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.


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.


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.