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Playgroup

My parents moved to a new area when I was born. They were young first-time parents, and my mom especially was looking for community. They wanted community for themselves as humans looking for company and parents looking for advice, but also for my sisters (not yet part of the picture) and me as we grew up.

They joined a church and craft groups and a service organization; I remember the people from those spaces the same way I remember the neighbors they also built relationships with. As life flowed on, so did most of the faces and voices that surrounded my baby self. Three of the most notable exceptions are in this photo:playgroup

It’s already an old photo; Nicholas and Libby got married last year, Mihali is wherever the Marines have sent him, Michelle moved out west for graduate school. It’s also an incomplete photo. My youngest sister isn’t in it, nor are our parents or a few kids who were in and out of our circle over the years. But it’s the photo I have and it’s good enough. This is Playgroup.

Playgroup started before some of the people in it were born, but I don’t really remember those days even though I was there. Essentially, our moms wanted friends for themselves and playmates for us. So they were all, separately, joining “moms’ clubs” and “play groups,” until they found each other.

We still went to other “play groups” sometimes, but most of those didn’t last very long. The chemistry of this one…the culture that developed…This became Playgroup.

Why am I telling you all this? Am I just feeling nostalgic?

Not really…You see, Galactic Nemeses has been reintroduced to the space, and there are kids screaming at each other in the next room. I’ve asked them to quiet down, but they’re excited about a new game so I’ve settled for taking my aching head to a quieter room and closing the door.

When I breathe enough to transcend my aching head and release my desire for a quiet space, I want to laugh from appreciation and joy…also caused by the screaming. Because I hear in their commotion echoes of a world I once looked forward to joining more than I looked forward to any birthday or holiday. Playgroup was that world.

Once a month, we’d gather at someone’s house and rule the basement or playroom or yard. Interrupting the parents for any reason other than getting food meant we had to part ways earlier, so we were strongly motivated to keep our conflicts and noise out of the space where they were immersed in conversation. So long as we didn’t disrupt them, though, they left us to our own devices.

Sometimes we split into small groups to talk or play. Sometimes we created huge elaborate fantasy worlds that we all improvised stories in. We compared experiences with having siblings, losing teeth, going to school…with puberty and broken bones and crushes and dreaming.

And sometimes, when a really exciting new game with ambiguous boundaries was introduced, we’d enjoy getting super loud and emotional in some cinderblock room as we figured out how to play it together. And we could, because at the end of the day we knew that–however much we yelled (though we did watch what we yelled)–we were safe with each other.

That phase of integrating certain kinds of games never lasted long. It took a lot of energy and we all knew we were running the risk of attracting the adults’ attention, thus ending our time together for another month. We’d move on to other things, then return to the novel game as much calmer and more collaborative players.

Playgroup was one of the more significant experiences of my youth. I frequently tell NYC parents apologizing for their kids’ off-site-to-play-with-other-friends days that I fully support their decision, that I’m grateful my parents made sure my social world was more complex than just my classmates and immediate neighbors.

Having Playgroup every day would have been a dream. I wonder now at how much I learned from it just being there once a month! I used to swap books with Michelle and then we’d read them under our desks at school so we could discuss them next time we saw each other. Playgroup friends are the reason I became interested in languages and instruments. They were my introduction to Apples to Apples and Continue the Story and conflict resolution and balloon animals and and and…

Having Playgroup with a contract to make expectations clear, Change Up to address cultural shifts, and Culture Committee available for conflict resolution support? Woah. On the one hand, if our moms had had the intentional culture creation tools we have at ALC-NYC, they might have created communities they liked from other “play groups” and so my Playgroup family might never have met. On the other hand, if we’ve managed to stay connected and nurtured for over twenty years just in the culture that happened to come from us, imagine what we could have created together if we’d tried.

As I finish writing, the screaming here has quieted (after…three hours?). There was a brief episode where the Galactic Nemeses negotiators burst into the hallway and played a live-action game, and now they’re back at the joysticks…much quieter (though still super excited) astronauts and aliens than they were.

I shake my head at the familiar pattern and wonder how many of them will know each other in twenty years. I suspect that even if they don’t, they’ll be grateful to have known each other. Just as I’m grateful to witness these days of their being and becoming…headaches and all.

 

The Smell of Pony Noses

There’s a giggle-filled werewolves game happening in front of me. Between a crackling fire and a giant group kanban. @themadhatter is DM-ing and dancing, next to the kettle heating water for my mid-day mint tea. Most of the other adults are missing, helping install windows in a community member’s addition, around the inverted pine tree whose roots appear to hold up the [presently snow-covered] green room. In a few minutes, I’ll leave the laughter of the werewolves group to go stack wood before the sun sets.

Welcome to day three of the ALC-NYC visit to QIV-C/Cloudhouse.

We took a couple of trains up Monday, after a quick set-the-week and Culture Committee at ALC-NYC. Things in the city were pretty calm, but as we got farther north the weather got more and more precarious. Our second train was delayed, so we hung out on the platform and admired the actually-star-shaped-snow-flakes for a while. Then when we arrived to Wassaic, our rides to Chatham were delayed…somewhat by snowy roads and somewhat by flipped milk trucks (we saw one!) blocking roads. Everyone kept in good spirits through our four hours of travel, in spite of circumstances which would have been easy to get pessimistic and whiny about.

When we got to the farm house, we gathered around to dine on chili that my friend Chuck (who has been visiting Bear) made for us. We discussed agreements for staying as guests here, then played werewolves and read and played card games. Bear and I went night sledding a couple of times, celebrating snow deep enough to disappear my boots, leg warmers, and sometimes knees. Our first night of screens-off-at-nine / lights-off-at-ten went smoothly, and people found places to sleep without any problems.

I slept down by the fireplace, so I got to wake up to sunlight on snow and an old tree [which I remember dancing barefoot around back when the grass was green and soft]. Soon, though, the quiet of the morning gave way to egg skillets sizzling, refreshed kids playing, reminders to clean up our cleaning spots to ready the space for the day, phones pinging with texts from parents and friends, and early scrumming of daily activities.

When we convened for morning meeting, we scheduled sledding time, many rounds of Coup, MM, Hip-Hop Lyric Analysis, building a Fox Hole radio, playing League of Legend (and Counterstrike and Minecraft and Compendium), more sledding, Clue, Stratego, Werewolves, cooking, dinner with the community, and a demonstration of the tin Rocket Stove that Paul just built. I went sledding both times, and I took a nice long walk by myself in the woods (with some time just laying in the snow, listening to the sky). I watched many of the board/card games, and I helped cook some. I helped hang and then played on aerial silks. I sketched the people around me, and I collaboradoodled with Askani and Javair. I contact improv-ed with Bear, Douglas, Javair, and Askani. And I had a wonderful time seeing friends at the community dinner.

Today Javair and I made pizza from scratch for everyone’s lunch. It was awesome fun, but also chaotic. We had spilled ingredients and non-cooks buzzing around the kitchen asking for specific toppings, asking when we’d be done, and asking questions they had already asked but hadn’t heard the answers to amid their excitement. The contented quiet that fell once we finished and everyone started eating felt really sweet in contrast. Javair and I high fived, then I put on my boots.

I went for a walk to thank the land and snuggle with the horses. Even with all the beauty and amazing people around me and everything going very smoothly with the trip, a few small worries were threatening to eat my brain. I was unwilling to let them take me away from the wonder of being here, so I went to find the solution. For me, for years, this has meant trees and pony noses. There’s something about putting my face against a pony’s and petting its velvety nose that magically quiets my mind and heart every time. I’ll settle for horses when ponies are unavailable…the effect is usually the same.

After my walk, Charlotte and I went upstairs to the room where Askani was reading and Bear was napping. We drew them for a bit, and then it was time for Charlotte to lead a yoga class. Chuck and I were the only two who came to the class, but we had a good time. Then I hung out with David and Luca, sitting in a sunny window and talking until Werewolves started. Bear had taken Thanos to see the horses, and then he, Ryan, and Chuck all went to help Gens work on his house. I stayed behind, drinking tea in the kitchen while Milo DM’ed Werewolves. Like…while watching Milo announce Werewolves and watching all the kids who were screen-brained close their computers immediately and leap from their chairs to gather in a circle around their DM. It was inspiring enough that I started this blog post while watching them.

Um…and then…the internet allows for time travel, soooo it’s three hours later. I may have been pulled from blogging by requests for snacks, the start of a stage combat class, firewood stacking, and the flurry of activity in the kitchen as Bear choreographed Thanos, Adin, Douglas, and Alfie’s dinner making.

After dinner, we’ll probably make candles, play a big group game, and explore an archetype chart (one I’ve never seen young people interact with, but experienced Bear’s facilitation of at ALF Summer 2014). And we’ll probably play Coup. And drink tea. And surprise ourselves with other fun things.

Love it here 🙂

 

*It’s been pointed out that I use “Cloudhouse” (and ALC-NYC to some extent) in reference to the people of that community rather than the space they inhabit here at QIV-C. Sometimes this confuses folks. It feels pretty accurate to me.

A basic question…

Last week, I finally recorded the story-line of an MM game @thewitchqueen908 DMed. At the end of the game, my character finally makes it to the lair of the great golden dragon to ask for an apprenticeship. The great golden dragon asks whether the little dragon wants friendship and wisdom or just power. After being reassured of the little dragon’s intentions, the great golden dragon agrees to the apprenticeship and invites the little dragon to come help him search for a mate.

MM Dragons

The little dragon agrees. They ask the great golden dragon what he is looking for in a mate.  He lists a bunch of things, then thinks and revises his answer: he’s actually looking to meet a friend to maybe fall in love with later.

This week, a couple of teenagers sheepishly approached me for help. They asked for help finding other teenagers to make friends with. I thought of Askani speaking through her dragon–to whatever extent an author speaks through her characters–and of many adults in my life, all essentially asking the same questions.

Of course, the answers differ depending on one’s age and location.

Of course, the answers remain mostly the same, since we’re all humans looking for meaningful connections with other humans.

The little dragon in the story suggested the big dragon to think of something he likes to do and go do that, both because he likes that thing (so it’ll bring him joy and engagement and confidence and a bunch of other intrinsically fulfilling / extrinsically attractive qualities) and because he will have a shared interest / easy conversation starter/ common experience with anyone he meets while doing that thing.

This little dragon hopes that she gave helpful advice to all the big dragons asking her for help. She also realizes the big dragons here have a harder task than the one in the story, because the one in the story didn’t have to figure out where to go in order to do the thing he likes…he just had to fly out of his cave.

I’ve promised to research and blog about places for teens to hang out, do interesting things, and meet awesome other teens in NYC. It feels like an enormous task, because the city is so big. That said, I actually have the easy job. I just have to find and point out the possibilities. It’s up to the teens (and sometimes their parents) to step outside the school, and maybe their comfort zones, to “meet a friend to fall in love with.”