I would like to help. I don’t know where to begin. Tell me where does it hurt? It’s ok you can trust me. I’ve been hurt before too. In fact I’m hurting right now. I know it’s not always easy to say. Take your time. Let me help you. How can I sooth your pain? There is nothing too small or too large you could ask me for. I would love to help you. Can you point to where it hurts? Perhaps we can just sit a while. Tell me what is on your mind. The questions that pull at your heart. We can try to answer them together. Because when I see your pain I feel mine too. I would like to help make it better. Even if it’s only for a little while. Even if it’s imperfect & flawed. Even if you don’t think it matters. It matters to me. To see you happy & cared for. Because the love that we share heals me too. The parts of me that hurt feel better knowing you are safe & content. It might be a long journey, and it won’t always be easy work. But I will not turn away when I see you are in pain. All that pain hurts me too. I am also scared. I dont know where to begin. There is no place I would rather be than right here with your pain. For as long as you are hurting I am hurting too. I can only see with my two eyes, listen with my two ears, work with my two hands, and love with my big heart. But I am here in your service. Please tell me my love, where do you hurt?
Once upon a time there was a very sleepy pupil and a very smart teacher. Or wait, was it a very sleepy teacher and a very smart pupil? Once upon a time there was a very smart teacher and a very smart pupil. They sat down to a battle of wits, but they lost because they couldn’t stay awake long enough to see the conclusion. No wait, they were both asleep in a dream about a question neither of them could answer. Wait, I’m going to start again. Once upon a time a student asked their teacher why they always slept through their lessons “wouldn’t it be much easier to draw conclusions on the chalkboard awake?” The teacher said to the student “I am too tired to draw your conclusions for you anymore why don’t you dream some up yourself?” No, this is all wrong. Once upon a time a student asked their teacher to tell them a story that could illustrate this lesson, but the teacher asked the student to dream up their own. After a time the student said “Once upon the time there was a very sleepy pupil and a very smart teacher. Or wait-“
Often what unschooling looks like is a series of fascinating questions.
One of my favourite books as a child was a little picture book called Ernie Follows His Nose. It was a simple story of someone innocently following their curios nose to explore the world around them. It sounds silly in its naivety, but neatly illustrates one of the corner stones of student directed learning.
To make a crude comparison: the traditional industrial education model is structured to have a single point of authority stand at the front and deliver a lot of information that is meant to impart a series of answers which students are then graded on for accuracy. In this model questions only arise as a means to get to the end of the lesson. There is a shame for having too many questions. They gum up the flow of the knowledge machine, which is why we separate students out for learning too quickly or too slowly to improve efficency.
By contrast, unschooling dives in question first with no time to raise hands to authority. The student is at the front of the expedition actively engaged in wrestling with their personal multitudinous sea of questions “Where did that smell come from? Why did this happen? How does that work? When will this occur? Who is that? What am I?” The lessons are an accumulative experience as students gather information while following their curiosity only measuring success against their own appetite. The unschooling motto is “the world is my classroom – learning all of the time.”
I believe that to be deeply curios is to hold a simultaneous respect for rigor & whimsy. Curiosity must be nimble enough to chase after the glittering fascinating thing while also plying fastidious attention to the understanding of it. Questions manifest more curiosity manifest more questions. A healthy appetite for the unknown is essential to my creative practice & self studies.
With all that in mind here are…
Questions I am currently contemplating:
- What is the mind/body connection? How does this connection affect our health & growth?
- What is catharsis? What is its role in art, and what is its role in healing, and are the two related?
- What does it mean to be useful in society? Is it necessary?
- How do we cultivate nurturing love?
- How does the expression of self impact the relation to self & the selves experience of the world?
- What does it mean to be androgynous? In a post-binary world would androgyny be necessary?
- What does it mean to be in alignment? Is the idea of a best self a subtle expression of internalized shame, and if so what does self acceptance & actualization look like beyond that?
I’ve begun to own more & more that I have an anxiety problem. I have not been diagnosed so I won’t say disorder, but occasionally I am over run by a crippling fear, adrenaline, cold sweat, heart and thought racing kind of feeling. Sometimes it’s accute and begins and ends rapidly, sometimes it’s a prolonged uneasiness that sits with me for days and disturbs my focus and robs my sleep. After either is usually followed by a blue period of listless apathy and regret. It can be triggered by many things and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
So how do I create work in spite of this feeling of impending doom?
A big one is give the brain a problem to solve. Often the characteristic of anxiety is ungrounded fear that is incurred from events or experiences out of my control. If there is a tangible task set before the anxious mind all that nervous energy can be channeled into solving it as quickly as possible to relieve the symptoms of stress.
The other one is to disassociate my creative self from my anxious self. I have to be careful with disassociation as it has been tied into my major depressive spells where I can feel lost inside myself for days or months at a time. However, in this case by being able to see my anxious thoughts as not part of myself, as something that is happening inside of me like indigestion that isn’t truly who I am, I can set those thoughts aside more easily. Sometimes I do that by writing every anxious thought down, or scheduling a specific time slot when I’m allowed to think about it, or through visualization exercises.
Being able to accept that these thoughts are happening to me, but do not define me has been a huge step forward. I think there is a lot of fear of mental health stigma still, or now the double edged sword of fear of misusing mental health language in an ableist fashion. I’ve not been diagnosed mostly because I can’t afford to go see someone who would be qualified to diagnose me, but being able to name these emotional upheavals has helped me be able to work on soothing them. Same as naming them has allowed me to talk about them and ask for help.
Creatively, if I am feeling anxious about a project it is usually the easiest anxiety to quell because I can lay out clear steps to get me where I’m going that my anxious brain can latch on to. Each step might fail, but it provides a way to tangibly measure the outcomes of my anxiety to disprove it again and again. Social anxiety lacks these clear markers of success. Anxiety about the future is too large to productively map. Anxiety triggered by feelings of unsafety is not so easily quelled as the stakes are much higher. Creative anxiety can actually be quite motivating as those bursts of nervous energy can help me achieve super human feats in relatively short periods of time.
Because of the positive correlation between my anxiety & creativity I often wish to get through particularly anxious times with more creativity. The problem is my energy & resources are limited. It can set me up for unrealistic expectations which lead to a bigger drop when anxiety subsides and I have not channeled it through this creative lens. Intensified anxiety does not always mean intensified creativity, and at a point is just disruptive. I’ve had anxiety attacks so intense I thought I was physically ill. At those times there is no amount of creative out put that will help me cope.
Usually though my anxiety needs the same things my creativity needs:
- A space where I feel safe to fail and be vulnerable.
- People who love & support me.
- Time to work itself through to completion.
- Mindfulness to experience this moment fully before jumping on to the next.
- Compassionate truth seeking to cut through illusions without degrading the spirit entwined in them.
- And radical vulnerability to be present and generous in this state of flux.
A new list of insightful pondering.
- Ray Bradbury on Writing, Emotion vs. Intelligence, and the Core of Creativity via Brain Pickings. Set aside a half hour to listen to the entire interview, it’s beautiful to hear such verve for life.
- My very kind friend d’j sent me this beautiful video of Lydia Lunch on the cultural history of No Wave it gave me shivers
- Fruit for Feminism video shared via Laura McNaughton. I found to be a very soothing and reassuring video which I return to often when anxious.
- The Empty Brain via shared with me by Sarah Flood. I’ve found myself often returning to the ideas of this article and re-examining how I understand myself and the world around me.
- The Intelligence of Emotions: Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How Storytelling Rewires Us and Why Befriending Our Neediness is Essential for Happiness via Brain Pickings. Spent a very fruitful evening in long conversation with a dear friend about ideas in this vein of how we are responsible for crafting our own life narrative.
- Finally a gentle reminder for each of us Is it selfish to follow your bliss? via Marlo Johnson