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Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Last Dispatch from the Aughts


A lot of us transition-y types have a foot in two worlds.  We might have jobs where we have to comply with one set of expectations, and non-job hours where we're free to let our freak flags fly.

For Dragonstar and I, our two worlds are comprised of Planet Unschooling, on the one hand, and pretty much everything else on the other.

For much of the time, the orbits of these two worlds are reasonably synchronous, and we can maintain our balance and sense of peace.  But sometimes, sometimes...

* * * * *

We went to visit unschooler friends in mid-December, and stayed with them in their home.  I cannot tell you what a gift -- and a revelation -- this was for us.

We are very aware, Dragonstar and I, that we live differently from pretty much everyone in our immediate proximity.  It's made obvious to us every time we spend time among conventionally-parenting, conventionally-schooling families.  We can get along, but we have a hard time finding meaningful common ground.  We feel weird and discordant.  Out of sync.

So we stay home a lot, or do things together, just she and me.  Because it's hard to maintain your balance -- your peace-ability -- when you feel different and out of sync.

We're all about the peace-ability.

Which is why we love going to unschooler gatherings.  Crowds of different!  Orbits in sync!  But gatherings are gatherings.  They're events.  They're not daily life.

Our recent visit gave us a chance to enjoy a brief span of daily life with another unschooling family.  It's the first such visit we've ever had. Which tells you a lot about how isolated we've been.

We are so grateful not to be isolated anymore.

* * * * *

At the home of these new friends we experienced a whole new level of tension-free living.  Of relaxed relationships between kids and parents.  Of the kind of ease and mutual support most families I know would love to bring into their lives, if only it didn't meant giving up a lot of deeply held beliefs about how things are supposed to be.

Here's my bumpersticker summation: Peace isn't compliance. It's concordance.

It's one thing to live this way ourselves, as an army of one (small) family.  To see something resembling our own daily life unfolding in someone else's home is another thing altogether.  It's like taking a leap of faith and landing foursquare on the other side of the chasm.

Unschooling keeps giving us gifts.

 * * * * *

Those gifts help me to maintain my sanity in my other world, when issues like toddler tantrums and willful one-year-olds come up among my conventionally-parenting acquaintances, some of whom believe it's good parenting to bite your child when your child bites you, just to show how much it hurts to be bitten.

Gah.

People who bite (or hit) their kids tend to defend their right to do so with great vehemence.  What's up with that? Substitute "spouse" or "employee" into the usual "how will they learn to mind?" rationale and it's obvious (to me, anyway) that the justifications for hitting or biting one's own kids are as specious as they are self-serving.

We have strange, painful ideas of "ownership" in this culture.

And strange, painful ideas about kids.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Ask any unschooler.

* * * * *

Anyway, it's the end of another year.  And, reader, it's been the best year ever.  Try that phrase on for size. Now go have yourself another one.  Counting down in three... two... one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Unexpected Gifts


We celebrated and opened gifts two days early this year in order to send Dragonstar off with her dad for a long holiday weekend.

What a strange feeling it is to be two days ahead of the rest of the holiday-celebrating world, with nothing more pressing on my schedule than a shower and a blog post.

I think I'll consider it an unexpected gift.

Like that perfect red Le Crueset butter dish the BBPiT found for us after I broke my little hand-painted dish several months ago and have been searching for a suitable replacement ever since.  Nice.

And the not-one-but-two new food-related businesses -- a grocery and a cafe -- that are taking over a couple of the empty buildings in my little town's historic-but-sadly-almost-vacant downtown.  Nice.

And the recently-completed section of my town's bike and pedestrian trail that winds along the riverfront, through a wooded grove and across a renovated steel bridge, freshly planked and painted and intended for cyclists and foot-traffic only. Very nice.

There are gifts everywhere.  I know they surround you, too.

Have yourself a merry one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's the Ministry of Justice! No, It's an Art Space!


It's been gray here all week, so you can imagine my delight to get up this morning to a bright blue sky and sunshine.  The fact that it's 21 degrees is immaterial.  Sunshine!  Sunshine is good!

Yes, well.  Sunshine is lovely, even when it illuminates the layer of dust on nearly every surface in the room I'm in.  Hell, dust is lovely.  Have you ever noticed how sparkly it is?

That's because it's stardust.  As are we.  Of course.

* * * * *

Best blog quote I've read this week:
“You think you got problems?” My mom said to me. I don’t think I’d been complaining about a problem, just so you know, but anyway, “You think you got problems?” she said, “I’ve got a vegan coming to Thanksgiving dinner.”


* * * * *

News of the Week: Three friends of mine have rented studio space in what is without question the most impressive (domineering? ostentatious?) public structure in the little city downriver from my little town: the old courthouse that sits foursquare in what was once the center of the city.  It's that behemoth pictured above, a huge building built in the time when American cities created architectural homages to the Greeks and Romans, and it's been woefully underused since the '90s, when the entire city and county government moved itself to a new, far less impressive set of buildings a few blocks away.

There was talk last night, at my monthly book gathering, of developing an entire artist's colony in that impressive old building with its domed copper roof and surrounding expanse of green lawn just perfect for annual summer art fairs and plein air events.

And even though I've told myself I'm very much over the notion of working anywhere other than home, the talk kind of made me want to join the effort.  Kind of. 

The rents are ridiculously cheap.

It's the sort of thing I can talk myself into or out of, depending.

So we'll see.

* * * * *

Did I mention that it was very sunny today?

* * * * *

And Christmas is coming,  have you heard?  And Solstice.  And next week Dragonstar and I will be wandering south for a few days to spend time with unschooling friends, so I may or may not have something up for you between now and Christmas Eve.

Here's to maintaining some semblance of sanity and goodwill toward others in the meantime. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Make a List

Poor December.  So many people have issues with you.  You come so fast on the heels of Thanksgiving (especially this year) and we're always unprepared.  We've barely had time to enjoy the gourds and Indian corn and now we have to swap them out for wreaths and icicle lights.  We're just not ready.

And I hate to be the one to tell you, December, but all those glittery cards and soupy carols notwithstanding, you bring way more stress than peace.  Which is not your fault -- we truly don't know how to do holidays well in this country anymore.  But still. 

Which reminds me.  That big blowout party at the end?  It usually sucks.

I'm so sorry. 

But take heart, December.  There's one thing that you're so very good at (besides bringing my birthday around every year.)  You're the month of lists.  And, honey, people LOVE lists.

Christmas lists.  To-do lists.  Do-we-have-enough-spinach-dip lists.  And all those end-of-the-year Best-Of lists that we pretend to loathe but secretly relish. 

Some people love their lists so much, they start them early.  Havi offered up her Lentil List on Thanksgiving, and then some of Havi's people shared their own Lentil Lists (one of which was actually an Aleve List.)  You can see one of my lists tomorrow over at Out of Hand Art (it's a list in nine stanzas, just because that's how it came out) and while you won't be able to read it until it posts (sometime around 4 a.m.), if you wander over there today you'll get my take on why gentle artful types have a hard time at holiday parties, and what to do about it.  Which is pretty appropriate for the season, too.

Anyway. 

The Queen of the End-of-the-Year List has to be Colleen at Communicatrix.  Every year she posts her amazing 100-Things-I-Learned-This-Year list (here's Part I of last year's) which puts every other list in its category to shame.  Truly.  And while she hasn't said she's going to do it again this year, she damn well better because I'm counting on her.

Last year I borrowed the idea and wrote my own list of Things I Learned.  I didn't have anywhere near 100 items on my list because I'm not a Virgo and I'm kind of lazy.  But it was still enlightening, and I'm thinking I might do it again. It's that time of year, people.

December.  She's not exactly a secret.  We know when to expect her -- it's right there on the calendar.  And yet, no matter how many times we travel around the sun, she still catches us by surprise.

It's not her fault.  Try to find some reasons to love her.  Maybe you can make a list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

To be radical
is to be whole
where so much is broken
and grateful for what is
in the face of all that isn't.

Let's be radical today.
And tomorrow, too.
Thanks for being you.
That's all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Fridge Story

For nearly six months the supermarket down the road has been doing most of our refrigeration for us.

It's been an interesting experiment.

Not that it began as an experiment. (Do these things ever?) It began with some cussing. Okay, a lot of cussing.

When the big fridge in our kitchen died this past summer we looked at the hole in our family wallet where the money wasn't, looked at the car repair that we'd just committed to and would be another six months paying off, and didn't see how a fridge purchase was going to fit into the picture.

Fridges are expensive, people. In case you didn't know.

So we decided we'd get creative until our money picture changed. I had a small dorm cube in the garage that I'd bought when I had my gallery by the river, and I brought it inside, and for the last six months, that's what we've used.

Now I realize that not having a great big fridge in the kitchen is a First World problem.  And no, this isn't a post about our "sacrifice" and our "making do" and "going without."  It's about something else.  But I'll just tell the story, and leave it to you to glean any meaning from it.

Anyway.

Anyone who's ever used a dorm cube knows there's not a lot of room in there. Once you add a six-pack and some leftover Chinese takeout, it's full.  Also, my cube had no freezer compartment, so at first we wondered what we would do for ice (nothing -- we did without ice) and how we'd manage without a supply of ice cream and those handy frozen insta-meals (somehow we got by).  It just took a bit of adjustment. Was it a hassle?  Sometimes, but less often than one might think.

And as time went on, some unexpected benefits emerged.  I realized that not having a big fridge meant not having a big fridge to fill.  Or clean.  That it was easier and took a lot less time to think about our food a day or two at a time instead of planning for a week of meals.  That it was a lot quicker and simpler to shop for a few items than a whole cart-full.

I know this is not what they tell you when they tell you how to shop, and no, I couldn't make big pots of soup or pasta sauce for use over several meals. But honestly, small pots of soup and sauce -- enough for a single meal, maybe with a small portion left over for someone's lunch -- taste just as good. And go together quicker.  I'm just saying.

So we created few leftovers, because there was no room to store them. And when we did have a six-pack in the house -- which is infrequent, but it happens -- only a couple bottles went into that cube at a time.  We learned to anticipate our needs.  And to simplify our options.  Imagine that.

For a few weeks I missed my convenient frozen vegetables. And my convenient frozen pizzas. But within a couple months I'd reconfigured my cooking and storage to take advantage of all the stuff that doesn't need refrigeration. Fresh vegetables would sit on my counter instead of in the crisper drawer, and we'd use them that day or the next. Overripe bananas didn't accumulate in the freezer, waiting for the day I would get around to baking a loaf of banana bread. When they were sitting on the counter, getting blacker by the moment, it was clear that today was banana bread day.

I was concerned that it would be more expensive to shop this way. Guess what.  It was not.

This came as somewhat of a surprise, given all we're told about food budgeting and once-a-week shopping. But over the six months of this experiment I've concluded that keeping our fridges crammed full of food benefits the food marketers more than it does us. The truth is, the kind of things most of us put in our freezers -- the frozen pizzas and insta-meals -- are expensive.  And a full fridge means that all kinds of things -- leftovers, for example, and vegetables (which are also kind of pricey) -- get lost or forgotten.  When everything is more or less visible all the time, very little gets overlooked, and almost nothing goes to waste.

Anyway, the experiment was supposed to end this morning, when the delivery truck was scheduled to bring our new, smallish-but-still-more-standard-size fridge. (It's very hard to find a small fridge of any quality on this side of the Atlantic. Or the Pacific. The Europeans and Japanese have it all over us in this regard.)  But alas, the one they brought arrived with a big scratch along its very visible exterior side. They'll return with another one in a few days.

Somehow I think we'll survive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interspecies Communication

We have a raccoon living under the eaves of our carport.

The carport shares a common wall with our laundry area, and two of our indoor cats have taken to patrolling that wall, shoving laundry products aside to sit on the shelf and listen, occasionally tapping at the wall with their paws.

I have yet to hear the raccoon tap back.  Perhaps he or she only does so in the wee small hours, since everyone knows that's the best time to send messages to the other side.

It's a very big raccoon, by the way.  It makes me a little nervous to know it's living in the eaves of my carport.

* * *

Speaking of sending messages to the other side, here's one I'd like to send: "Is there another planet where all the sane people are?"

Item: On a day set aside for Remembrance, members of our illustrious Congress refused to debate a particular Veterans health care bill because the means by which it will be paid haven't been specified. Never mind that the bills approving the wars in which those veterans serve never seem to come with a "how will this be paid?" clause.

Notice this is not about arguing the merits of the bill.  Maybe it's a terrible bill.  Maybe it won't do what it's supporters claim it will do. (And what a surprise that would be.)  But how will we know?  They're refusing to debate the thing at all.

Here's another question I'd like to send to the other side: Why do I have to pay these guys' salaries?

* * *

While we're on the subject of inter-species communication, I hung out with some schooly people last night, my first real socializing since Dragonstar and I returned last week from ARGH. The occasion was a new book group.  I've never belonged to a book group.  But there was the promise of wine and tasty things to eat, so I figured what the hell.

All of the participants are artists, but aside from that they're all fairly mainstream people, so in between suggestions for things to read, there was a lot of schooly talk about high school sons and daughters and school discipline and extracurricular this and college-prep that.

When my turn came to say something, I talked a bit about unschooling and the ARGH gathering.  It was not exactly the conversation spark I'd hope it would be.

Now, I've known most of these women for awhile and I know damn well they don't know what to make of me and this whole unschooling thing.  But this is the midwest, and people here are generally polite. Which means they nod in all the right places, and wait until you leave the room to say what they really think.

So they all nodded when I talked of being among our tribe for a few glorious days, of kids moving freely through the campsite, dressed in all their wild unschooly finery, of people grabbing their neighbors for an impromptu porch-sit or a shared meal. I mentioned the sweetness of wandering along the shaded paths among the cabins, feeling satisfied and peaceful and at home.

And then I stopped talking.  And the room got very quiet.

And finally someone praised the hummus.  And that was that.

I like my fellow artists here.  They're vibrant women -- to a one.  But especially coming on the heels of ARGH, it's not nearly as fun to hang out with people when I'm the only unschooler in the room.

I was thinking that it might be too self-serving to suggest we read my unschooling manifesto, but maybe the group can tackle Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook.

It might get them talking, anyway

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Four Days in a Parallel Universe

It wasn't a completely unplugged experience in the Eastern Tennessee mountains. Dragonstar had her tiny netbook with her and I used it to send a "we have arrived, all is well" email message to the BBPiT.

But still.

Days went by without an internet connection. How (unexpectedly) rejuvenating.

Well, just being in the mountains is (not unexpectedly) rejuvenating. And the ones to the east are particularly so.

At least, the ones whose tops are still intact.

Are we appalled by mountaintop mining? Gah. But all of our cabins had electricity and hot water and central heat and air. Where do you suppose that electricity came from? This isn't windmill country we're talking about. And now here I am, back in my cozy warm house, surrounded by my electronic this and plugged in that, all of it dependent on that coal-fired power plant up the river.

Hell's bells. My life is full of contradiction.

* * *

Anyway, in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee I met a woman who played Old Time music and shared her dulcimers and tub bass and guitar and banjo with anyone who wandered into her circle. We strummed and sang through "Skip to My Lou" and "I'll Fly Away" and "Shady Grove" and she made her case for the value of community music.

"It's not show-off music," she told me. "Bluegrass is show-off music. Everybody just waits for their turn to come around so they can show off. Community music isn't about showing off. It's about everybody playing and singing together."

She wanted to make sure we got the point.

"Bluegrass comes from the flatland up north. This is mountain music."

* * *
We were in the mountains for a gathering of unschoolers. We spent our days swapping stories, sharing meals, connecting.

I mentioned to someone before we went that attending an unschooler gathering is like slipping into a parallel universe, where everything is familiar, just a little slant.

Among our group are vegans and anarchists and farmers and lawyers and professionals and two-income families and military families and those who drive SUVs and minivans and those who drive hybrids. There are hippies and video gamers and nerf-warriors. There are blended families and nuclear families and same-sex parents and single parents. There are nurses and midwives and artists and writers and a former school teacher or two.

In other words, we look pretty much like the rest of society. And we live pretty much like the rest of society, in houses, with central heat, and televisions, and computers, and refrigerators.

We just don't do school. And what a difference that makes.

* * *

Ah, well. Today is not a day to draw conclusions. I'm still in re-entry mode. I expect I'll have stuff to say later about difference and sameness.

And anarchy and unschooling.

And music-making.

And mountaintop mining.

I always do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hundred Thousand Others and a Hundred Thousand More


Homelessness is the worse stigma in America, worse than being fat, than being unemployed, than being a person of color, than being mentally ill or being a criminal. Homelessness is the equivalent of being all those things at one time.

Becky Blanton
My friend Becky Blanton, someone I've written about before, has produced terrific a free e-book called Homeless for the Holidays that offers practical advice about giving to the homeless this holiday season (and year-round) in ways that truly make a difference.

The e-book lists all kinds of things that homeless people actually need (good socks, 12-volt appliances, pre-paid cell phones, a backpack or carryall), 101 ideas for ways you can help that really help.

It's well-designed and includes lots of information about homelessness in America, including Becky's own story of the year she found herself without work, living in her van with her dog. (Three years later she was giving a talk about it at TEDGlobal in Oxford, England.)

You can download the e-book pdf here.

And while I have you, and on a related subject, the ever-acerbic Joe Bagaent has much to say about the American way of work in this post from Ajijo, Mexico.

Finally, because it seems appropriate, and because it's probably first among many of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs, I'll leave you with the lyrics to "I Ain't Got No Home," a song he wrote in 1938 to the tune of a popular Baptist hymn of the time, "This World is Not My Home." Where the hymn counseled the poor and displaced to accept their fate and seek their home in the next life, Woody's lyrics turned that sanguine notion on its head.


I ain't got no home, I'm just a ramblin' around
Work when I can get it, I roam from town to town
The police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I was farmin' shares and always I was done
My debts they was so many they wouldn't go around
Drought got my crops and Mr. Banker's at my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Six children I have raised, they're scattered and they're gone
And my darling wife to heaven she has flown
She died of the fever upon the cabin floor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been workin' mister since the day that I was born
I worry all the time like I never did before
Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Now I just ramble around to see what I can see
This wide wicked world is a funny place to be
The gamblin' man is rich and the workin' man is poor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I'm stranded on this road that goes from sea to sea
A hundred thousand others are stranded here with me
A hundred thousand others and a hundred thousand more
I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Strong at the Broken Parts? Not So Much.

My friend Anne had a moment at a coffee shop this morning. She wrote*:
"(I'm) finding it very difficult to be here at the coffee-shop surrounded by LOUD, disrespectful parenting. Time to take my pumpkin spice macchiato and LEAVE, to create my own Shining Bubble of Bliss, where children's Voices (AND the adults' Voices) are Heard, Honored and Respected and Celebrated."
My friend Ren posted this quote from James Bach of Buccaneer Scholar last night*:
"When you speak to your children today, you are also speaking to every day of their future selves. Parenting is outside of time. Take care and take heart in that."

* * *

Separated by the better part of a day, the two posts spoke to me in a single voice. That voice said,

This culture is hell on kids.

And, It doesn't have to be that way.

* * *

The most difficult part for me in Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story was the section about kids being sent to a juvenile jail for offenses such as throwing food. They were jailed in order to fatten the bank accounts of a corrupt judge with a financial interest in the jail.

To the judge, to the entire system, these kids weren't people. They were profit centers.

This culture is hell on kids.

(and it doesn't have to be that way.)

* * *

There was a viral video that made the rounds a week or two ago, a public service announcement reminding us -- for about the ten-gazillionth time -- that kids learn by modeling adult behavior.

Well, no shit.

* * *

I don't go out among the milling crowds anymore. I don't go to places where there is likely to be a lot of conventional parent-child interaction, because so much of it is just too painful to see. I wonder sometimes if I'm becoming a recluse.

I wonder if this is such a bad thing.

* * *

The other day I read a headline that stated that kids who are spanked have lower IQs. Whatever you might think of the whole IQ thing (not much, I say) it doesn't take a genius to realize that kids who wrap themselves in protective armor to shield against the blows of a hostile world aren't likely to come to new situations with the open hearts and minds that serve as markers of intelligence.

And guess what.

Belittling is a blow. Ridicule is a blow. Inattention, lack of respect, threats, manipulation, coercion, withdrawal of affection, these are all weapons against which kids will create their bulwark, their shielding armor that ends up deflecting not just the poisoned arrows but also the beckoning call of the world to engage and explore and interact and grow.

To what end is this violence to the bodies and souls of our kids perpetrated?

What is gained by it?

What is lost?

* * *

Some people understand unschooling to be an educational philosophy. And it is partly that. The root word educere means to draw out. Conventional parenting interprets this drawing out as a teacher-student/dominant-subordinate paradigm -- the adult extracting the correct answers and desired behavior from the child.

But among unschoolers it is more often perceived to be the world that beckons, the world that draws us out, so that we might interact, form relationships, learn, play, contemplate, become co-creators, figure out our place and our way. All of which requires us to be permeable to the world.

Not armored. Not fortressed. Not afraid. But open.

The world needs us to be open to it.

* * *

I love the world. I really do. But the people....

This is a long post. I don't know how to wrap it up, because there is no closure for an ongoing cultural dysfunction. I'll just leave you with the words of one of my favorite bumperstickers and hope that it carries you, open-hearted, into the day.

World Peace Begins At Home
Be Nicer to Your Kids

*posted on facebook

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bless This Online Community

Dreaming, dreaming.

I've been keeping up with Sharon over at Casaubon's Book, who wrote this beautiful post on dreaming a garden into being. Woebegone gardener tho I am, she almost has me convinced to start digging once more.

And I couldn't agree more with her conclusion:

... without a vision, without a dream, without asking that question “what do you see” we can’t begin to make it into something real.

I have an art studio in my garage now, remember, that came into being on the wings of a vision.

And a book.

And a life.

Which reminds me. I write so little that is specifically about unschooling in this blog and my usual explanation is that our entire lives are about unschooling. But sometimes things come up that perfectly illuminate our unschooling world. Like yesterday, when the house was filled with the lilt of Dragonstar on her tinwhistle, one of the sweetest sounds from one of the sweetest instruments ever created. Her music-making was born in solitary moments when she was left alone to figure things out, and it learned to walk among music-making friends who welcomed her and let her find her way among the notes within the safety of their group.

Not everyone needs or wants formal instruction. Not everyone needs to be told "go practice."

There you go. Unschooling.

Speaking of which, and in tandem with Sharon's poetic vision about gardens, I read some recent posts from my friend and fellow unschooler Ren Allen that gave me not just food but a feast for thought. First was "Wild and Precious." A taste:

Right here under my feet there is earth to till and above me stars to inspire awe. There are children who need parents and trees that need saving. There is more here than we can take in. And people are worried about college?

Then came an article co-written for a German magazine called Unerzogen, in which Ren writes about her son:
I knew without a shred of doubt that therapy and schooling would shatter my child's vision of himself, make him doubt where there was only confidence, create "broken" where there was "whole". I couldn't do it. So on dark days when I wasn't the best mother in that moment, or I wondered if we were indeed doing him a disservice by not seeking out more (more of what I'm not sure) I found that quiet confidence born of tapping into community. Yes, that online community of words and thoughts given by strangers oft times. Strangers who had faith that their child needed no labels, needed no "fix" but needed the same trust that all children deserve.
Do yourself a kindness and read Ren's article and post, and Sharon's vision. If they don't get you ready to embrace the day, I don't know what will.

As for me, I am forever in awe of, inspired by, and grateful to, this amazing online community.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gratitude + Stardust

So a bunch of unschooler friends are heading to a Big Unschooler Gathering this weekend on a beach in South Carolina and here we are all Envious in Indiana. Sort of like Sleepless in Seattle without the email thing.

There are so many awesome unschooler meetups these days. Sandra Dodd is having a small one in November and a larger one in January. Dayna Martin is hosting an unschooling cruise to Bermuda at the end of October. For our part, Dragonstar and I are counting the days (23!!) until we leave for ARGH, the Autodidact Radical Gathering of Homeschoolers that happens every spring and fall in eastern Tennessee.

We are so ready.

Dragonstar would like to move to eastern Tennessee. There are Good Reasons why we don't, but they will be Good Reasons only for a few more years. After that...

Meanwhile we're grateful to be here in Indiana, which is among only ten states that do not place restrictions on homeschooling. (Yes, that's one of those Good Reasons.)

In the city down the road they're midway through the celebration of one of the largest and oldest street festivals in the country, the Westside Nutclub Fall Festival. Carnival, street fair, music, and the strangest food this side of Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine. (Chocolate-dipped bacon, anyone?) It's not my thing -- I don't take to milling crowds -- but I like that it happens. It's so very local. All the food booths are run by local organizations and schools and churches and civic groups (there is a long waiting list to get a booth) and the whole thing has a distinctive nowhere-else-but-here vibe. More gratitude: I don't have to love going to it to appreciate what a rare and valuable community thing it is.

In other news...

Things seem to have calmed down somewhat with the passing of summer, though I'm not so optimistic to believe that sanity will gain a foothold in this world anytime soon. Case in point: this report about the police response to the use of Twitter by activists at the meeting of the G20 in Pittsburgh last month.

Not to go all political on you, but we took Iran to task recently for doing that very thing, did we not?

Yes, I think we did.

In light of that last item, and given likelihood of continuing insanity as the world wakes up from history, I'll leave you with this gem from Joanna Macy (from the Gratefulness.org website.)

Act Your Age

Since every particle in your body goes back to the first flaring forth of space and time, you're really as old as the universe. So when you are lobbying at your congressperson's office, or visiting your local utility, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, or standing up to protect an old grove of redwoods, you are doing that not out of some personal whim, but in the full authority of your 15 billions years.

We are stardust, people. Go shine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Cleaning


It's a flannel shirt kind of morning. Dragonstar, the BBPiT and I have been watching old episodes of Northern Exposure on dvd, motivated (perhaps) by a desire to acclimate to the increasing chill.

There are bakery croissants on the counter and a mug of tea cooling on the stove, and a house to make ready for winter.

Ambitious, that last item.

When I was a kid my mom used to do "fall cleaning," a thorough, top-to-bottom effort that involved piles and piles of dust rags and a lot of moving of furniture. It took two weeks to get it all done. And ours was not a large house.

Personally, I thought it was a little much. All that taking down and hanging up. All those tools on the vacuum cleaner put to constant use. I vowed I would never be so seasonally manic about cleaning.

And I'm not.

Oh, am I not.

But the other day, in the spirit of the changing seasons, I did take a broom to my multi-purpose front room, and yesterday I dusted bookshelves.

I see you snickering. But really, I have a lot of bookshelves.

Anyway, as I swept and dusted, I realized (after a mere five years of living in this house) that energy collects in one certain corner of my front room (as evidenced by the copious dust bunnies hiding there). And where energy collects, things can stagnate. Creative efforts can stall, just like the dust bunnies, unable to circulate, clinging to the underside of daily routine.

Hmm.

The front room is where I do my "indoor art." Fabric work and journal pages and other relatively tidy stuff (as opposed to the messy stuff I do in the garage. Studio. Whatever.) And I have a pile of this indoor art to finish in time for a holiday fair next month.

And I've been procrastinating.

Hmm.

We used to snark about my mom's need to rearrange the furniture twice a year (there was spring cleaning, too), but in the days before any of us had ever heard of feng shui, she was putting it into practice.

Pretty smart, that woman.

* * *

While I have you here, and speaking of creative efforts, I finally relaunched my art blog, Out of Hand Art, on a new blogging platform and with a new emphasis on creative adventure. Come visit when you have a chance. There will be tea. And maybe even croissants.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Equilibrium

It's easy to love the autumn. Are you sighing with relief, too? It's been an unsettled year. Unsettled, unsettling. Summer brings out the worst in us, I think.

But now it's fall, when things come back down to the ground.

The other day I saw a squirrel going up a utility pole carrying an unshelled walnut as big as its head. Pretty adorable. The funny-looking winter squashes are in the supermarket, soup is on the menu again, pumpkins are showing up on porches.

It's all so reassuring.

Yes, yes, it's a passing thing. The arrival of autumn means winter is coming. And winter is a tougher love. But everything's a passing thing, and we'll get to winter in due time.

Meanwhile, leaves are falling, just like embers, as Rowland Salley wrote in "Killing the Blues," a great autumn song that doesn't have much to do with autumn beyond its opening line, but has everything to do with changes. John Prine does a great version. Shawn Colvin, too. (Robert Plant and Alison Krause, not so much.)

Anyway, autumn. The bittersweet season. Find some balance while you can.

That's all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arrr, The Day Be Sunny and Pleasin' to Me Eye


And if I had a sailing ship, I'd be on it, matey.

For those of ye needin' to tune up yer Pirate dialect, hoist yer main sails and set off for Savage Chickens for some Talk Like a Pirate Day chicken humor. Arrr.



Monday, September 14, 2009

A Peek At My New Art Space

It's not very organized yet and everything takes three times longer than it should because I'm having to dig through boxes looking for that one thing I need that I know is in there someplace... but after working in the corner of my dining room for the past two years, it's groovy to have a bit of room to spread out.

Sprawl space.

I'm still calling it "the garage" tho. What's up with that? It's my s-t-u-d-i-o.

Lower right in the pic you'll see my new mosaic table. The tabletop -- standard white veneer over particleboard -- and its rusted chrome base came to me in two pieces from my very cool neighbor Vicky, who knew I liked playing with broken tiles. And I do. And I was delighted.

But then the thing sat on my carport getting cruddier and rustier through two winters and a summer before I finally got around to doing something with it. Now it's a table again. A pretty one, even.

The three book covers on the table are for art journals. They're recycled from kid's books. I rip the pages out and replace them with signatures of art paper and sketch paper and such. I've got a bunch of them to make for an upcoming art fair. It's taking me forever to get them done, once again because I'm looking high and low for that one dang thing I know I put away for exactly this purpose and now it's nowhere to be found.

O well.

This is me feeling very productive, nonetheless.

And how is your September going?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hello Random My Old Friend

Back from August hiatus. Stumbling into September, the awesome month of transformation, tipping into shadow with the equinox, the long slow in-breath of the coming winter.

Hello!

I took a survey from my power company this morning. Would I be willing to spend $x to save $y? If only all of life's equations were that simple. We are in coal-burning country here. Lawmakers are beholden. Workers are beholden. Hell, we're all beholden.

Yes, I'd like to use less energy. Yes, I'd like a programmable thermostat that will display my cost-per-kilowatt. Yes, I'd like to have clean air and halt the progress of climate change. But the only number that will assure a no-emission future is zero. Everything else is just rearranging deck chairs.

Don't the umbrella tables look nice by the railing?

In the better-late-than-never department, I finally turned my garage into my art studio. It only took 18 months of procrastination and three days of "damn, there's a lot of junk in here."

What is it about getting started that is so difficult? Yes, yes, it's all in the physics. Overcoming inertia.

And laziness.

And mosquitoes. (Helpful tip: a garage fan works amazingly well.)

Reader, it's been a buggy month. Tiny mosquitoes everywhere. The little swallows that live in the apartment-on-a-pole by the river are pinwheeling about at sunset. They are a joy to watch. And they're eating well.

So there's that.

Speaking of September, there's a new unschooling carnival up at The Expanding Life. It's the Not-Back-to-School Edition. Good carnival. Good blog. Good life.

That's all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Thought It Was Just About Pepsi in the Cafeteria?

(note: original link appears to be inoperative as of 8/7, so I've replaced it with a cached link to the same story. Sorry for the hassle, and thanks to Niels for bringing the broken link to my attention.)

Yet another reason why school is no place to send a kid.

It's all madness.

Madness.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Farming For Artists

The answer to my gardening woes (if only I lived in Maryland): I could go to the Maryland Institute College of Art to learn how to be... a farmer. How cool is that?

Says one graduate (who entered the college intending to become a sculpture and graduated a farmer):
"Artists are already practiced in perception, in awareness. Growing food involves so much looking and observing and just awareness."
Farming for artists. So there is hope for me, after all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Which I Flunk Gardening, Again


I've said it before: I'm a crappy gardener.

I love plants. I love digging in dirt. But I'm a total flop at getting edible things to grow in my backyard.

My lettuce bolts before I can harvest more than a handful.

My squash plants flower and never fruit.

My cucumbers never even flower.

When things do grow they do so on their own with no help from me. Like the blackberries, which were here when we moved in. And anyway the blackberries don't feed my family because just as they approach glossy ripe perfection, the neighborhood birds swoop in and claim the entire crop. (Have you ever seen how fast a few birds can clear out a patch of brambleberry fruit? Amazing.)

I don't begrudge the birds. We all have to eat. I'm just saying, I haven't figured out a way to make this grow-your-own-food thing work for me.

So I'm kind of frustrated.

That's all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Can Unschooling Change the World?

(This is a bit of a piece I posted earlier this month on my Wordpress site. In case you haven't visited me there, or didn't know I'd taken up dual residence, consider this an invitation to come on over.)

* * *

I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which the industrial economy might give way to a natural economy.
I wonder what will it take to move from a culture of exploitation to a culture of reciprocity. To move from a culture of abuse to a culture of care for people and places and living things.
What will have to change? Everything? All of us?
Probably.
We’re certainly going to have to learn to think differently. And what do you suppose the chances of that are?
Okay. It’s Going to Take a Miracle.

(click here to read the full article)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

When Things Get Noisy

Fourth of July, Midwest, USA. My normally quiet (and recently very quiet) neighborhood is exploding all around me. My cats are hiding under the beds.

The city ten miles down the river spends about $60,000 on fireworks every July 4th. Last night the BBPiT played a private party out in corn and soybean country where the hosts spent more than $5,000 on fireworks. Crazy.

I don't like the sound of stuff blowing up. I guess that makes me a pinko or something. O well.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When Things Get Quiet

A couple days ago my vacuum cleaner decided not to work anymore. Yesterday, my refrigerator quit.

Here is what I thought as I swept my floors and contemplated a fridge-free life: I could get used to this.

Late this afternoon, the power went out in my neighborhood. For about 30 minutes, everything inside and out was so very quiet.

I am re-reading Derrick Jensen's Endgame, the two-part, thousand-page exploration of civilization and its ravages.

Here is what I thought as I sat in the stillness, with the afternoon sun on the pages of my book: I could get used to this.

And: I will probably have to.

And: one way or another, it will be okay.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who's Your Tribe?

My tribe is a question, an open door.

My tribe is a story. We are all stories. We tell and tell again.

My tribe is discernment. We wonder what belongs. (Do I? Do you?) We ask what helps, what hurts. (Do you? Do I?)

My tribe is a path, a line of desire. So many desires. So many paths entwined.

My tribe is holy. (Everything is holy.)

Are you in?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Co-Housing - Why is it "Left"?

(cross-posted from Over the Wall)

The Rag Blog has re-posted a piece from the New York Times about co-housing that makes the idea sound positively... mainstream.

“For a long time we’d always be referred to as ‘communes for the ’90s’ or ‘the new commune,’ ” said Mr. Ragland of the Cohousing Association. “But increasingly people are seeing that it’s really just a new type of neighborhood.”

The piece is a snapshop, a brief examination of what co-housing is and why it may be appealing -- or not. (Pets are an issue. Surprise.) But what caught my eye was the headline:

"To Your Left, a Better Way of Life?"

So... Neighborly interaction, a village-like setting, kids playing outside, these represent a leftist agenda?

Maybe it was the idea of communal kitchens and gathering spaces. Because we all know that only liberals like to cook together and hang out together. Or maybe it was the decision-making process, which in some communities is based on consensus. Because we know that only liberals like to have their concerns, desires and opinions taken into account before critical decisions affecting their daily lives are made.

Co-housing seeks to ameliorate the atomization of contemporary, post-industrial culture by creating -- or re-creating -- functional, human-scale neighborhoods. To characterize this as leftist is to misrepresent what is at root a basic human desire for interaction and socially-satisfying living arrangements. In fact, the article's author, Chris Colin -- who is presumably not responsible for the headline -- made mention of the "Norman Rockwellian" appeal of these communities.

And we all know what a Red he was.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part III)

This is the third and final post in my brief series, Adventures with Lulu. Part I offers some thoughts on why I decided to publish my book with Lulu, the online print-on-demand company. Part II gives you a glimpse into the process I undertook to create my book. In this post, I share some last thoughts on design issues and what happens after you hit "publish."

* * *

When last we met, I had left off with a (more or less) completed book in need of a cover. Let me say a few words today about covers.

We Have Issues

I had a wonderful cover illustration in mind when I first began my Lulu odyssey. It did not survive the cover design process. The cover design process was, shall we say, a royal pain in the ass.

I'll preface by admitting I have issues with Lulu's book covers. They're glossy. I don't like glossy. The boilerplate templates are insipid. The instructions will get you through the process, but if you're looking for more substantial cover design help from Lulu, you'll have to pay for it. And honestly, you might want to do that if you have your heart set on your book looking a certain way.

Because otherwise...

I've seen some gorgeous book covers in Lulu's marketplace, so I know people can and do produce them. I just wasn't up to the task. And I'm such a bull-headed DIY-er that I didn't want to turn any of the process over to someone else.

So apparently my issues are not all with Lulu.

The good news is, by the time you get to this point in the publishing process, you will have either learned to accede to Lulu or you will have given up. I think they plan it that way.

My advice when it comes to designing your book goes double for designing your cover: know your limitations. The process of converting original artwork into a cover that looks great on your book is best left to those who know a lot more than I do about digital design.

As you can see from the photo in the sidebar on the right, I ended up creating a very simple cover for my book. It consists of text and background color. Nothing more. It's not at all what I originally envisioned, but I've come to like it well enough. It's black and red, my favorite color scheme. And it's simple and straightforward, which suits the simple, straightforward contents of my book.

And Then I Hit Publish

But was I finished? I was not. There were still a bunch of decisions to be made. Mostly they had to do with money and publishing rights and ISBNs and such. I waded through it. It didn't kill me.

I had fun playing with the price calculators. My original hope was to be able to price my book at $10, but that was too low a price to allow me to sell it through Amazon -- between Lulu's fixed charge and Amazon's markup, I would have been paying them to carry it for me. So I had to bump the price a bit, but then I added the very-low-price download option, and that made me feel better.

I had fun making my storefront.

And I took particular delight in getting my first sale, a download to my friend (and fellow unschooler) Kris.

In Sum

Lulu has its problems, and its detractors. It is, first and foremost, self-publishing for amateurs -- people who want to be authors, not those looking to establish book-publishing empires or see their books on the shelves of the local big-box merchants. There is nothing wrong with either of those goals -- it's just that Lulu is not the best way to achieve them.

Lulu's pricing structure leads to a higher per-book cost than you'd find with, say, CreateSpace, though it's much less than online publishers xlibris or iuniverse, which follow a different business model.

As it irons out bugs and correct problems, Lulu sometimes leaves old information in the archives and the faqs, which can lead to no small amount of confusion. And it can be precipitous in its policy changes, as it was recently when it made books available to Amazon Marketplace without first informing its authors that it was doing so.

That said, I found the process of publishing with Lulu to be pretty damn satisfying. The company markets itself as a simple way to get your book into print and available for purchase, and it pretty much delivers on those promises. It lived up to my expectations. I would do it again. And probably will soon.

* * *

101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler is available in two versions through Lulu. One is a relatively inexpensive print version that will come to you in a handy, reusable shipping box. The other is a ridiculously inexpensive digital download that's extremely readable and very kind to trees. You can visit my Lulu store here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part ll)


In Adventures with Lulu, Part I, I shared some thoughts on the self-publishing process in general and why I decided to publish my book with the online print-on-demand company, Lulu. Today, a bit of the nuts-and-bolts stuff of how that process worked for me.

As always, feel free to share your own experiences or ask questions in the comment section.

* * *
Okay, then. In order to publish a book on Lulu, you need three things:

1. a manuscript
2. some idea of how you want the interior of your book to look
3. a simple cover design

All three of these things can -- and probably will -- change as you go along. Change is good. This is a learning process.


The Manuscript


Once you've said all you have to say, and you're happy with how you've said it, you have a manuscript. Show it to people or don't show it to anyone. It's up to you. Get someone to proofread it or do it yourself. That's also up to you. Just know that if you proofread your own work, you can expect to find mistakes even after your 27th time though it. The more familiar you are with the material, the less likely you are to notice mistakes. I speak from experience.

I also speak from experience when I say that you might decide, somewhere around the 14th time through your manuscript, that you've written a boring piece of crap that no one will want to read. Never mind. Ignore yourself, and proceed with your publishing.


The Interior


Now that you have the words you want, you have to decide where you want them. In other words, you need to imagine your manuscript as a book. Here's where you will either kiss Lulu or curse her, depending.

The difference between a book and a manuscript is in the design. A book is an arrangement of elements -- a title page and other front matter, headers and footers, page numbers, text, artwork, etc. When you publish with a traditional publishing company, they take care of all of this for you. When you self-publish, you have to attend to it yourself.

Lulu helps you, somewhat -- they'll happily take a chunk of money from you to do the design work for you, and you may find that comforting, especially if you're easily frustrated and expect to get things right the first time or two you do them. But if you're more of a DIY kind of person, and you're willing to spend some time and learn as you go, then by all means give design a try.

But first...

Get Acquainted with the Process

First, peruse the forums and faqs looking for tips and tricks to help you along. If nothing else, this will help you familiarize yourself with the issues other people have had, and can serve as a "I know I read about this somewhere" reminder when you run into trouble with your own project. Which you probably will.

Once more with feeling: it's a learning process.

In my case, I had a bear of a time with page breaks. And blank pages. And page numbering. I'm still not entirely happy with the page numbering for 101. It's a Microsoft Word thing, not a Lulu thing, and Lulu does offer helpful suggestions for getting it right. I just couldn't get it to work for me, and in the end I decided to leave well enough alone.

It helped me a great deal to just pull some books off my shelf and look at how they were designed. I looked at the size of the typeface, and what went on the title page, and how big the margins were. I also made ample use of Google to search for design websites and self-publishing websites to learn what went where and why.

Lots to learn.

Lulu offers design suggestions, which will give you a place to start, but in the end, you can pretty much do what you want. It's your book.


Uploading Your Files

You can begin uploading your files as soon as you set up your account with Lulu -- which doesn't cost anything and requires no commitment on your part, as I indicated in Part I. This is good to know, because it means you can take a risk without, well, taking a risk. Think of it as publishing for peasants.

My manuscript was contained in a single file, so uploading was a snap. If your manuscript is made up of lots of separate files, you'll have to upload them individually, in the correct order. This can get confusing, especially when you begin making revisions. You will be tempted to curse the process. Instead, accede to Lulu. Try to limit the number of files you upload. Combine chapters into two or three files at most. It will help keep you sane.

If you have art or photos or tables or charts to put into the interior of your book, be prepared to spend some time getting them where you want them. Again, accede to Lulu. And when all else fails, ask for help.


Always Review

Once your files are loaded, Lulu will convert them to a pdf for your review. Always review your pdf. Always. Every time you revise. It's a slow process. You will become bored with it, and with your book. Never mind. Review the pdf anyway.

Expect to find mistakes. Typos, spelling errors, page break errors, blank pages inserted where you don't want them and missing where you do want them. Go back to your files, fix them and upload again.


Rinse and Repeat

You can revise and upload your files an unlimited number of times. This is a mixed blessing, since you can tweak and polish and edit and rewrite again and again, and never finish your damn project. I'm sure there are lots of people who live in this Lulu limbo -- be forewarned.

In my case, in addition to all the basic errors that had to be corrected, and revisions to the text that I made as I went along, I also changed my book size, twice. Each change required a complete re-formatting, and each re-formatting required several pdf conversions to get right. Oh well.

It's learning process.

Once you're happy enough with your interior files, you can start working on your cover. This is another great adventure, one I'll cover in Part III.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part l)

My relationship with the online publisher Lulu is in its early stages. My book has been available for sale for less than a month. I haven't received a revenue payment yet, since Lulu distributes revenue monthly or quarterly, depending on your agreement with them. I haven't used any of Lulu's extra services, or spent much time in its forums. I've barely got my storefront designed.

So it's all quite new, and I'm not ready to draw conclusions about the relationship beyond the tentative "so far, so good." What I can do is share some details of my experience to this point, from writing and designing my book to getting it ready for print, figuring out distribution, and getting my first sales.

But first...

Why Lulu?

I always knew I would self-publish my book. I didn't want to argue its merits to a publisher and I didn't want to wait a year or more to see it in print, so DIY was always part of the equation. The question for me was, how much DIY did I want to do?

When I began researching the subject, I looked into some very low-tech, very hands-on options to getting my book into print. I considered everything from going the zine route via Kinko's to getting my own book press. I eventually found a couple of useful blogs written by self-publishers and I joined an email group to get some first-hand advice.

None of these sources recommended the Lulu option.

Lulu is, after all, a "middle-man." Like its main competitor, Amazon's CreateSpace, Lulu takes your files and converts them to a print-ready format that it then sends to a print-on-demand printing company -- the same printing company you can work with directly if you so choose. So the cost per book with Lulu is higher than it would be if you skipped the middle-man and did your own file conversions and established an account with the printing company. This is what the independent publishers on that email list do. They don't mess with Lulu. Lulu is for amateurs. These people are pros, and they go right to the source.

So why did I end up choosing Lulu? Because I'm an amateur, and I'm happy to remain one (amateur: from the Latin amare, to love.)

I wanted a simple, inexpensive option. I wanted to experiment with self-publishing without the steeper learning curve, administrative details, or financial investment of a more hands-on approach. I didn't want the project to get bogged down in the not-so-fun stuff.

In other words, I wanted a book, not a bunch of headaches.

About that financial investment.

No matter which way you go, print-on-demand is very inexpensive. If you skip the middle-man, you might have to pay for document conversion software and design software, and you'll need to buy your ISBN. Without the middle-man's "wizards" you're on your own in that regard. But there are plenty of no-cost and low-cost options available -- open source software, free trials, working with a friend who has the software and/or expertise you lack, and so forth -- so it's good to check around before you commit to anything.

Still, with respect to your financial outlay, you can't get much lower than Lulu. There is no charge to open an account, upload your files, design your cover, or even to acquire your ISBN if you choose to let Lulu be your publisher (as opposed to you holding your publishing rights -- Lulu makes both options available.) You can create a digital book, download a pdf and stop right there and you'll have incurred no costs at all. Your only outlay -- and it's pretty minimal -- comes at the end of the process, when you order a print copy of your book for review, and you'll pay for one book (at your author's price, which is about half of your book's retail cost) and shipping (media mail is your least expensive choice, and it's as reliable as the USPS.) And even this one purchase is optional -- you can make your book available for sale without ever seeing a review copy.

Lulu doesn't charge you for any revisions you make, by the way, either before or after publishing, which is nice, because if you're like me, you'll make a bunch of revisions both along the way and after you first see your book in print. I ended up ordering three different review copies of my book before I was satisfied with it.

It helps to know what you want.

I chose Lulu because of what I wanted to get out of the experience: a book. Attaining a skill set for building an independent publishing company, finding the path to the greatest income or the broadest distribution for my effort, these are perfectly fine goals. They just weren't my primary concerns. I wanted to publish a book that people could buy. However many people. Over however long a period of time. No pressure, no worries, just a creative adventure.

When you know what you want, you can sift through expert advice to find the stuff that works for you. When you're not so sure what your real goals are, you can waste a lot of time running after other people's dreams, and getting very frustrated in the process. What fun is that?

My goal was to produce a simple book for a nominal investment, and enjoy myself in the process. And that's pretty much what I did.

Next: me & my manuscript meet the great Lulu maw.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tuning a Life

I've been a guitar player since I was a kid. I don't really speak the language of audio science, but I know that when two tones are "out of phase," their sound waves meet at less than optimum points and there is a loss of quality. Things don't sound good.

Musical instruments respond to their environment and to the exuberance with which they're played. It's their nature to go in and out of tune. Out-of-tune strings resonate at incompatible frequencies. They sound bad. They're "out of phase." Tuning your instrument brings its various tones into phase.

So does tuning a life.

When you're playing your guitar, you don't waste time wishing its out-of-tune strings were in tune, wondering how the strings got out of tune in the first place, thinking there is something wrong with a guitar that needs tuning. You just tune the damn thing and get on with your song. It's not a moral issue. The guitar doesn't need counseling or coaching or a 12-step program to help it stay in tune. What it needs is to be played, and listened to.

In other words, it needs care and attention.

And sometimes it needs a new set of strings.

Lives go in and out of tune all the time. Phases shift. Resonance decays. And as anyone who's ever put a new set of strings on a guitar knows, new strings need to be tuned more frequently than strings that have settled in.

Here's what I'm learning: that it's not the change itself that changes you. It's the care and attention you give yourself after you've made your change. Now is the time to listen very closely, and pay attention to the resonance. Because just putting on new strings isn't enough. They'll still sound like crap until they're tuned. And re-tuned. And tuned once again.

* * *

Dave Pollard at How to Save the World wrote a wonderful and thought-provoking review of 101 Reasons Why I'm an Unschooler this weekend, and it rocked my world, let me tell you. I don't know quite how to act, other than with care and attention, and a whole boatload of gratitude. Thank you, Dave.

And thank you, wonderful reader, be you new or returning. I'm grateful for your presence. Now let's tune up, and make some music.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler


Now available for purchase
as a printed paperback book
or as a download.
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
If you wander over to Lulu to take a look, please keep in mind that Lulu's online images aren't great. The actual book -- the one you can hold in your hands -- looks crisp and clean.

I'll probably share some thoughts about working with Lulu at some point, though I might be sharing them over on my other site. I hope you'll come visit there, too. Spare tho it may be over there at present, I do believe it'll feel more like home as soon as I hang some art and cook a few meals.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This Space Taken

I'm working on a new project. It's taken over the hours of my day, the days of my week. In a good way, but still. All that space I was holding? It's now filled up.

My unschooler manifesto, 101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler, should be available for sale in a few days. Or not. As soon as everything's set, I'll let you know where/how to order.

Regular blogging will resume shortly. Thanks for checking in.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Holding Space

I used to keep an empty wooden frame on my wall, above my work table. It was empty on purpose -- not because I didn't have anything to put into it, but because it was holding space for work as yet unmade. The painting not yet painted, the essay not yet written.

For a while now I've been living within that frame. I've been holding space, getting reacquainted with the idea of empty.

I've been doing it out of necessity. It's been more difficult than I anticipated.

Holding space takes more work than I'm usually willing to do. I like to have stuff going on. I like to have important things to do. I like being busy.

But I've been working at being not-so-busy. At being in-between. At letting things pass by me, and through me, and around me. Life as preposition.

Do I need to tell you it's been a wee bit uncomfortable? I didn't think so. But honestly, dear reader, sometimes this life feels like so much unsettled grit in a glass of water, all stirred up and clouding my perspective, and I need to just let it all settle for a time in order to see where I am.

Sometimes "for a time" takes longer than I expect. Lots of grit. Lots of swirling.

Some of the discomfort of letting things settle comes from identifying too much with the grit -- with mistaking myself for all the crazy stuff swirling around me. I confuse that stuff with who I am and what I'm doing. And then, as I let it fall away, I get anxious, wondering where my life went.

Where I went.

And then I blink, and things are a little clearer, and I think, oh, okay. Here I am, right where I've been all along.

Is it ever like that for you? I'm sure it is. I can't be the only one.

Anyway, as I hold this space and let old things fall away, I've been playing with a new blog on Wordpress, trying out a fresh canvas, seeing how I like their different way of doing things. There isn't much there yet, not even a bonafide post, so if you wander over don't come away disappointed. It's just me, holding space, taking a breath, getting a little clarity before I plunge back into muddy water.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Which I Get a Cell Phone

Check it out. That looks like spring to me, those petals open wide to the world like the mouths of newborn baby birds. Could it be time to crawl out of the burrow?

March is the month of the Dancing Hare, tonight the night of the Storm Moon.

This weekend Dragonstar and I will travel to the mountains of East Tennessee to spend four days with our unschooler friends. It's a seven-hour drive. We're expecting rain. I decided it's time to let practicality ride shotgun, and bought a cell phone for the trip.

Yes, I did. So now I have to change my pithy profile in the sidebar again. First we went from red state to blue in the national election, and now this.

Next thing you know, I'll be trading my cassettes for an iPod. And Twittering. May the gods have mercy on my soul.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Notes to Myself and Others

Things often seem to take longer when you're doing them than when you look back in retrospect and realize what you actually accomplished in a (very) short period of time.

And then there are those things that seem to take a long time because they really do take a long time.

Life, for example. Life takes a long time.

In my house is a box of stuff that contains all the tangible relics of my teenage years. The other day as I worked my way through a closet full of crap I unearthed that box and spent a few minutes (okay, more than a few) poking through it.

I found old journals, newspaper photos, poetry, a scrap of paper with the guitar chords to Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I found notes from old friends and notes from a play I was in when I was 12. I found notes I'd made for a novel I began when I was 15 and never finished, the first of several such novels.

I found a suicide note, which reminded me that even though I chide myself for letting so many of my ideas fall by the wayside, it's probably a good thing I don't act on all of them.

It's good that life is long.

In addition to cleaning out closets and rearranging my life, I've been compiling a list of unschooling links for a new web project and in my gallivanting came upon the mother lode of unschooling blogrolls, courtesy of Frank and Ronnie Maier's Blog of the Zombie Princess. Go visit and scroll down the sidebar on the right to find almost fifty windows into the everyday lives of unschoolers. It's an awesome and inspiring sight.

Meanwhile, my unschooling manifesto has passed through a last round of design tweaks and edits and has gone to print. I'm looking at a release sometime after Dragonstar and I return from a mid-month trip to Tennessee. It feels like it's taking a long time to bring this project to completion, but when I look back through my notes, it's only taken six months.

Or a lifetime, depending on when I begin counting.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Go Be Awesome

I'm writing a lot in longhand these days, scribbling in notebooks, making rambling lists, old ideas resurrected, new ones falling onto the page like embers from the campfires of the gods. I pull out journals from a year ago, two years ago, five. So many pages, all smelling of woodsmoke.

For the past two nights I've been watching the strange and poetic Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, a film as inscrutible as a dozen Dylan songs. It has taken two viewings for it to come into focus for me, and I'll probably watch it at least once more before sending it back to the video store.

February: the inscrutible month.

So what will you do today? Will you go be awesome? Will you be remarkable?

Tell me how it goes. I'll be here, with all these pages, and all these bits of ash.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clearing Out the Detritus

Dragonstar and I are thinking about our garden. The one I'm too lazy to tend. The one I'm inspired to create anyway.

Last year there seemed little point in planning -- let alone planting -- a garden, since we were renting this house and the owner had just informed us that he was going to move in and we had to leave. But then I gave him a bunch of money and took on a mortgage, and so this year things have changed. Most things. I suspect I'm still a lazy gardener, so I'm trying to take that into consideration.

It's a winnowing time, February, isn't it? I'm seeing it in my friends and in the recent posts on the blogs I read, a desire to release the extraneous, the uninspired, the oppressive, the unworkable. For my part, I passed up an opportunity to submit work to a big art exhibit, and I've stepped back from my involvement in a local arts co-op that is clearly in need of more than I can give it. After the in-breath of January, with its resolutions and words of the year and fresh assessments of what we might like to pursue in the coming months, comes the exhalation, the letting go of what no longer serves.

I don't know about you, but for me, that out-breath is harder. Letting go is more complicated than letting in. Releasing requires more than receiving. This sounds like the attachment that the Buddhists are always going on about -- that stickiness of accumulated stuff, mental and otherwise, that keeps us glued to routines and relationships and work and lives we no longer find satisfactory.

Things we thought we wanted. People we thought we were.

My vision of me as a gardener.

Still, I don't want to make too many assumptions, given that everything is connected to everything else. My lazy gardening, for example, might be nothing more than a reluctance to dig deep in someone else's yard. So we're going to give it another try this year, me and Dragonstar. She wants more herbs for her potion garden. Calendula and goldenseal and thyme.

Me, I want a grape arbor. And a fruit tree. Maybe two.