this summer has flown by, it’s also true – it’s felt like time outside of time. I stayed in the city for the whole summer for the first time in my adult life, and it was a surreal experience. I moved back to the neighborhood in Brooklyn where I lived as a tiny human and spent most of July reflecting on what home is, what it means to be from somewhere, what it means to belong to a place. I also worked this summer at Play:ground NYC, where I learned loads about risky play, boundary setting, and how important it is to care for your body with adequate food and hydration and rest (especially when you’re working outside in the hundred degree weather!); as a bonus, I got to ride the ferry there and back as a part of my three-island commute.

But time does exist and our rock continues to hurtle through the void through its cycle; today is for intention setting, more than reflection and sharing. (With an eye towards more, bigger reflection and sharing to come – I’ve got some bubbling projects that I’m excited about!) So here it is, a list of my intentions for this, my 4th (!!!) year at ALC-NYC.

  • Feed and water my physical body as though the quality of my facilitation depends on it (it does!). Eat whole fruits and vegetables, drink the clean, free water that comes out of the taps, don’t skip meals, prepare the majority of the food I eat myself from whole ingredients.
  • Go on weekly field trips! I’ve started a list of free things to do in NYC (should I post it on this blog?) and want to prioritize trips that are financially accessible to all. I particularly want to (re)visit the museums I love most dearly: the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum.
  • Go outside! Play tag. Learn to identify trees. Become familiar with the birds in our neighborhood. Explore Central Park beyond our northern corner. Practice handstands. Swing. Hang upside down. Be in the sunshine and the weather.
  • Write write write! I have a zine project with a clear goal that I intend to publish by the end of 2019. Also, I’d like to publish more blog posts than I did last year – particularly of the short-reflective, and long-resource flavors.
  • Make art! I intend to do inktober again, and I’m thinking about NatNoWriMo. I intend to carve and print lino blocks, to make watercolors, to draw in ink and pencil. I intend to make unplanned art messes and crochet corals and splatter paint and play piano and sing and dance and and and…
  • Learn more Spanish! My baby Spanish is sad… but it doesn’t have to be. I intend to practice daily with duolingo, podcasts, translating books, listening to pop music, and friends…
  • DM a DnD game! I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons before, but I’ve never been the Dungeonmaster. Last year, I played a Pathfinders game that was fun for a while and then petered out – then, over the summer, one of those players asked me if we could bring it back! This time, I’ll be making the world and running the monsters and I’m so excited about it…
  • Learn about the body! I’m looking forward to continuing to learn about anatomy and physiology with the crew from last year, and I’m also hoping to do some more exploring of ways to support my body and others’ as we navigate challenges. We’re all just meat robots running on electricity and will be for as long as we’re alive; it feels like an important thing to learn about how that works!

I have a tendency to set really lofty intentions and this isn’t really an exception; but I have noticed that writing down my intentions helps me keep them, and that most of these are things I was already doing as I facilitated in my joy last year. Here’s to another year of adventures!