III. Reflection: Narrative Uncertainty, Consent, and Gratitudes

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…

here for the passion-fruit-from-the-yard-and-muddy-feet vibes ✨✅?

A post shared by Mel Compo (@mel_icorn) on

not my usual monday afternoon and yet… ????????????????

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They're braver tree climbers than I am…???

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Edge of the world // leo moon ??

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donkeys r pals ??

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?☀️?have I mentioned that it's idyllic here? ?☀️?

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That’s all the travel missives for now! Looking forward to the summer and the opportunity to work with facilitators again (and wellspring of generative creativity I’m finding there…).

<3 Mel

II. Arrival: Trying to Make Art Out of Admiration

I arrived in Australia jet lagged with time-travel and revelation; I could hold boundaries with my anxious! Though my journey had already been momentous the work had not yet begun. Tom and I got in the car (the driver on the wrong side…) and drove out of Brisbane (and the time changed, yet again…) and proceeded to get thoroughly lost. I had surrendered to the journey, though, and so I trusted Tom would get us to the Garden and get me filled in on what to expect there. He did his best but, nonetheless, the culture shock was intense.

The final stretch of our journey was over a mountain, on a winding road, past the waving of verdant ferns and trunk upon trunk of strange, beautiful, tropical trees. I wanted to ask Tom what every thing was called – those violet flowers, that grey-trunked sapling – but their names slipped through my saturated brain. Instead, I held my questions and just marveled at the greenery, the lushness all around. Finally, we arrived.

“Take off your shoes!” Tom encouraged. “It’s a bog so they’ll just get muddy anyway.”

It was, in fact, a bog; each step I took across the sodden ground became a puddle, each footprint a small muddy lake. The grass was intensely verdant, thriving, and around us were rolling fields framed by green mountains; open blue sky and the long fingers of thriving trees reaching up, photosynthesizing. Gingerly, unused to my bare feet after a seemingly-endless New York winter, I followed him across the yard to investigate the yurt where I would be staying, meet the donkeys and the chickens. I felt like Dorothy; I certainly wasn’t in East Harlem anymore!

 

Tom picked up a passionfruit from the yard and handed it to me; I took it, dumbfounded, and he showed me how to break it open to get at its sweet, crunchy, pulpy interior. I had never held an actual passionfruit before. Until that moment I had suspected that they were merely a made-up flavor that beverage companies invented to sell a tropical flavoring. Sticky-mouthed, I was pleased to be wrong.

At the house, we assembled lunch from an array of farmer’s market goodness and I had my first slice of Tom’s heavenly gluten-free bread (the best I’ve ever tasted). Bex and the children arrived home after we’d eaten; at ages 6 and 3, they are younger than the humans I’m used to working with, but delightful nonetheless. I explained to Bex and Tom that I was trying to stay up until night to try and battle my jet lag; they suggested we go to the beach. Eager to submerge myself, I agreed and we all piled into the van and rode to the ocean.

Getting in the ocean always feels like a sacred experience; even when I am at the dirty beach at Coney Island (which is, in fact, next to a wastewater treatment plant…) I like to rush in alone, to have a minute to reconnect and say hello to the surging water. The beach at Wollumbum couldn’t be more different than Coney Island. It’s a cove – soft, pale sand and smooth tumbled stones, patrolled by bush turkeys – and the late afternoon light fell onto the pink and turquoise foam in bands of shining unreality. I was so jet-lagged, so culture-shocked, so tired in my body and boggled in my mind, I couldn’t even take a photo, couldn’t have recorded that beauty if I had tried. Even now, not even three weeks later, I’m grasping at the memory of it and I find I’ve got only the awe to hold onto. Even if I could go there now, stand on that beach at the same time of day, I could never recapture that moment.

There is lots of beauty here, in New York. The sunset behind the skyline, the view from the Q train as it crosses from one island to the other and you can see down the East River, past the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge and the towers clustered on the southern tip of Manhattan, to Governors’ island and the Statue of Liberty, distant, green, and dignified, presiding over the harbor. The parks – their rolling, manicured hills and plants and the people who lounge in them, a kaleidoscope of human faces. The art, everywhere; the treasures in museums and on street corners, graffitied onto buildings under the shadow of the elevated trains. It’s a different kind of beauty, and it’s all mashed up with the ugliness that we make as the inevitable by-product of living all close together, in a place that’s cold, cold, cold half of every year. It’s hard to see it when you’ve spent too long without getting out, when your eyes get cynical. I can see it now, because I’ve gone away and come back, but that first afternoon in Mullum I felt so saturated by the natural beauty I felt soft and pink and naive. I felt as though I’d been born.

That night, after dinner, the bats streamed overhead, hundreds of them, in the cool, dusky blue of twilight. Quiet, peaceful, their colony went out in search of food, harming no one, following the sight of the sound of their voices across the falling dark. And when the night came, I saw the Milky Way for the first time.

I. Flight: Holding Boundaries with My Self

I’m not great with uncertainty. I’m a Virgo. It’s not my fault. (Maybe it is, but we can psychoanalyze me later…) What’s relevant to this story is that I’m an earth-being who likes certitude and routine; that I am learning to tell the difference between when that’s powerful and when it’s hindering me; and that when I said “yes, I want to go to Australia,” and booked the tickets, I didn’t realize I was leaving on the first day of Mercury retrograde.

One of the defining characteristics of Mercury retrograde is that travel and technology get seriously wonky. Things that should be running smoothly don’t, despite our best efforts. A lot of the astrologers I follow frame it as the cosmos forcing you to slow down, teaching you the lessons you need to learn by going over the lessons you thought you’d learned already. The hardest part of my deschooling process has been getting comfortable living in uncertainty; I thought I had mastered dealing with my uncertainty, learned to live in it. And it’s true, in the past year-and-a-half I’ve gotten a lot better at it, and felt a lot better in the process. But when, on the morning of my flight, I woke up and saw it was really, truly snowing, the knot in my chest, the familiar tight, panicky feeling, told me otherwise.

We weren’t scheduled to take off until 11 PM, so I had the whole day to get really worked up in my anxious. I tried my best not to; I went to acupuncture, packed my bags, attempted to check in (and couldn’t, which didn’t help). I kept checking my flight – while the snow just kept piling on and flight after flight was cancelled out of JFK, mine remained “on time.” My mom, my acupuncturist, my friends all warned me it would probably be cancelled. But, improbably, when was time to head out, those little green letters hadn’t changed: “on time.”

I got to JFK and had to get in a massive line to check in – when I got to the front of the line, my generous buffer time had disappeared. Turns out the reason I couldn’t check in was a visa issue. I was flying to Australia via Abu Dhabi, where I had a short layover before my second flight, but I couldn’t get on either plane without my visa clearing Australian customs online. A frenetic man in red glasses behind the counter helped me (reapplying for the visa, waiting 15 minutes, realizing it hadn’t gone through, reapplying again, waiting again, panic mounting but trying to stay calm as the line dispersed through security and I watched my buffer time tick down and….) and finally, I was checked in. I had no bags to check, just my backpack and a small carry-on with my notebooks, so I dashed off to security and made it on board just in time.

So there I am, sitting on the most massive plane I’ve ever been on in my entire life, strapped into a window seat with 300 other people all anxious to get away from the raging first-day-of-New-York-spring storm, while the flight attendants fluttered about in pre-flight prep. The door is closed. I’m strapped in, my neighbors are strapped in. What’s happening, what’s happening? My mind is racing. Then, the captain gets on the intercom.

“Well,” he says, “we’re all loaded up and ready to go. We’re just going to wait for it to stop snowing a bit.”

My heart is thumping. I look out the window. It’s snowing so hard I can’t even see the plane next to us.

And that’s when I realized: I have no power over any of this. I can’t control the weather, or how long it’ll take to shift. I can’t decide when it’s safe for us to take off. I’m about to fly around the whole world, further than I’ve ever been, to go to a place I’ve never seen, to meet people I’ve never met, and do work to support them in some way that I don’t know yet. I said yes, and now I’m here. I don’t know if I’ll make my connection and I don’t know what will happen if I miss it. There’s only one choice I have in this moment: I can panic, or I can choose not to.

I chose not to panic.

We sat on the runway for 2 hours, which meant that by the time the plane took off, I already knew I would miss my connection. I held my panic in check with distraction, and sleep, and focus on my breathing. None of the flight attendants could tell me anything about what would happen when we landed, just attempt to reassure me that I would get to my destination.

When I landed in Abu Dhabi, got in a shuttle and drove across the strange, sleeping desert city and stay in a luxury hotel, courtesy of my airline. And on the way back to the airport the next morning, I got to see the sun rise over the desert – red in the sky like a bloody yolk, like a burnished ruby – and as we flew over the country I saw endless undulating desert, then rocky, fractal mountains, and then the blue sea. I had an empty seat next to me on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. I wrote and drew and reveled in the liminal space of the journey. I traveled through, traveled outside of time. I landed in Sydney, got on a final plane to Brisbane. And when I got off the plane in Brisbane, there was, in a sun hat and ALC shirt and no shoes, a human grinning at me.

“You must be Tom,” I said.

“I am! Welcome!” he said, and we hugged. I had arrived.

On Boundaries, Travel, and Sharing Facilitation Practice

I figured out who this blog is for! WHAT A TIME!

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.

<3
Mel

who is this blog for?

When writing, you’re supposed to know who your intended audience is. Well, turns out, most of the time my intended audience is just me. Which is all well and good when it comes to reflecting, and knowing myself, and seeing my brain and picking out my habits, but none of that is the primary function of a blog; that’s what journals and diaries are for.

Saylor is here watching me type this; today she’s my audience. I definitely intend for this blog to be read by ALC students (including, but not limited to Saylor) which is why I’ve written posts like this post I wrote back in October (ages ago and just yesterday…) about holding boundaries. Other posts, like this one, are less clearly for other humans; they read very much like the reflective journal writing I do for myself. That doesn’t mean they’re not for other humans, necessarily. Are other humans interested in my reflective journal writing? I don’t know. I really like looking back on them because they show me myselves marked in moments in time, and I can track my changes from then to now (for example, in the two weeks since I wrote that post, I’ve gotten so much better at feeding myself! And I’ve eaten so many fruits and veggies! It’s awesome!)

I’m thinking about this in particular because Abby made a call for blog posts and I want to share these, but I’m feeling self-conscious about sharing. I’m not clear if I’m feeling self-conscious just because I’m in the habit of feeling self-conscious about sharing my words, or if it’s something else. Who is this blog for? Who are you reading this right now? Can you comment and tell me, internet? Here’s a pic of me holding a bunch of kale as a thank you <3

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.

Skin: The Bag You’re In!

March! Finally!

February is usually a hard month for me and this year was no exception. My body has been upset with me, and expressing it mainly in the form of eczema on my hands. I’m not sure if I’ve written about this here before, but a few things have happened that I’d like to document for my future self, right now in the time of shifting.

First of all, something (two things, actually) happened in my head: I accepted the fact that my eczema is actually just a symptom of a larger, ongoing problem with my gut – an imbalance of gut flora – and I finally decided that living in chronic pain was not a worth the convenience and yumminess of eating the junk food I love. As a person who identifies as a pizza witch, for a long time I resisted any solution that might involve shifting my patterns in a way that would change that. I love pizza, and every time I would read about gut-flora-changing-diets, right on the top of the list of foods to eliminate are gluten and dairy – the very foundation of pizza. But I just couldn’t handle the discomfort of itching, flaking, bleeding eczema anymore. So I decided to change my diet.

I don’t think the dietary changes will be a forever thing. I’ve already eliminated gluten, which has been super hard in a way I’m not sure is sustainable. But it’s only been about 2 weeks, and I know habits take longer than that to form so we’ll see. The most challenging part for me right now is learning that I need to plan my meals out further in advance/think about the timing of cooking and eating more than when I was on the glutenous train. Lots of convenient, cheap food in NYC – pizza, sandwiches, bagels – are, obviously, bread-based. Grabbing something to go isn’t really an option for me in the way that it was before I eliminated gluten. As a result, I’m struggling to eat enough calories to feel full/keep my blood sugar at a consistent level. I know I’ll get better at this with time, but I’m hungry now and it’s frustrating.

I also started seeing an acupuncturist this week! Acupuncture was appealing to me because I’ve seen a lot of doctors over the last few months and years who don’t actually tell me anything new, or address the underlying cause of my symptoms – they just tell me I have eczema (which I already knew) and prescribe me a steroid cream (which I don’t want to become reliant on to manage my symptoms). My acupuncturist and I talked about all my bodyfeels – not just about my eczema, but also my digestive struggles, anxiety, and history with nerve pain. He explained that my symptoms all are related to an imbalance of fire and water – an excess of fire, or deficiency of water, depending on how you want to frame it. It made immediate sense to me because in my natal chart (which shows which planets are in which signs at the time of my birth) contains lots of earth, air, and fire… but no water! I actually don’t have any planets in water signs, which is pretty crazy. I feel like this is probably another blog post so I’m just going to leave it at this and say astrology is a real, useful mirror and I <3 it.

Finally, I went to a witch shop in the East Village with Ash, Saylor, Zoe, and Jiana yesterday. It’s called Enchantments, and they specialize in candle magic. I’m a beginner when it comes to candle magic, but was excited to try something new because yesterday the sun was in Pisces and the moon was full in Virgo (my sign!), which is a very balanced combination of water/creative/emotional/chaos/mystical energy (Pisces) and practical/fertile/grounded/ordered/growing things energy (Virgo) – the perfect kind of day to introduce a new spiritual practice. After school, I went and saw the David Bowie exhibit that just opened at the Brooklyn Museum and was completely blown away (there’s definitely another blog post here!) – it felt like a very creative, spiritual experience and reminder from the universe that the self is something we choose and create every day, and that artists make prolific art. When I got home, I set up my alter and carved my candle and lit it and pulled a really powerful tarot spread that I’ve been thinking about all day. After that I did some drawing and writing – just for me, right now, but I see the seeds of something that I’m excited to share as it grows.

This blog post felt important because I want to acknowledge myself for three distinct but related ways I’m practicing self-love in response to my body’s crisis: changing the foods I choose to fuel my self with, seeking help from someone who sees the whole me, and trusting my mystical witch self to discover new, supportive, healing practices that work for her. February was a hard, hard month for me, but I can feel the tickles of spring in the air all around me, the promises of growth and new life and new cycles and and and…

Return of the Blog: Anxiety as Self-Censorship, Zines, and Art-Making as Self-Care

This is my first blog back after a bit of a hiatus. In fact, it’s my first blog of the new year! I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection the past few weeks and, in particular, thinking about the agreement “share your learning on your blog” – the ways in which I’ve done that successfully, the places my self-doubt is holding me back from sharing, and deschooling the expectation that all the writing I share with the world must be perfect. Today I’d like to start with a (brief) explanation and reflection on my recent digital silence, and then get into some of the work/play/art-making I’ve been doing in the meat-space in the last month. Finally, I’ve got a recommendation for anyone else who’s also thinking about this.

Last time in blog-land: Star Wars recap/general feels outpouring. Since then we saw The Last Jedi (you can check out Doug’s reaction vid here) and I had SO many feelings about it I felt like I needed to process fully before I could write anything. That block took up a huge part of my brain-space, both over break and since. I felt guilt about not modeling consistency in my blogging on top of feeling lowkey anxious about not completing my Star Wars series (I definitely get anxious when I leave things unfinished, though that doesn’t always result in me finishing them…). Part of my writer’s block was my scholar-brain wanting more information (a.k.a. wanting to re-watch the movie) before I talked about my opinions, but part of it was definitely the schooling/deschooling I’m doing around my writing: I feel like I can’t share a writing until it is “finished,” even though I know that no one is judging what I write here and, either way, most writing is never really finished.

Despite all that, I’m not going to write about Star Wars today. Ha!

Recently, I’ve gotten really excited about the idea of zine-making. For those who have never heard of zines (a.k.a. most people) they are, simply, DIY magazines about whatever you want! The content can include original drawing, collages, photographs, poetry, letters, instruction manuals, or unstructured ramblings; they might be produced by one person or by many in collaboration. Zines are a broad and inclusive medium for verbal and visual art-making, defined only by their do-it-yourself aesthetic and cheap production value. And they are SO COOL.

Yesterday, a group of teens and I went to the Barnard Zine Library, where we browsed through a wide variety of awesome zines to get inspiration for our own work. I’m really feeling inspired, which is why I’m definitely not stressing about my “missing” Star Wars blog post; I plan to make a “Feminist’s Guide to Star Wars” zine and produce it before the end of the school year!

(Writing that goal makes me want to immediately erase the sentence/blog post/this entire blog. I am leaving it, and this reflection, up in the hopes that making my thinking public will hold me accountable.)

I’ve also been working on a Deschooling Zine. Some pics!

[pictures will get added when I take them]

I’m not sure which zine I want to work on publishing first, and I’m not worrying about it. Part of my intention with choosing a medium that is by nature super broad is to break the pattern of “this isn’t perfect therefore I must agonize over it instead of sharing it.” Stay tuned.

On a final note, I want to recommend an incredible podcast about deschooling and art-making as self-care from Anthony Galloway (@tonyg) at Heartwood ALC. I always enjoy his appearances on Fare of the Free Child, but this week in particular he talked about not making time for himself to make art because it doesn’t feel “productive” and I wanted to shout with epiphany on the subway – it felt like he finally articulated the thing I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for weeks! It’s a particularly awesome episode of an awesome podcast and I highly recommend it to all artists (a.k.a. all humans) who are deschooling that part of themselves.

Bonus track: Be an Artist Right Now!

I have a lot of feelings about Star Wars.

It’s Star Wars week! Finally, after months of anticipation, we’re going to see The Last Jedi on Friday and I am beyond excited. Over the last 3-ish weeks we’ve been watching all the Star Wars in canonical order (thanks to the awesome planning of Even aka @chimp) so that we can all be fully caught up/refreshed when we go into Friday’s screening. My feelings (beyond excitement) are mixed: I am worried that it will be terrible; unsure what they’re going to do with Leia’s character after Carrie Fischer’s tragic and unexpected death; hopeful that my theories will be correct; and looking forward to seeing what Rey and Finn and Poe and Kylo Ren – all the great new characters – get up to in this story. I’ve really been enjoying re-watching the movies and, since Friday we finished the original trilogy, I thought I’d write a blog post about all my complicated Star Wars feelings in the hopes of sorting some of them out.

Just for reference the cannonical order of the movies is:

1……The Phantom Menace (1999)
2……Attack of the Clones (2002)
3……Revenge of the Sith (2005)
3.5….Rogue One (2016)
4……A New Hope (1977)
5……Empire Strikes Back (1980)
6……Return of the Jedi (1983)
7……The Force Awakens (2015)
8……The Last Jedi (2017!!!!!!!)

First of all, the prequel trilogy is terrible – my feelings there are not at all mixed. They’re just really bad, full stop. I must confess that I have a soft spot for The Phantom Menace because I  saw it for the first time when it came out in theaters in 1999 and I was too young to realize that it was so awful. Re-watching it, I feel like parts of it are okay – the podrace scene holds up, and Padme and Qui-Gon are still pretty cool characters – but now that I’m aware of the racist stereotypes that underly a lot of characters, it’s really hard to watch. We talked quite a bit during the screening about the things we found problematic representations of the Gungans and Trade Federation characters in particular – I’m grateful for the conversation, but I wish it was one we didn’t have to have. I found Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith completely unwatchable and skipped them – I’ve never liked those movies and don’t regret it.

Moving on, I was surprised how much I enjoyed re-watching Rogue One. The only time I’d seen it was when we went last year to the premier. I remember being surprised then at the ending – I was expecting a much more Disney-ish conclusion, and obviously that’s not what happened. (Spoiler alert: literally everyone dies.) I thought the story was well-paced throughout the whole movie, the sets and special effects were beautiful, and I liked all the characters and thought they were well-acted (unlike in the prequels…). What I enjoyed the most, though, was watching it in the context of the other movies. We watched A New Hope the next day and it was weird to realize that the Death Star only really exists for a short period of time – weeks? – while it fully functional before Luke blows the whole thing up. It really helps explain why the Empire is so obsessed with building another one after the first was destroyed. Basically they spend all this time building the ultimate weapon, they use its full power once (sorry Alderaan!) and BAM! It’s gone. So, on top of being an enjoyable standalone movie, I really like the fact that it makes the larger story arc of the trilogies make sense by justifying the Empire’s obsession with planet-exploding superships.

We watched A New Hope the day after Rogue One, and it’s so cool how seamlessly those two movies fit together. I saw A New Hope for the first time when I was 8 – I distinctly remember sitting with my godfather on my grandparents’ bed and watching the VHS on their tiny, wonky tv – and every rewatching is just me trying to recapture the magic of that moment. The beginning is slow, and strange after Leia is captured – we know the stakes are high and that something incredible is going to happen (We’re in space! There’s an evil guy in a scary suit! The princess is in trouble!) but we don’t know what yet. A New Hope trusts its audience to stick with it for a while while the story winds up: Luke is pretty whiney when we first encounter him, and we spend a lot of time with C3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine looking for “old Ben,” not sure how all these threads of storylines are going to come back together. It’s definitely worth it in the end – the scene where Luke bows up the Death Star is as awesome today as it was when I was 8. It’s either my second-or-third-favorite Star Wars movie – I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Rogue One more. However, I was struck, watching it, that aside from Leia and Luke’s aunt (Beru, whose name I had to look up) there are no women at all. In fact, even R2D2 is gendered male and he’s a cylindrical robot who communicates in whistles! (Other characters refer to R2 using “he/him” pronouns – we looked it up later an apparently it’s because he has “masculine programming” and excuse my while my eyes are stuck all rolled up inside my head.) Me voicing this realization about R2 resulted in an interesting conversation about gender-nonconforming and non-binary people (as I identify, myself) so that was at least productive and interesting.

Sidenote on Leia: she is the best and I will not hear anyone speak ill of her. She’s quick on her feet, cool under pressure, and always handy with a plan when the people (men) around her have rushed into a rash situation without an extraction plan (*ahem*LUKE*ahem*). Basically it’s a shame that she didn’t become a Jedi like (instead of?) Luke because she’s super strong in the force and also way better at planning things. (Historically, I have strong feelings about the treatment of women in “classic” genre fiction, so this take is probably not surprising.)

Thursday we watched Empire Strikes Back, which has always been my least favorite of the original trilogy, and I think I’ve figured out why: the Han/Leia subplot is super frustrating and nonconsensual. Basically Leia’s like “don’t call me sweetheart/don’t touch me/let’s not go to cloud city I have a really bad feeling about that” and Han is like “it’s fiiiiiiiiiine” and this makes me SO ANGRY. First of all, ignoring someone’s explicit request to stop touching them is never okay, Han (and it doesn’t make you a “scoundrel” *eyeroll*). Second of all, if everyone had just listened to Leia when they got to Cloud City and she was like “seriously I have a bad feeling here,” Lando wouldn’t have been able to betray them, Han wouldn’t have wound up frozen in carbonite and Vader wouldn’t have been able to catch up with them and cut off Luke’s hand. The only reason Luke survives the movie at all is because when he is dangling, one handed, off the bottom of cloud city he mentally calls Leia for help and she’s strong enough in the force that she hears him and has Lando turn the Millennium Falcon around to go rescue him.

Then Friday we watched Return of the Jedi, my absolute favorite Star Wars movie. The villains, in particular, are excellent – Jabba really shows why he’s such a powerful mob boss by seeing right through all of the rescue plans that our heroes concoct. (And Leia shows how awesome she is by strangling him with her own chain the first opportunity she has – there’s a metaphor there for sure.) Vader’s redemption arc is extremely satisfying and the Emperor is an appropriately terrifying puppetmaster. The other thing I love about Return of the Jedi is the worldbuilding – between Endor, Jabba’s lair, and the new Death Star, we get awesome sets, puppets, and costumes in a way that feels really physical and real.

(I’m leaving off Force Awakens for now, because we’re screening it Thursday and I’d like to re-watch before I write about it.)

Writing this has definitely been clarifying. Basically, there are things about Star Wars that are problematic – the lack of non-white, non-male-bodied characters and the racist representation of the ones we get, for (glaringly obvious) starters. On the other hand, Leia is and has always been awesome and is definitely a huge part of why Star Wars spoke to me at such a young age (besides her tolerance of men who do whatever they want, regardless of whether they have her consent – but a lot of women find themselves in that position and I would never blame her for Han’s jerk behavior). The worldbuilding is fantastic – I especially love all the physical props of the old movies (the 2000s CGI was not great; I’m more ambivalent about the newest movie graphics). More than anything, though, I love Star Wars because it opened for me (my past self, sitting on my grandparents’ bed, transfixed; my present, seeking feminist sci-fi and writing this review; my future selves, whoever they are…) the pandora’s box of science-fiction, where anything is possible: ships can be world-destroyers or hunks of junk, princesses can shoot blasters, and the galaxy is strange and ordinary all at once.

 

 

French toast, Flower Crowns, Duolingo Messages, Fire Extinguisher Abby, Dancegiving, Ancillary Justice, and Bob Ross’ New Hair [again]

I didn’t post this on Friday! Last week was a visiting week and my brain was scattered and scrambled by the end of it with so many humans in the space. Luckily Brooklyn developments are looking optimistic…

I’ve been practicing Duolingo pretty consistently and I feel my Spanish starting to come back! I wish that I had not stopped studying it in school as soon as I could because I’m finding that all the words I learned when I was younger are easier to call up than the ones I’m trying to learn now. The hardest part of Duolingo has been keeping my streaks going. (I lost an 8 day one this weekend because I was all wrapped up in Friendsgiving. Sad, but worth it.) The best part is weird sentences, like this one:

Last week they tore out the mums from the conservancy garden and Alex Patz brought us some so we could make flower crowns. I didn’t make one but Abby made me this happy yellow one.

Other things we made on Tuesday: soap and french toast. I would have taken more photos except I didn’t XP

Here’s @abbyo, appropriately labeled.

On Thursday, Sterl’s mom, Taasha the Amazing, donated an incredible Thanksgiving feast. We called it Dancegiving all week after Siena’s hilarious mispronunciation. I did not get any photos, because I was too busy enjoying all the food.

Ash and I are reading one of my favorite books together! He and I were talking about it on Thursday post-Dancegiving feast and he asked me to read it aloud to him because it’s kind of confusing to follow. It’s called Ancillary Justice and I’m really enjoying the reread (possibly the 5th or 6th time I’ve read this book) – I get more out of this novel every time I read it.

And finally, a Bob Ross update:

(he’s actually gotten a little moldy since, but he was looking good last week.)