Freedom

Write it Wrong

There’s something about writing in a separate document from my work-in-progress document that really takes the pressure off. For one thing, in the slag pile, there’s no such thing as a blank page. For another, when I’m writing something in a story that’s been going really well, looking really good, and suddenly I’m not confident about what I’m writing, I’ll usually slow down. Stop. Re-do a sentence or paragraph over and over, question the content, the concept. Here, it’s a slag pile. I’m writing the scene that needs to be written, but I’m writing it in between free-form babble and concept prattling and brainstorming notes for a future epic, emotional journal entries and… well, what I can only describe as word-doodles:

Missing wishing pity smithing wherewithal to find the binding grind of cogs that wind up doing the f—ing thing I asked for in the first place, eh? Can’t screw my eyes right into my brain.

Well, okay. Stay away in the grey miry May. Sweltering in the aimless heat of the mind.

Wtf is that? I did that? I do that? Holy cuss. I’ll quite literally write anything that goes through my mind in this document, won’t I?

And that’s the beauty of it. I can start a section when I’m not sure whether it will work. I can write a paragraph I’m uncertain of, and then continue past it to write more. Because whatever it is, for heaven’s sake, it’s competing with “Missing wishing pity smithing”! (And believe me, I was kind to myself in choosing an excerpt with real actual words.)

It might work, it might not. It might have to be heavily edited, it might not. I might throw the whole thing out altogether, I might learn only what won’t work in the section I’m looking for. But dude, now I’ve written it, because there was no pressure to make it fit with the rest of the story, no pressure to get it right, no pressure to make sure it’s functional. Only the pressure to type, to try, and to see what the muse gives me today.

If the section works, sounds good for a scene or a blog post or whatever, then I copy it over to its appropriate document and edit it into place. If it doesn’t work, if it’s not good enough, no big. It’s a slag pile. It’s where I pour out all the word-buildup that gunks my brain. It’s okay if I write it wrong. It doesn’t need to be anything.

And because it doesn’t need to be anything, especially, I can let it become something, particularly.

Marginalized

The margins spill over with
intricate loops of doodle-cipher,
every flower and leaf a silent scream,
every cross-hatch-darkened corner
hiding secrets
of the soul.

It’s a garden

–no

a jungle

into which
the girl tried to escape
every day.

And now
she has.

With a breath of a wish
and a brush of a curse
she fell flattened and inked
into a world of her own making.

If they flip through the pages,
if they look in the right places,
they’ll find her

climbing the vines to a floating island
a blue sketched demon-dog
snapping
at
her
heels,

a graphite bazooka
slung over her shoulder.

The next day, and pages later,
they might see her
riding a living
feather
into a forest
of
perfect
spheres.

They might, but they don’t.
They never look at her world.
They never did.

She told them where she was going;
in between neat rows of
facts and numbers,
she told them.

In black and grey and blue
she told them
In rarer reds and greens
and in bright highlighter s
creams
of yellow,
she told them.
Her nightmares and dreams,
she told them.

She told and told
and
told them of
her two-dimensional haven,
but no one knew her language
and no one saw her screams.

No one read the margins.

They look for her
in the facts
but they’ll never find her
there.

She’s lost to them

forever

in the wild,

willful

margins

Unschooled

Just got an article published at Life Learning Magazine today! If you have or get a subscription, my piece is titled “Secondary – School’s damaging priority paradigm.” It’s about how school, especially high school, appears to leave kids with too little time to follow their passions—and how society thinks this is okay.

I suppose I ought to mention that I was unschooled. Have I mentioned that? Hold on while I search my archives… Nope, not once.

In case you don’t know what unschooling is, it’s life learning. But that doesn’t tell you much either, does it? Hopefully, a longer-than-usual blog post will explain it better.
(Note—if  at any point you experience an uncomfortable, hater-like burning sensation in your heart or stomach, please consult your doctor before reading further. You may be prone to posting vicious comments or starting flame wars.)

So. Unschooling. I have my own definition, but out of curiosity, I’ll turn to Urban Dictionary. Here’s the example they list:

“An example of unschooling would be your child learn about math, science, history, and language arts through their interest in Yugioh (the most random thing I could think of). For math they would learn about the thousands of duel monsters out there and the complex math rules of the card game (trust me that some serious math there). The science would come from learning about television and the technology that goes into making a show. Also they would learn about biomes by learning about how different monsters live and do better (in both the game and show) in different environments and then discussing with them how that relates to animals in real life. History would come from learning about the Japanese culture and the history of television, card games and their impact on society, Language arts could come from writing to a Japanese pen pal about anime they have their and the societal differences such as America’s censorship of material allowed in Japan.”

That’s a reasonable definition, but it lacks one major point: none of that happens unless the child wants to do it. No way to kill an interest in Yugioh like saying “OMG WHAT A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY! Here, have twenty thousand books on Japanese culture and history! Sweetie, I found you a foreign pen-paaaaal! :D!”

It’s an incredibly hands-off method. (If you want an extreme example of hands-off education, check this out.) And from what my mom has said, it can be very frightening to keep one’s hands so thoroughly off of one’s child’s learning experience. All she did was make quiet suggestions, and fully support whatever directions I followed.

For instance, she knows I love Scotland, so she’ll nab any interesting articles or books (from the library; no monetary investment) she noticed that had to do with Scotland, and leave them for me to pick up—or not. By the way, I always picked those up.

The thing about an entire country is that there’s a lot involved in studying it. History, etymology, botany, zoology, social studies, its current and historical relationships with other countries, poetry, literature, the lives of specific historical figures, music, and I’m sure you’ve already grown bored with this list. Guess what? I didn’t grow bored at all, because I was passionate about the items listed.

Of course, some say, that’s great for some things, but what about… math? *Cue spooky music*

Mom suggested various math books and courses, and while I tried a few of them, I was never really interested. She didn’t force the issue. Then one day a guy we knew mentioned a couple math books specifically for girls, and she got them from the library and set them on the kitchen table. “Here are the books Mike mentioned,” was all she said, and I spent the next few days holed up in my room, occasionally popping out to exclaim things like, “Wow! No one ever explained why flip-and-multiply works for dividing fractions!”

So yeah, whether it’s the application of math in Yugioh, or a class they want to take, or a book they love, kids who are gently guided towards math without being forced into anything will  find something that clicks with them. The key: just keep trying new things, and don’t try them too hard.  Some people would say, “But that’s just you! You’re unique.” Yeah, but you know what? So is every kid, once you take them off the knowledge-packaging assembly line.

Well that’s great for the academic ones, say others, but what about… kids who just sit and play ____ games? *Cue gunfire sound-effects*

At another point, I think I was about ten, I was obsessed with online pet sites. Neopets, mainly. For a full two years. It took a lot of work for Mom to let go of the fact that I was spending as many hours a day as I could on such a useless activity. But she did let go of it, and I’m glad she did. When I was about twelve, they changed the graphics, and I was very upset that none of my pets looked as I’d worked to get them. “What’s the point,” I wondered then, “of working so hard for things that can change at the whim of a graphic designer? No thanks; I’ll work a real business instead.”

Because, whadda ya know, I’d actually gotten some virtual business experience over those two years. So Mom and I found a business that worked for me (selling candles), and when I discovered fencing at fourteen, that’s the income that funded it.

And so on. That’s how unschooling works. Give the child responsibility for their own education, support their pursuits, make pressure-free suggestions, and see what you get.

Be careful, though… you might wind up with a writer.

A few notes:

Yes, there were rules. Unschooling means freedom of education; it does not mean freedom from familial codes of conduct. Say please-and-thank-you. No lying, no hitting. Offer to help with dishes when you’re at a friend’s house. And no, you may not have an incredibly sugary treat right now.

Yes, there were limits on screen time. That’s a matter of health. And I personally think TV should be off-limits except for special occasions.

Yes, there were chores, yes, there were lots of them, and yes, they were required. This is a matter of contributing to the household, and I do think children should be required to contribute to the household. Not everything kids hate is bad for them, sadly, and there’s no evidence of a couple hours of yard work killing individuality or the creative drive.

Checks and Balances: Absolute Anything Fails Absolutely

After some years of hashing it out, I finally understand my political position. Though I currently call myself more-or-less Libertarian, I think if I were to form my own political party, it would be called “Checks and Balances”. No, not in the sense of writing checks and balancing the budget (though I’m sure there’s some wisdom to that), but in the sense of checking headlong rushes and keeping the balance.

See, the problem is, I’m a very open-minded person. I don’t know how many issues on which I took position X, only to have someone with opinion Y come over and point out the inherent flaws in X, and the virtues of Y. Then I could see exactly what they were saying—but I also still saw the problems with Y and the great reasons I chose X in the first place.

This happened over and again, to the point that I began to realize a dismal truth: No system of government is perfect. In fact, none are even anywhere close.

Upon close and open examination, most social and political ideals work wonderfully in theory. However, none work in practice, for without fail, they rely on humans. Some rely on the justness of humans in the government. Ha. Some rely on the fairness of humans with money. Lol. Some rely on the goodness of humans en masse. Okay, enough.

In the end, these ideals are counting on human beings not exploiting the system. Not gonna happen, folks. No system is exploitation-proof.

But these ideas do have merit, and we have to be doing something—even if it’s nothing. (Yes, anarchy is another system that would work very nicely if all humans were good and kind.)

So, how to choose? I come back to Checks and Balances. It seems to me that these ideas of government can work well for a while, then they overbalance and tip over in one direction or another. Right now, my country seems to be tilting dangerously towards—

Freedom sacrificed on the altar of safety
A penchant for meddling militaristically in the business of other countries
Poorly executed socialism
Choking regulations that drag small businesses to the ground
Inanely thick bureaucracy

And so I, of the Checks and Balances party, put my back against this falling wall and shove, crying “Freedom! Non-intervention! Free markets! Simplicity!” and so on. But I see, too, the dangers of my own positions. They also can become too strong, in the hands of those inevitable system-exploiters. So if all begins to overbalance in the direction I’ve been pushing, I’ll run around to the other side, crying “Whoa now, I didn’t mean all that!” (I know this is kind of how our party system is supposed to work, but can we all agree that it’s kind of failing?)

Like running around with a broomstick balanced on your hand—back a few steps, back, back, AH, run forward, whoa, step to the side—this idea is very wobbly, to be sure. But I think if enough people would think in checks and balances, we might be able to keep such a precarious thing as a great country standing a little longer than otherwise.

Hmmm… Checks and Balances… open mindedness… awareness and recalculation… surely I can find a way to exploit that!