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.
Wow we’re silly today. I usually feel a rush to get started in writing time but today I feel really spacy and all over the place and you know what that’s fine that’s what we’re doing I’m not wordsing great but I’m wordsing and that’s what counts. It’s Wednesday and it feels like this week has been endless and that’s probably because I didn’t give myself any introvert space this weekend. I’m not mad about having plans – I went to painting class and saw my family and hung out at Chuck’s birthday party and met some cool humans – but then suddenly it was Monday and I had school and it’s a visiting week and on Monday nights I do the ALF call and then I went to bed and had some really intense dreams and woke up and it was Tuesday and it’s still a visiting week and with all the people in the space we had almost 40 people here! And then after I took saylor and zoe home on the subway and then my roommate locked herself out and our train was delayed and so I was texting everyone to meet me at the climbing gym and then everyone did and I felt weird about having my life spheres all colliding – introducing Saylor to my friend Mimi and then giving my roommate my keys and pointing out Zoe to her (she’s heard many tiny Scorpio stories). And then I went climbing and that was awesome because I did so good and I finished a V3 I’ve been working on for WEEKS and it felt so good and then I also almost finished another V3 and then I went out to dinner with my friends Mimi and Lou and Yael and that was wonderful because it’s a safe queer bubble I get to be in every week that feels so good but also it’s a late night and I didn’t get home until after 10 and Arielle (that’s my roommate) had to let me in cause she had my keys and it’s her last week at work and so we talked about that and so I didn’t get to bed until after my bedtime which was fine but then I had more intense dreams (Neptune and Mercury are dancing around each other all week, which might account for it – they’re not bad they’re just out of reach and I wake up thinking and it’s loud in my head)
I’m anxious that I embarrassed Saylor yesterday when I introduced her to Mimi and that I’m just repeating myself about volume stuff and nothing is moving and I have plans tonight and tomorrow and Friday and Saturday and I had to tell a friend who I’ve been having a hard time connecting with that no, we can’t hang out Sunday and I didn’t say that it’s because I desperately need time to myself alone with no plans, even though that’s true, because I feel guilty about needing that even though that’s being mean to myself. I want to absolve myself of that guilt but it’s hard when our culture is like GO GO GO especially in new york where everyone has plans all the time and that’s not my preference but I’m doing the best I can to exist in capitalism and take care of my mental health and my vibrating nervous system and
[that’s the point at which the timer ran out – for instructions on how to do a free write, check out Beth’s blog post here and mine here. What follows is an addendum.]
Some days (especially when I haven’t had introvert time to soothe my body and listen for what I really need in what can feel like an endless monologue of brain-chatter-anxiety) I feel really overwhelmed by it all. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder – when I say I feel anxious I mean it clinically. I am doing a lot of work to try and move through the world in ways that ease it – from therapy, to journaling, to learning to meditate. On the other hand, I feel an intense impulse to edit the self that I present to the world – to appear at ease and in control, to not ask for space or time that I need, to put the [perceived] needs of others before my self. I’m posting this as-is to counteract some of that editing, to put out into the world some of my self as I experience them. Thanks for witnessing <3
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver
I’m trying to be kind. It’s difficult, because the word is tied up in the abstracted character-building of my childhood. Around the atrium of my intermediate school there were a series of child-shaped cutouts, each emblazoned with different value: respect, responsibility, kindness. I stood below them for the unveiling – one each month, as we passed through the first year of the school. The building was new, the star-shaped entrance hall vaulted with red-framed skylights and walled in postmodern grey brick. A group of us were selected (though I don’t remember how, or for what reason) to be the Character Ambassadors; we would gather in the center of the hall as a janitor climbed the ladder and hung the silhouettes and we went through the motions of ceremony. I remember feeling self conscious about my hair, my body, my new glasses. I don’t remember what was said about the characters.
When I think about being kind, the part of me that stood through that ceremony and tried, after, to fit in with the childscorn of cool that was budding in the girls’ room and the cafeteria, that young, confused part of me crystalized under those cutouts and in the gossipstreams after, still scoffs. What’s the point of kind?
Here’s what I really learned in that year as Character Ambassador: how to shrink my self to fit into the crowd. That it was fine to be honored but not too honored. Okay be special as long as I did not make my self a target with my specialness; if the crowd realized I wasn’t part of it they would eat me on the bus in the girls’ room on the line for lunch. Even with my careful observation and the one act of brutality with which I shrunk myself, even when I thought I understood the rules of how to be among and invisible, I felt myself a failure. Instead of kindness, I learned too much about the power of those who fit in over those who transgress. Instead of kindness, I learned to marshall my intellect to focus my body on performing my role correctly. Instead of kindness, I learned conformity.
Almost two decades later, the characters are still hanging there. The laminated poster paper has faded under the sky light – kindness is no longer true blue but stormy grey.
I haven’t thought about being 10 in a long time. I’ve thought abstractly about my childself over the course of the last few years, ALFing and deschooling, sure. But thinking about the child I was at 10 years old, standing in the atrium of C.V. Starr Intermediate School feels shockingly concrete – the kid whose flute was perpetually at the wrong parent’s house, who loved the quiet of art class and the intimacy of music lessons, the newly-bespeckled one whose mind drifted while we read aloud in class because I’d already read the whole page, whole chapter, whole novel and I was just counting the minutes until we were done with this interminable readaloud exercise. 10 is first time in my life I can begin to remember feeling wrong in my body, the beginning of a self consciousness that did not originate with me but that I wrapped around my own bones nonetheless. The lessons in the atrium stuck, but not the ones that were intended to.
This is the point at which I feel compelled to tell you that I am an anxious, depressed trans person living in chronic pain; that those are clinical (and therefore somehow validated?) identities. Five years ago, I fell down a flight of stairs and injured my spine. Three years ago, I developed crippling eczema that makes the skin on my hands flake off and break open. One year ago, I realized with a shock that I am not a cisgender woman. I am talking to you about kindness not out of virtuousness, but selfishness; I don’t want to live in pain any more. All the years of punishing myself have come to a head and my body has said no more. It will not tolerate my bruising, fixated intellectualism any more; it will not let me push aside my discomfort in order to fit in. This is the limit of tolerance: nearly two decades of making myself less, for fear of being too much.
As the brilliant Sonia Renee Taylor reminds us in The Body Is Not An Apology, “You, my dear, have a body. And should you desire to remain on this spinning rock hurtling through space, you will need a body to do it.” This isn’t about the state of my soul, though winter does bring, for me, an existential dimension to all these musings. This is about the soft animal of my body, and what it means to be kind to it.
Some days I am angry at the choices I made based on the lessons of the atrium, angry that I live in this pain. I am trying to honor my anger, to exorcise it. Some days I mourn the sense of safety, dignity, and belonging that that I don’t feel. I am trying to honor my grief, to exorcise it. I am trying to be kind. To value my flesh enough to feed it well, to smooth salve over the places I’ve cracked open, to sleep and stretch and wrap my self in soft, heavy blankets and feel the sensuousness of their weight and texture here, in this body, 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.
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!).
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
It’s Wednesday morning, and we’re doing writing time in the back room. I notice that I have a tendency to start my writing by rooting it in the place I am – many of my poems begin this way. “At the market” or “in Frida’s garden” or “In the installation I am overwhelmed”. It is loud in my head – when I place myself, I get outside of it. It helps.
It’s Wednesday morning, the first Wednesday morning of October, and the day is cool and damp and sunny – the reflection of the treeline in the Meer was a perfect symmetrical suspension of air and water and still-green leaves. The pallet is shifting as the wheel of the year turns again. I’m in the back room, where it is the quiet of people together – not silent but calm and companionable. I’m in my favorite seat, next to the doors, where I can see down the hallway. Roan and Jiji are dancing towards me – she just ran in and ran a hand over my head and whispered “pet the Melidew” and then disappeared. Beth, across the table from me, is laughing at Jiji and writing, and eating an apple that she split apart with her bare hands! Chuck showed her the trick – he split my apple, and now he’s sitting to my right, reading “On the Fly: Hobo Literature and Songs 1879-1941.” On my left, Ryan and Doug are seated across the table from one another, playing a game with black and white tiles and bugs. They’re on their third round and discussing the merits of a queen-first strategy, of ants vs. crickets vs. spiders vs. ladybugs.
Timo just came in and reminded Doug they forgot to do their spawn – the two of them (and Aniya and Serena) have been doing a “focused spawn” after regular spawn where they have a more in-depth conversation about their intentions. I think it’s such a cool idea, and I’m excited to see the ways these teens are holding each other as they level up their skills. I wonder how it’s working for them.
Behind me, Siena is watching a video on youtube, but quietly enough that it’s background noise. Hugo is on the couch next to her, also writing. The morning sun is shining through the windows, onto Abby’s plants. The back room in the morning is one of my favorite places because of the light – falling in golden through the wall of windows, the plants on the will and the leaves of the tree outside. In the far corner is a pile of books – mostly Abby’s, like the plants. The walls are olive green and butter yellow.
I’m trying to learn to quiet my brain – it’s been so loud in here for as long as I can remember that I can barely conceive of what that would feel like. Maybe it’s like this, like being in this space. Even as I write this, the dodgeball game at the other end of the hall has escalated into shouting, and Doug and Ryan’s game has resumed and the moment is past. It doesn’t have to be a forever moment. But if I could hold it, place it, what would that be? What would it feel like?
“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.
“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.
Humans are mostly water –
electricity run through meat –
bounded by our skin;
our largest organ
divides the sea within us from the air outside,
holds together our private oceans.
Skin is our primal boundary
our primary boundary.
Humans are mammals
we grow in someone else’s skin
and require the intimacy
of skin-to-skin contact
as infants or else we spend
our childhood, our learning-to-personhood
unable to trust other humans.
Biologically, we require
the physical manifestation of the boundary
between the self and others.
Our infancy is learning
that we are a person apart
from our mothers –
discovering “I” and how to meet its
demands, – then, in childhood,
learning that others’
“I” is as powerful and deep as our own –
Boundary is definition
by binary; you can’t have yes
I’ve come now to the point in my narrative where I’m unsure. So much happened after the journey and the landing – a whole week and a half’s worth of relationship building and conversations about boundaries and realizing that I had reservoirs of knowledge and strength that were invisible until I called on them and found them there, deep and steady, within me. Every morning the kookaburras woke me up, under the gauzy mosquito net in the round womb of the yurt, and it was a new adventure. Every day I learned more about my self and others, our work and our play. Every night I went to bed exhausted but satisfied, feeling all the ways I’d stretched and grown in the sunshine.
I’m not unsure about my self, or my experiences. But I am unsure that I feel comfortable writing a day-by-day description of the rest of my trip here, on a public blog, because I am not a human alone; my experience was interpersonal and this story is not just mine to tell. I’m unsure who will read this; I’m unsure if I have everyone’s consent to share their stories with the wild, wild west of the internet. And, because I spent a large part of my time in Australia talking about how discomfort is an indication that you’ve encountered a boundary, I’m going to respect mine and not write about it. Surprise!
So instead of writing the last of this narrative, I’ll instead share with you a few realizations and gratitudes from my trip – not all new, but newly strengthened.
ALFing is deeply personal work. Facilitation is showing up, as the being that you are, and holding space with your superpowers. Mine include deep listening, empathy, the ability to intuit whole structures from discrete parts, and a faculty with language that is playful, flexible and meaning-full. I am grateful for the ways my superpowers support me in the (inter)personal work that I do. I’m grateful for work that plays to my superpowers. I’m unspeakably, inexpressibly grateful that I was able to fly around the world and be held and hold a community that started as strangers and became something much more dear to me than that. I’m grateful to everyone who fed me, and made sure I had a place to sleep, and made wifi hotspots for me, and drove me to the places I wanted to go, and showed me the out-of-the way beautiful places I wouldn’t even know to ask about, and shared their hopes and fears and vulnerabilities and experiences with me.
I’m grateful to be reminded that it’s okay to ask for what I need. I’m grateful for the reminder that I can get the things that I need, if only I ask for them.
I’m grateful for the ocean.
I’m grateful for trees.
I’m grateful for sunrises and sunsets.
I’m grateful for mountains.
I’m grateful for bats.
I’m grateful for communities that take indigenous practices seriously.
I’m grateful to my past selves for doing the deschooling work of (re)learning that my boundaries are valid, subjective, and absolute, that setting and holding boundaries is ongoing and vital, that boundaries are the thing that make freedom feel safe and possible.
I’m grateful to Tom and Bex particularly, and their children.
I’m grateful for my body.
I’m grateful for dancing.
I’m grateful for kookaburras.
And I’m grateful for the excuse to take all these photos…
It’s interesting (and clear to me, reading back through it) how my lack of intention in audience has left my posts feeling disconnected and meandering – some are clearly written for the children I work with, some are appeals to parents, some are unspecified rants, some a messy combination of all of those. In the last edition of this blog, I wondered aloud who this writing is for, and asked the wide, wide internet to tell me. And I heard back! (Truly, I wasn’t expecting it.) Nicole and Grace, from Wildwood ALC in NC, told me that they’re not only reading this blog but that they want to read more!
It’s been nearly a month since that post. It’s been a long month, a strange one; Mercury went into retrograde and I traveled through time and space around the world to meet a wonderful, magical group of strangers who are doing this work in Mullimbimby, Australia (a place that couldn’t be more different than East Harlem, NYC!). We talked about boundaries and how the proper verb for facilitation is practice; I found that I’m much more confident and experienced than I knew and they found (I hope) some measure of stability that comes from talking to other people who do this (unusual) work, who can say “don’t worry, you’ll be talking about cleanup and keeping agreements ad infinitum because that’s what we do in ALC communities!” I felt a deep connection to those facilitators (<3 shoutout to Bex, Tom, Bia, Talia, Christopher, Shell, and Lynn!) and to my own identity as a facilitator. As I was leaving, and we were having the keeping-in-touch-conversation, someone asked if I have a blog. Bing bing bing!
Then, finally, last night, I got on the regularly scheduled Monday night call and chatted with Amber, of Rivers and Roads ALC in OK – it was just the two of us and we talked a bit about what’s present for us in our facilitation, our travels, our history, and it felt so good! We talked more about boundaries – a conversation that’s been echoing around more than just the facilitation parts of my life but that is vital to this practice, this work. Turns out, I love talking about boundaries (yes, I see my Virgo self…)! I want to do it more! And so do other facilitators!
In fact, there are lots of conversations I want to have with other facilitators – on boundary setting, on travel, on our collective experience – and I’m just realizing (slowly, perhaps, but in the right time) that this blog is a place to start them. Language is an imperfect tool. A blog is an imperfect medium. But I am a writer, and I write to manifest, and this is (currently) the only place where I make that process/practice visible to other humans. So if you’re reading (if you’ve been reading this whole time, or if this is the future and I’ve been prolific and you’ve scrolled back far enough to encounter this post) here is my intention: to hold a space to talk about what it feels like to practice facilitation, for other facilitators, from my own words and experience.