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On expectations…

This was a week in which I reflected on the difference between intentions and expectations.

Twice, I set the intention with kids to go ice skating. I intended to reconnect with a friend who’s been off-grid. Intended to get new body art. To stretch. To blog. To clean.

I called these my intentions, but they were more like expectations. And it took watching everything happen in unexpected ways for me to see the expectations in my pseudo-intentions.

The ice skating rink was closed the two days I could go, so we played in the park instead. My friend showed up, but just long enough to announce that he’s leaving again. My art won’t be finished until February, my stretching was toddler chasing, I spent blogging time de-bugging a computer and reminding kids that blogging is part of the student agreement, and my cleaning was the vacuum-all-the-nooks kind that I feel but no one sees.

Nothing this week seemed to go as intended…

Except that it all did.

I got to play with kids outside, which is what I really wanted from ice skating. Got to tell a friend I care and wish him well, show an artist I value his work highly enough to wait for it, to use my body, to reflect, to reset.

By going with the flow when things didn’t go my way, I got exactly what I’d actually been looking for. And more, because I also am grateful to have been reminded to look for the intentions behind my expectation-intentions.

On Consequences

The word “consequence” seems to trigger strong reactions from people, particularly in the context of adult-child relationships and school power dynamics.

Over and over, I have found myself clarifying that “consequence” is not the same as “punishment.” A consequence is simply the effect brought about by a decision or pattern of decisions. We tend to discuss undesirable consequences most frequently: if I don’t dress for the weather, I’ll be uncomfortable; if I break my word, others won’t trust me; if I don’t learn another language, I won’t be able to travel as independently or make as many friends as I otherwise would. However, there can be desirable consequences, too! If I exercise regularly, I’ll get stronger; if I call my mom, she’ll be happy and she won’t worry about me; if I play with a team, we can do more and stress less than we would solo. Consequences aren’t good or bad inherently. They just are.

Natural consequences, anyway. So what about contrived consequences? Constructed ones? Those artificially implemented…like the classic “if you don’t eat all your dinner, then you cannot have dessert?” These are trickier, mostly because this is where there is potential for punishments to masquerade as consequences. When the “consequence” created isn’t related to the decision made, it’s a punishment. When its intention is solely to demonstrate who has power over whom in a situation, it’s a punishment (and bullying). Unfortunately, these are the two kinds of punishments that most people seem to think of when they hear discussion of “consequences.”

As a facilitator, I deal in consequences quite a bit. It’s my job to reflect students’ decisions to them, framing those decisions as catalysts for their consequences. Some facilitators do this mostly during intention-setting and reflection conversations (“You didn’t eat lunch and now you feel angry? Maybe your hunger is causing your anger. What different choice can you make tomorrow so you don’t get hangry?”). I do this, but I also mention consequences as a type or redirection or invitation to thoughtfulness. Those moments usually sound like “You can break your student agreement, but then you’ll have to go to school somewhere else, where you will probably have much less freedom” or “If you yell at your friend, he may not want to play with you anymore” or “You can eat whatever you want for lunch. If you eat only sugary things, you will run out of energy more quickly than if you eat savory things.” I often find it really amusing to play the game of of course you can do X so long as you are ready for consequence Y, but I play because I want kids to know the power of their decisions and the importance of thinking about what effects their actions may have.

Sometimes, though, the natural consequence of an action is really undesirable. Like the school getting shut down (if we leave lots of crumbs around and invite the mice to overrun the school) or someone getting hurt. In those cases, it is the responsibility of the community to protect itself and its members by creating artificial consequences that motivate a change in decision-making before the big, scary natural consequence kicks in.

People sometimes get awkward about creating consequences. They worry about ‘being mean’ or misusing their authority. These worries are unfounded if those creating the consequences focus on their intent (to protect themselves and the community by supporting positive change) and keep the consequence relevant to the situation. For example, if I’m saying inappropriate things to strangers during park trips, the natural consequences include my peers feeling unsafe with me and my inviting a stranger to get angry and retaliate. For their and my safety, my community needs to create a consequence that will motivate me to change my behavior. Banning me from the computer for a week would be a punishment, and I may check my language to avoid the discomfort of the punishment. But…it doesn’t address my behavior. Revoking my permission to go on trips until I demonstrate that I can be trusted to regulate my language would make much more sense; it’s directly related to the problematic situation, addresses the problem behavior, and protects me/others from the natural consequences that are imminent if my behavior continues.

So, to recap: understanding that our decisions invite natural consequence can be really empowering, learning the connection between their decisions and the consequences that arise is important for young humans, and constructing preventative consequences is the responsibility of those in relationship with each other…and is often the most compassionate, supportive thing to do when problems arise.

I hope you’ve gained some clarity as a consequence of taking time to read this 😉

Slog Blog

I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been going through the past few weeks totally present during the school day, diligently responding to Slack/texts/emails/calls after school, showing up for lots of meetings, and simultaneously juggling some large happenings in my personal life. Frequently, I’ll stop and think about wanting to include something in my weekly blog post–a video Eli shared, my accidental adventure with Hannah, what Inter-ALC Psychology kids thought of Piaget–but then I spend Friday facilitating, blogging time helping younger kids blog, and weekends catching up on the work/personal things that didn’t happen during the week.

My Trello has a whole column for blog posts I want to write.

I want to write, selfishly, because I know the weakness of my memory. And because I know how fun it’ll be to send blog posts about now-young kids to them for their 30th birthdays 😉

This week already, I saw a play with Lyla and James, started my November daily doodles, helped visitors use tools in the woodshop, made use of my first aid training, written lots of emails and a short story, participated in Inter-ALC Psychology, went to the park, did some light coaching, played piano, and did lots of admin/community-tending tasks. I still have two letters to write tonight, and today’s doodle to finish.

And since I’m not a student, I’m not writing to build a transcript or share what I’m doing with my curious parents. But…that’s never been why I blogged. I get to witness so much magic through all of every day. I write, so that I can forget these moments without losing them.


There was a lot of talk at ALF Weekend about visioning. What is the ALC project? What kind of growth do we want? Where? How fast? Why? Who wants to be doing what? What would our mission statement for the network sound like (if it’s different from those of schools…but what are those)?

The questions came from an underlying wondering: with so many ALFs in so many places, do we share a vision?

@sarataleff started a group document to track various people’s responses to these questions and try to tease out the common thread. @abram asked me, after a conversation with Sara, about visioning ALC as in the business of offering alternative schooling, which leads to questions about what our relationships to other kinds of schools. Valid, since ALC-NYC is a school and we often talk about our philosophy in terms of comparison to other approaches to schooling. But I cringed, because a schooling-focused vision of ALC potential isn’t what I’m ultimately working to achieve.

Shortly after, a parent emailed the ALC-NYC finances group, unknowingly laying out points of a conversation staff had been playing with to varying degrees since ALF Summer. He was pointing to the need to develop a plan to grow and grow sustainably. What, he wondered, was our vision for ALC-NYC?

Both conversations–the network level one and ALC-NYC level one–will definitely be fascinating, ongoing, and significant in determining the future of both entities. Where I have time and energy, I plan to weigh in on both. That said, after talking with Abe and Bear last week, I realized that it may be worthwhile to write out my present ideas, if only to practice articulating them so I can do so more concisely in the [increasingly frequent] discussions.

Network Vision, aka: What is it and what is it for?

In ALC-NYC, the philosophy behind Agile Learning Centers is expressed through an entity that is, as Abe said, an alternative school. We run a school. We take attendance, serve young people of an age where the law requires that they be enrolled in some program of “schooling,” track immunization data, talk about graduation around the age of 17-18, and file lots of paperwork with the DOE.

But the ideas we make our decisions from–trusting each other and the power of relationships, that learning is natural and constant, that self-directed and experiential learning is most powerful, etc.–the “roots and branches” we publish on our website, don’t only apply to humans between the ages of six and eighteen. And building communities based on these principles doesn’t only serve school-aged humans or lead to the establishment of schools.

Right now, people are making ALC schools because…that’s where the need is. I, as a legal adult, can choose to pursue education at home, through work, at school, in meet-ups, or in any of a huge number of possible settings. Or not. A fourteen-year-old, on the other hand, can only choose between kinds of schools. And they can only choose in as much as their parents are supportive of their choosing anything other than the public school or private school that they want.

And I’m glad we’re convening schools. I’m so glad that ALC is an option so that kids have a place to self-direct their days in community. I don’t need to go into detail about why playing with kids is one of the most assured ways to change the future. It’s cool, what we do. I love it. It’s just not where my network vision begins or ends.

In looking for the source of my vision, I poked at definitions. School, for example. What is it and what is it for? It’s that place the government requires adults send family members between ages five and eighteen (approximately). It’s purpose has changed over the years, but it includes providing a non-work, non-street (ie trouble-making) place for young people to be supervised while their parents work, acculturating cohorts of young people so they identify with a particular mythology (nationalistic, STEM, here’s-how-you-relate-to-authority, religious, etc.), exposing students to each topic on the common core checklist, and administering tests/labels to help sort society. I won’t get into class replication or Ilych’s theory about disempowering dissidents; suffice it to say that people have other theories about what school is and what it’s for, beyond what is useful to us here.

ALC isn’t about schooling. We think more about mentoring and guiding than supervising, and we reject the mandatory teaching of isolated subjects or the call to reduce children to piles of statistics. However alternative our schools may be, they don’t set out to be schools so they can perform schooling. They are schools, almost as a disguise, to give kids a place to escape schooling into a richer, more supportive setting, in spite of legalities restricting what kinds of places they can spend their days in.

We get away with it, because Schooling-y schools have for a long time tended to a myth which is now nearly unquestioned in our culture: schools are for learning. A place of learning and education (for kids between ages x and y, where there are intentionally selected adults in loco parentis) is a school. Thanks to this fantastic definition, ALCs can have nothing to do with schooling and yet be schools. Which is really convenient, but also means that the vision for ALCs can’t be elicited solely from our definition of “school.”

So let’s play with other definitions, like “learning” and “education.” We use those words a lot. “Learning” is a dynamic word pointing to the process by which we modify our knowledge and skills. We learn new things. Learn things we knew better. Learn that everything we read in that last article was fictitious, so we should negate it and practice discrimination in choosing our sources. But I’m getting ahead of myself…”Learning” is one of the ways we modify our brain structures, which is happening in response to everything and everyone we experience, according to that sweet CrashCourse video InterALC Psychology watched last week. And our brains are plastic for much of our lifespan (depending on how we care for them). So “learning,” to quote an Agile Root, is natural and happening all the time. The process of learning is tied to education. Education is very similar to learning: it’s what we focus our attention on, what experiences we expose ourselves to, what we pick up from the models around us. Sometimes “education” is the sum of our learning (to this point). Other times, it’s the pursuit of learning. We use the word a few different ways. You can google the etymology, but more interesting to me is that “education” started out as a midwife’s term meaning “to be present at the birth of.” So while the words are mostly similar, “learning” focuses on the personal process, while “education” focuses on the engagement with an other that leads to learning, intentionally or not. And I…I get to be the educator…the one who is present at the birth of the learner to their possibility. I get to be the witness (and sometimes the dula…?).

Connecting the potential of Agile Learning Centers to “learning” and “education” feels much more authentic to me than connecting it to “school.” The idea that we are about creating places of learning, where the education structures support self-direction and autonomy in community, sounds really right, and like an idea that has enormous potential–whether or not mandatory school-attendance gets abolished any time soon.

I see Agile Learning Centers as just that: community centers, designed to support human learning, and based on an approach to learning/community-organizing that emphasizes trust and support and…agility. Which means we should keep making schools. And preschools. And coworking spaces. And cafes. And libraries/research centers. And book clubs. And senior centers. And art centers. And collective houses. And eco-villages containing all the other kinds of ALCs. The possibilities seem limited only by our imaginations, and the potential of such places to change the world for the better simply by existing in it seems enormous. I envision organisms of communities networked to form an ecosystem that empowers people and shifts cultures. Much bigger than a handful of schools.

ALC-NYC Vision: Growing anything in NYC is like gardening in a terrarium.

When I showed up as a curious not-yet-volunteer at “The Agile Learning Center at Manhattan Free School,” I saw four white men in a room and I almost wrote the project off. I was already uncertain about any project mixing technology industry and education pop-phrases (high reactivity to STEM obsession) and was a little wary of Free Schools based on the lack of community and staff burnout I had noticed while interning at one.

In spite of my hesitation and skepticism, by the end of the information session I was signing up to volunteer at the school three mornings a week. Within months, it was clear that I had a shared vision with Ryan and Tomis: to grow the six-student, two-staff, financially desperate school into a thriving community with double the students, the ability to hire me, and financial stability.

A lot has happened since then, but here’s the present situation: We’re 15 students and growing. Ryan and I are full-time facilitators and full-time co-administrators/conductors (rather than “directors”) with Tomis, who still does bunches for ALC-NYC but is around less and less as he settles into married life in Charlotte. And now there are other ALFs in the city: @sarataleff has a littles program in far away Greenpoint, Drew is in and out with network/web stuff, Abe is running extended day, and Bear is testing the viability of being an ALC admissions ninja. Things are happening.

Space-wise, we’re present to our lack of gym/outdoor space, the distance between East Harlem and Greenpoint being a deterrent to increased age-mixing and a challenge for parents wanting to enroll kids at each ALC, and our inability to provide an adult co-working space for parents to hang in and students to find more role models in. If I’m being picky, I’d love that space to have room for a cafe and be open to neighborhood people.

And I want to upgrade our makerspace so it’s more accessible and versatile.

And I want to upgrade our library so it’s full of books kids want to read.

And I want to make sure certain Occupational Therapy toys are available, because sometimes you just need a weighted blanket to feel better.

Staff-wise, we need to do some reorganizing. Tomis wants to fully hand his role and duties over to someone New York based. Sara wants to be an administrator but needs gifted and trusted facilitators to take over her Cottonwood program first. With Ryan and I facili-admin-conducting, we’re feeling the need for another facilitator soon. ASAP if we keep wearing all the hats we’re wearing. Less urgently if we get to offload non-facilitation work to a new director or administrator first. Either way, we’re already aware that we can’t take on starting crowdfunding campaigns, running monthly potlucks, or upgrading our collaborative documentation of kids’ learning without support. And these are things we’d really like to do. We have some potential plans and some promising prospects, but finding the money to pay everyone a livable salary and lining up the people we have so all the shifts in work go smoothly…that’s more challenging. And some of our prospects aren’t quite ready. And some, we’re not sure where’s the best place for them. It’s a really fun, really challenging game, and the stakes aren’t too high yet…but it feels like they will be soon.

So my vision for ALC-NYC is for it to move into one building or a few neighboring spaces, so that the age-mixing can be expanded to include early learners and adults while making logistics easier for parents. I’d like the space to be well equipped and integrated into the neighborhood. I want a facilitator for Cottonwood so Sara can focus on running things there (or at both programs). And I want another facilitator for ALC-NYC, either so Ryan and I can be more supported in wearing our many hats, so the school can continue to grow, or so I can support facilitation while holding coherence for admin-ing/conducting/relationship-tending to take that off Ryan and x’s plates and let them focus on being kick-ass facilitators (until we can get people in directing/administrating, when I’d like to go back to facilitating…though with more support I could facilitate and community-build).

That’s a messy vision, blurred by wonderings about money and logistics (will anyone else be crazy enough to accept a job that’s constant–though wonderful–work, ok pay, and no healthcare?).

The clearer vision is simpler: I want a space big enough to integrate programs for different age groups. I want a supportive, diverse, thriving community (and tending it to be part of my workload). I want all staff in the positions they are reaching for now, and for new, talented ALFs to join us as we grow, so that everyone’s workload is reasonable. I want the school to be financially solvent, with the ability to add new staff as needed, pay existing staff fairly, and offer healthcare so we can attract more diverse adults (since it’s really only us young, childless, healthy, or covered-by-someone-else’s-plan people who will consider the jobs otherwise). I don’t really worry about the school growing; I trust that will happen…I’m more interested in how to make sure our growth is managed so that kids, families, and staff have the resources and support they need to keep building incredible, interconnected lives.




Who I Am and What I Do

(…right now…in the ALC context…)

I’m Abby. Yes, it’s a nickname. Yes, with a ‘y.’

I’m NYC-based, presently Holding and co-facilitating at ALC-NYC with @ryanshollenberger. We play regularly with @tomis @abram @bear @drew and other roving ALFs who swing through our space, and we love hosting visitors from other ALCs.

At school, kids come to me to talk about field trips, books, museums, art, plants, languages, history, gender politics, education history, and whatever else they feel like. I show foreign films, lead city adventures (often involving food), and doodle constantly…usually mandalas or flash sketches of people around me. I love playing with kids (and grown-ups). Playing inside and outside…physical games and board games and imagination games.

I also handle lots of the administration stuff that Tomis can’t do from afar, like collecting and organizing paperwork and coordinating student/visitor/volunteer schedules. I also do lots of communication with parents: email threads, texting pictures, posting to Tumblr, and blogging stories as well as reflections. Communicating with parents is really fun for me and comes pretty naturally. It mixes my desire to brag about how awesome kids are, my interest in supporting other on their self-growth/unschooling journeys, and my somewhat compulsive image-making (photos, doodles, doodle notes of conversations and thought trains…) in a way that others seem to find useful.

In the larger network, I don’t officially do much. When specific projects involving explaining what we do (or simplifying/spell-checking other people’s explanations) arise, I love jumping on those. Having lots of experience both working in and critically studying education systems, I feel really comfortable and confident answering lots of different kinds of questions that come up related to ALC. I’ve made myself available to get grilled by business people and professors about what we do, spoken on a Q&A panel, led ALF Summer discussion groups, and contributed to Starter Kit and ALC Network Website content. I also practice informal coaching and heartspace-holding for other ALFs. My server self (ref. archetypes) feels fulfilled and useful when I can support others, and I could easily see myself someday helping with logistics planning for group events (like ALF Summer) which others would facilitate and then showing up to offer one-on-one walks, lunch conversations, and evening salons as my contribution to the experience. I’d also love to do similar small discussion events with parents from other ALCs and aspiring facilitators. Someday.

My non-ALC self loves exploring New York City and the nature around it. I get really excited about sharing those adventures with others. I moved here from outside Philadelphia (Coatesville, PA!), but have also lived in Berlin, Prague, and a village in the Republic of Georgia called Oni. In past lives I was a professional gift-wrapper and bow-maker, event planning intern for an artist in Berlin (Despina Stokou is amazing), equestrian and trainer, garden shop do-everything-person, TEFL teacher, and summer camp director. I went to a self-directed university program where I started out studying story-telling, but then I realized I was interested in the connection between story-telling, identity development, and politics/power structures. Which naturally led me through nationalism development (with Central/Eastern European case studies) to education systems and philosophies (which I’d been studying on the side for fun the whole time).

I have always enjoyed gathering really interesting, wonderful friends and then connecting them…a practice I continue within and without ALC at present. Thaaaat’s all for now!




It’s like I’m a self-directed learner or something. Some of my ALF friends write amazingly, and I really wanted to be like “Hey, just write and get all that fascinating, useful, beautiful storytelling out of your head and onto this page so I can read it. Then let me fix the punctuation and grammar so other readers don’t get distracted by technicalities. You flow, I’ll frame. Good?” And it was good! Except that editing people’s websites and blogs requires both permissions and know-how. Fortunately, enough of my friends like my copyediting (and are way too busy writing to worry themselves about it) that they quickly offered to become teachers and allies.

So I’ve been practicing for three weeks now…and I’ve gotten comfortable enough to have found some composition flow of my own.



I’ve been writing questions on forms and answering them for the FAQ & Challenging Questions sections of both the website and Starter Kit. I’ve been writing descriptions of tools and practices, re-wording the explications of our principles, creating a narrative walk-through of an ALC-NYC day, describing what facilitators do, drafting comparisons of ALC to other alternative education philosophies, expanding that to a history of education contextualizing ALC and those philosophies, and in between editing everybody’s everything (that I have their consent to edit, of course).

One of the questions I wrote on one of the forms was How did you get here?

It’s a good question. I’d love to hear your answer.

Threaded through mine are various subplots, including the one which explains why I have enough books to even think about writing a history of education (mostly schooling…mostly European and American industrialism-and-beyond schooling…). It’s a pretty interesting subplot, if I do say so myself, filled with existential crisis and paradigm shifts and lots of subversion. It’s really barely a subplot, if I’m honest. I never forget it’s there. Tonight, though, I rediscovered a subplot I had forgotten about: the one where I almost survive getting educated without it beating the beauty out of my writing. Without it beating the love of writing out of me. Without it beating the idea that I could write things worth reading (even without statistics!) into particles of dust that blew out of my dreams on the wake of a beetle wing. Which is to say, nearly without me noticing.

I don’t really want to answer How did you get here tonight. And I don’t want to get into the kinds of unschooling adults involved with ALCs go through…it’s nearly midnight and my eyes hurt from hours of Google Docs and website gazing.

What I do want to do (and I’m almost done) is to acknowledge–we talk about “unschoolers” and we mean kids doing not-school. They’re building. They’re creating. They’re moving forward. But mostly they’re not having to un-anything, because they haven’t been schooled. It’s us who have the work of unschooling ourselves, the task of deconstructing while we’re inventing and building on the same patches of ground. I see lots of us doing it–parents, ALFs, college kids who come in to intern, slightly-older-than-college kids who come into volunteer–I see you. And you’re amazing. And it’s so hard sometimes. And it’s so scary sometimes. And it’s so magical so often.

I want to acknowledge you. And us. Because I tend to keep my messier processings tucked behind my right ear or slipped between my shoulder blades…but…sometimes one falls out and I want to shine a light on it. I want to cry out “Hey! Look at this dull, useless, ugly story! I’ve been trying to edit it into something worthwhile, but it might be beyond saving. Only problem is, once I scrap it, I have to write a new one…not just edit, but write.”

We’ll laugh. You’ll reassure me I get to use lots of semi-colons, parentheses, and lists. And I’ll happily go back to finishing that Starter Kit chapter, as if I weren’t just remembering what it feels like to write with conviction(.)


In which she has a weird[er so than usual] week and re-learns things she forgot

This morning, there was a full solar eclipse and a super moon. Over other continents. I have astronomical envy…especially since we’re getting snow here in NYC, on this first day of spring.

I’ve been trying to keep my personal life energies and ALC life energies separate this week more so than usual, and I felt like I was succeeding in doing that mostly…being here so fully (as always) when I’m here and home when I’m home. Sitting down to reflect now and hold the two next to each other, they’ve both been full of challenges, surprises, small gifts, and reminders of things I knew and forgot.

With some of our more powerfully grounded and inspiring curious teenagers off-site, a newer student struggling to hold focus during meetings, two younger visitors who also struggled with meetings, two culture committee submissions to address on Monday, interns and volunteers cancelling or calling out for various reasons, AND THEN Ryan and Douglas both getting sick…the week was a bit of a struggle. Mostly at beginnings and endings of days. And Monday and Wednesday when a certain avid Red Crucible player brought some intense (and infectious) game rage to the MakerSpace. Things were feeling super imbalanced for most of the week, and I found myself with both shakes and headaches almost constantly.

But we had @Tomis <3 this week. Monday, we had a teenage girl visit, and she played hours of MM with Askani, Lyla, and Thanos before they all worked on helping Tomis create text for a webpage he’s working on. Tuesday, I played Hobbit Loveletter for the first time (the game isn’t widely available yet…It was discovered on a trip to the Uncommons, where it’s available for play and purchase before it hits the market). Wednesday, I was so present to my gratitude for my amazing partners in this work (and how awe-some this work is and how awe-some my life is) made me feel somewhat invincible. Thursday, I had a blast in the park with Jesse and Lyla. And today I watched Labyrinth with Askani, Alfie, Timo, and a rotation of Oliver/James/Logan/Adin. Then Alfie and Logan wrestled in the dark with David Bowie blasting in the background and my laughing a lot.

Between winter, kids growing, and new teenagers enrolling, I’ve been doing lots of salon-style facilitating. This involves sitting somewhere (usually with a cup of tea) and doing something with my hands (drawing, wire weaving, fidgeting) while we have philosophical conversations about everything. It’s been lovely–my academic brain has been quite happy–but when the balance tips again towards high energy munchkins and the weather turns warm for a second, I’m reminded of a bunch of aspects of facilitation that I’d forgotten about. Like helping kids learn to share and use their words to solve disagreements. Checking before leaving if anyone needs the bathroom. Making sure there’s a spotter for those jumping off furniture onto mattresses. Explaining how things are spelled, what signs say, and what different organs do to fascinated audiences (Your heart’s a muscle?!?). Declaring my love for a friend, being challenged by a 6 year old that if I don’t want to marry this person then I don’t love them, and getting to answer that there are lots of kinds of loves (***munchkin***mind***blown***). Facilitating for slightly less self-aware humans is always super fun and humbling the first time I do it after a long break. Especially when they want to race through the park and climb trees. They challenge me and constantly remind me not to be such a boring grown up 😉 They make me feel absurd for taking little things too seriously and forgetting how quickly time flows, with changes constantly inspiring new growth and breathing new life into old lessons.


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.