Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Year in Life... Including Dogs, Trips, Zines and Glasses

Hi! Long time no see.

I'm back because I've realized that, since this year was one of such infrequent posts, there are some things that have happened, changes and experiences and projects, that blog readers just never heard about (or maybe might have heard about if they caught that one post on the Facebook blog page at midnight on a quiet Tuesday in July, but otherwise almost certainly didn't).

So this is my year in review. A peek into some things big and small that happened in my life, be they actual events or emotional revelations or what have you, in the year 2013.

I got glasses 

After years of seeing everything in a kind of fuzzy blur, and two years of holding onto the prescription without choosing frames (because what if I got them and then hated them??), I finally bought a pair of glasses. So this summer, for the first time since I was 15 and got my first pair (which I promptly decided I hated and never wore), I could actually see! And it really has changed my life. I can read subtitles on movies now, read the digital clock from across the room, read street signs (which though it's not solving my getting lost habit is certainly helping), and can actually recognize individual people from a distance of more than 15 feet. It's really nice. And I even like how they look!!

My family got a new dog

After our beloved Airedale Terrier, Winston, passed away in the spring of 2012, we were devastated. It took many months of grieving before we felt ready to start looking for another sweet puppy to share our home, but in February of 2013 we started. We've never had any animals that weren't adopted before, and we weren't about to change that this time, but when you're looking to get a dog through a rescue organization, it's not like you can just say "well, this is my list of specifications, where is a dog who fits them??" and have one be waiting there for you. You have to have patience and just keep looking until you find a good fit for your family. This is especially true when you're dealing with one family member who is allergic to many breeds, and two much adored cats at home whom the dog absolutely has to be good with. Then even when you find a dog that fits those specifications on paper, often it just won't click between you and the dog in person. There needs to be that spark. As usual (that was the case with our last two dogs, as well), how we finally ended up finding our boy was through actually being in touch with specific people at specific shelters. We got a call from the woman we'd been in contact with at the Montreal SPCA (ironically the very evening my father had taken a plane to France for two weeks), saying hey, a dog just had a failed adoption and came back to us, and I think you might like him...

Blue at the SPCA, the first day we met him.
Enter a shaggy, skinny, big eyed Irish Wolfhound  mix who looked up at us with worried eyes and leaned on our legs. My mother, sister, and I were smitten. But we couldn't exactly adopt a dog without my father meeting him and being part of the decision, even if the SPCA had allowed that, which it doesn't. However, we were encouraged to foster him for those two weeks, since he wasn't doing well at the shelter, and then make a final decision once all members of the family had spent some time with him.

We were warned that, despite Blue's age of a year and a half, he'd be more like a 6 month old puppy due to his early neglectful and abusive life. We nodded, but anyone looking at this solemn, calm, well behaved creature would have had trouble picturing that. 

Blue on Christmas day.
Fast forward to now, over 5 months later, after my father having fallen in love with him as much as all of us have. While he still has the capacity to be both very calm and polite, as often as not he's bugging the cats (whom he absolutely adores) to play with him, climbing mommy (he loves putting his feet on her shoulders and kissing her face), snuggling with Papa on the couch, racing up and down the hallways going SQUEAKY SQUEAKY SQUEAKY SQUEAKY with one of his much loved plushies, barking at us to give him the human food on the counter, table, or stove that he would very much like to taste, and trying to (very gently: he's always gentle) chew on/mouth hands, arms, and occasionally noses (yup). In short, he's kind of like a 6 month old puppy. A very intelligent (he learns things scary fast and is most excellent at communicating his needs and wants), snuggly, energetic puppy. I can't even put into words how much laughter, joy, and love Blue has brought into our lives, and it's just been amazing to watch him become more confident and so much more happy in the time he's been with us. I couldn't have hoped to find a better dog.

And if anyone is looking to adopt a dog in the Montreal area, though the Montreal SPCA had a horrible reputation for many years, under current management it's great. Every employee and volunteer we dealt with was lovely, helpful, and seemed to really care! 

Here, have a couple more pictures of the cutest dog ever.

Getting cheek scratches.

Covered in snowballs from frolicking in the snow.

I went on a few visits and trips (though less than some years)

In the spring I met up with a couple of close friends and we spent almost a week in Maine, with a stopover in Vermont on the way. It involved staying at beautiful places, lots of time wandering around the streets of Portland, eating pizza and drinking mead, and even more time spent just hanging out and talking. Things went to shit after that trip, and stayed pretty shitty for the rest of the spring and summer, but that trip... That trip was good.

Bread and Puppet Theater.
The view from a friends house.

Live music and tasty pizza.

July brought the 4th annual Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering, a cozy group of teens and young adults, and parents of teens and young adults, that my family organizes each summer. There was lots of art making, game playing, swimming, bubble blowing, and even some jazz listening.

There was so much coming and going that sadly this shot is missing some people!

In august was the Northeast Unschooling Conference! My very favourite unschooling con, where some truly amazing people go. I miss them the rest of the year when I don't get to see them! It's the unschooling conference I recommend most.

NEUC picnic!

In October, for the first time in a couple of years, I headed back to Not Back to School Camp, in the capacity of a brand new role, assistant, at a brand new session, a retreat session with the aim of, essentially, helping people figure out their lives! Goals, plans etc. I have very mixed feelings on this event. Or, not so much the event, which was a huge success and a great idea, but more my own role in it. I felt like I failed. Like I could have done SO much better at connecting with campers, and being a good role model or some such thing. Instead, coming out of a very difficult summer, I barely held it together. If it wasn't for friends who sat with me and talked long into the night when I was shaking and dizzy and struggling to breathe, or just plain old sobbing my eyes out, I would have managed even worse. Though when I actually stop beating myself up for a moment, I can say I definitely worked hard at my dishwashing job, and considering how much trouble I was having, I handled things okay. I had some good conversations with many good people, attended  couple of cool workshops, and got to know some cool people better. Not too bad, all things considered.

Photo by Signe Constanble, found at the official NBTSC photo collection.

I dealt with some anxiety stuff

As mentioned previously in this post, my mental health this past year has not been superb. And in fact, I've struggled with anxiety for a very, very long time. This year doesn't really mark a turning point in the existence of anxiety, but it does mark a turning point in my commitment to being a lot more open about it. I don't think that's something I need or want to go into more here now, but I did write a whole post about the subject!  

I made a half-assed attempt to start selling clothing online

I love thrifting, and I find so many good things for ridiculously good prices, so this past year I decided hey,
I have a fill-a-bag-for-$1 store. This all was $1 total. Not kidding.
why not sell clothes online? However, I quickly got bogged don't in worry and fear (wait, I have to actually get things shipped out, what containers/packages do I use?? What if it gets damaged?? what if people ask for their money back?? How much should I charge in the first place anything? There's nowhere clean to take pictures all these clothes will look horrible in my messy house no one will buy them!!). Which is why I only ever posted 1 item to Etsy, I still owe etsy 20 cents for that posting, and I have not even signed in there in months. Oops. I do still want to do this, so providing I can get my act together, that might be something you'll actually see in 2014!

I started feeling at least a bit more comfortable identifying as queer

In case you didn't know from my brief mention in my bio or the very rare comment to that affect on the Facebook bog page, consider this my coming out: I'm queer! Which for me means I'm attracted to people of different genders. My sexuality has been something I've been angsting about since my later teens, mainly because it's never seemed clear cut, and the ways and levels of intensity with which I'm attracted to people does tend to vary with gender, leading to all kinds of questions about whether I'm really queer, or queer enough, or queer in the right way. But this year I think I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I'm really, genuinely sure I'm not straight. Therefore, I have every right to claim the identity of queer, and, since I really do feel more kinship to that label than any other I've seen, for now I'm working on being comfortable with my queerness.

I started writing a zine

And I'm still working on it, I swear! I even had over half of the content finished, when I decided much of it was horrible and awful and why would I want to publish that?? and that it needed to be re-written. It's working title is Breaking Pavement, and it's essentially a personal zine. In October I wrote this rough list of contents:

  1. An article on domestic rituals (bread baking, fermenting) and how comforting they are, how those things, as well as other direct connections to the… products of everyday life, I guess? Help me feel grounded. I’m sure there will be discussion of how anxiety works into all that, and how much it matters for someone who’s almost always stressed to find rituals, whatever they are, where you can actually feel at peace.
  2. Navigating being a feminine queer feminist woman, how people treat me, my struggles with how I feel happy presenting versus how I want to be perceived, etc.
  3. An article on my almost lifelong love of traditional fiddle music, including a few recommendations.
  4. A small collection of one breath poems/haiku.
  5. My cinnamon bun recipe.
  6. Some comically bad illustrations.
See? I said comically bad.

I plan to post periodic updates on the Facebook blog page as it starts to come together more.

I'm finally building a personal site

I've been feeling for a while that my presence on the web feels... Spread out. Disorganized. So I've wanted to build a personal website, a place that can act as a gateway to my various blogs and projects. I've been using weebly, and I am amazed at how easy it is to use. My site is nearly finished and looking great, even though I have pretty much no skills when it comes to web design! All I need now is to buy a domain name, which I'm not currently feeling like I have enough money for. It might only be $10 and change, but that's a day out in the city actually doing things, since I live in the suburbs far from anything, and those days out are more important for my mental health than a domain name. If you feel moved to help out with that though, and would like to send a dollar or two my way, I would be very appreciative. I can't figure out how to link it (remember that very-little-web-skills thing I mentioned?) but a donate button can be found at the top right sidebar of this blog. Thanks!

Sneak peek of the new site!

 Now I think that's it

As in, all I can think of right now. All I feel like sharing. Already longer than I'd either expected or wanted it to be! But that is my year, in headlines, with the boring parts skimmed over. That's what I've been up to. I hope, since I've been so out of contact with all you lovely readers this past year, that you can feel like you know a bit more now, and that you have a better grasp of where I am in life!

Wishing everyone all the very best in 2014! Happy New Year!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Emotional Health and the Power of Choice, or Why Kids Should be Able to Avoid Things

I've mentioned previously in passing that I think one of the benefits of unschooling is in the space it gives people to learn to handle things at their own pace. But I don't think I've ever said more on the subject than that.

So here's me saying more.

I think unschooling helps people to grow up as more emotionally healthy people, in part by giving them the opportunity to not deal with shit when they can't handle it.

I think it's important for people to have the option to avoid things when that feels like the healthy thing to do. What I mean by this is, for example, what I often did growing up struggling with anxiety. When a place or an activity or a person just made me too anxious, I could choose not to go back to that place or activity for as long as it took me to no longer feel anxious about it (whether that was a week or two or forever).

For others, it could mean not having to continuously deal with places or social groups where they're bullied, or things that feel too overwhelming.

Non-schoolers of various stripes are often accused of sheltering their kids, and while the type of sheltering that includes no sex ed and only teaching creationism might be problematic, the type of "sheltering" I favour is that of children learning to protect themselves by not dealing with more than they're capable of handling. Being able to make that call, instead of having no choice but to go to a place every single day where you might feel extremely overwhelmed and anxious, depressed, or be bullied and abused, is powerful. I'm so grateful for that.

I'd like to think I'm happily avoiding things that made me anxious
by practicing keyboard here.

Then of course you get a whole bunch of people saying "then how will they ever learn to deal with difficult situations?!" My response is that, firstly, why should anyone be subjected to harm, whether that's physical or emotional, if it can in any way be avoided? And secondly, that difficult situations and people are simply impossible to avoid no matter how "sheltered" a person is. What you can do is:

  1. Not deal with actual abuse. No one, no matter their age, should ever be forced to deal with abusive people and situations. Ever. 
  2. Wait until you feel ready to deal with something. Maybe it's impossible to avoid, but you need a bit of time to think things through, and prepare yourself. Everyone deserves that breathing space, if they need it.
  3. Avoid the things that just aren't necessary. Maybe a certain activity is full of people who just love drama. Maybe you don't feel it's worth it to go to that activity, because it provides more negatives then positives in your life. So you can just, you know, stop going.
Because ultimately, difficult things are impossible to entirely (or sometimes even mostly) avoid. Your friend groups will have fights and issues, you'll have to support your friend who's going through something really rough, relationships will end, you'll run into abusive people, and sometimes you'll feel that you have to deal with an environment that feels really toxic.

But what unschooling can do is let you avoid some of the worst situations and some of the unnecessary ones. It gives children and teens a lot of the same freedom adults have, to quit a job with an abusive boss or stop going to that quilting class where people keep talking behind other peoples' backs. 

I think that children and teens, when given that freedom, can't help but be at least a bit healthier, happier, and better equipped to deal with difficulties in more intentional ways. 

And really, isn't that what we should all be striving for?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Anxiety: A Memoir, or How Living With a Mental Illness Sucks

For a long time now I've been wanting to write this post. It's been rattling around for months now, as an idea, and as something I feel almost compelled to share before I can even think of writing other posts. But I haven't until now because, honestly, writing has felt so hard, and this subject is so scary. It's a real baring of my most intimate life and insecurities, and there's always the terror of  not knowing how people will react.

But now it's mental health awareness week in the US. It isn't here in Canada: our mental health awareness week is in May, apparently. But seeing posts about mental illness starting this week from various networks of mine, it felt like a sign, or perhaps more just the final push I needed.

I have a (or more than one) anxiety disorder. As for what precisely in that category of various anxiety based disorders I live with, who knows. I think generalized anxiety disorder sounds most accurate, my GP thinks panic disorder and maybe obsessive compulsive disorder. I haven't sought the official diagnosis of a psychiatric professional for some very good reasons that I don't want to get into here. And really, I don't particularly care. I only care that I can say "I have an anxiety disorder" because it can help me find people who understand, and because I really hope that people will take me seriously (though with how shitty people dealing with mental illness are often treated, I'm probably hoping in vain). I'm not just kind of stressed, or worried, or what have you. I'm anxious. All the time.

I've been making a conscious effort in the past year to be more open about my anxiety, but I find myself easily slipping into talking about it in a colder, more detached way, or simply in a super brief and non-explanatory way. I have an anxiety disorder. I deal with a lot of anxiety. It's not actually that hard to say that. What's hard is talking about what that actually means in my life.

I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life. As a small child, I can remember holding my pee for hours when I was out, because I desperately didn't want to use the public toilet. When I eventually did, if any part of myself, my clothing, or my bag so much as brushed any part of the toilet (or perhaps even worse, the sanitary napkin disposal box), I would just shut down. Any further enjoyment I might have gotten out of the day was ruined, and I'd barely interact with anyone after that if I could help it. Because internally it was all about that moment of contact in the bathroom, paying attention to everything that that contaminated part of my skirt then touched: side of hand, purse, knee. So that I could make sure that I washed everything that was contaminated once I got home. When other children would come over to visit, I'd hang around near the bathroom door when they used it, to make sure I heard them wash their hands (and would go to my mother panicking if I didn't hear those taps go on).

As you're probably starting to realize, anxiety around cleanliness has always been a big thing with me. Health, too, relatedly (those "signs of a heart attack everyone should know!" things that go around the internet are really hard for me, as hearing about horrible diseases/illnesses I might have often leads to my having to spend several hours or more talking myself through my anxiety, and convincing myself I'm almost certainly not dying of something awful). And really, when it comes to cleanliness related anxiety, I've gotten a whole lot better. I learned, over the years, how to cope a lot better, and there are plenty of things that no longer bother me at all. There are still lots of things I do on a daily basis, lots of habits, that keep my anxiety about cleanliness specifically at bay, but the only time I have major meltdowns or shutdowns about it are when I'm already struggling: almost always when I'm away from home (the place I get to have control over, minimizing triggering things), tired, in a new or especially stressful environment. When those breakdowns do happen, it can be discouraging realizing I maybe haven't come as far as I'd thought I had, but I try to focus instead on how very much progress I have made.

Which is really part of the reason this past year has been so difficult. I stopped writing so much on this blog because, as I said about a year ago, unschooling and alternative/radical education is no longer something I feel as passionately about. Or, more accurately, I'm just not interested enough in it any longer to focus as much time on the subject as I had been. But I didn't mean to drop this blog as completely as I did. That happening has more to do with how much my mental health went down the toilet last winter, and has stayed at pretty much toilet levels since then.

It confused me, at first, because my primary relationship to anxiety has always been through the specific areas of cleanliness and health, yet my anxiety around those things has been at fairly steady levels for years. That didn't really get worse. But the constant fairly low-ish levels of anxiety I was used to living with started going up. And when the anxiety you constantly. Feel. All. The. Time. Gets to a certain point, you start to no longer be able to deal with even the smallest stressors, and even getting out of bed, getting dressed, and leaving the house start to be really, really hard. Anxiety has always made those things more difficult for me than for plenty of other people, it's seemed, but this seemed to be new levels of difficult, or at least more difficult than I'd experienced in years.

Physical health problems I'd dealt with in small ways for years started getting worse and worse, until I finally realized that it wasn't normal to constantly feel weak, to wake up never feeling rested, for my shoulders to be constantly knotted in lines of tension, for my heart to regularly race, to feel dizzy, shaky, and short of breath every single day. The multiple headaches (some mixture of tension and migraine headaches) a week I've been experiencing for years started to feel harder and harder to deal with. I didn't know what was wrong with me, physically, because I never imagined mental illness could have such a huge physical effect.

When I was a teenager, I'd sometimes get panic attacks. For those who've never gotten one before, it's a feeling of absolute terror, like you're dying. My heart would race, I couldn't breath, I'd have hot and cold sweats, shake violently, and yet with all of that also feel the strangest sense of detachment (which I quickly learned was known as "disassociation"), as if I was removed from my body. My previous experience with panic attacks made it confusing for me now, as I wasn't having full-blown attacks so felt my anxiety couldn't be *that* bad, even if the fear of having one still came regularly with a racing heartbeat, lying in bed in those hours between 2 and 4 am, when everything is too still and all your fears can find you. But because I could talk myself down enough for the panic to not get that bad, I felt my anxiety couldn't be all that bad, right?

Until a scary and embarrassing 911 call, made when my hands cramped up so badly from hyperventilating that I couldn't move them at all. That, and seeing a doctor, something terrifying and difficult and a decision made when the terror of not knowing what was going on with my body outweighed the terror of seeing a new doctor, made me realize that I'd literally been hyperventilating daily, for weeks, and just been unaware of it. Tingling hands, shortness of breath, dizziness? Just a regular fixture of everyday life, and also likely what's known as limited symptom attacks.

It was hard to realize that most of the health problems I've been dealing with are almost certainly anxiety related. And it has been difficult, yet also felt very important and healing, to finally, finally stop minimizing and dismissing my struggles. After years of going it's not so bad. Other people have it worse. I mean, I'm not *really* ill. Years of missed opportunities and meltdowns and regrets all because of anxiety. To finally be honest with myself, and say: this is a problem, I'm sick, and neither ignoring it nor putting myself down for it is helpful or healthy.

And about a month after making that conscious decision, I am doing a little bit better. I'm hyperventilating a lot less, and getting better at stopping the panic faster. I've tried out some meds to help reduce the amount of headaches I get. I feel like recognizing I have an illness and realizing I need to make conscious, deliberate steps to improve my health has been a bit of a turning point, and I'm doing better. Not good, but better.

And now I find myself turning outwards, not being solely focused on internal struggles, but also wanting to communicate my struggles, explain to people what's going on. Which is scary, not the least of which because people often react in really unhelpful ways. Without knowing about my illness, people have been saying hurtful things for years. As I wrote in a Facebook note about a year ago, my first time publicly talking about my anxiety:
people say the most hurtful shit to me, without having the faintest clue how hurtful it is. People crack jokes about me being a clean freak, tell me I should have a clipboard/respond with a “yes boss”/otherwise imply I’m being unreasonable and bossy, and similarly make an issue of my saying “that’s not clean” or “please wash your hands” or “please don’t put that on the table.” Which makes me feel really bad, to the point that sometimes I feel like bursting into tears (though luckily I generally manage not to). I feel really self-conscious about how others see me and my anxiety, and the best possible reaction is for people to at the very least act like they don’t find anything I’m doing, or politely requesting that they do, odd. I don’t want people to notice my anxiety, and I REALLY don’t want to be mocked for it. My family can make jokes about it without it being hurtful, but unless you know me well enough to feel you have a really good idea of whether I’ll be hurt by your joke or not, you shouldn't make it.
It's easy for people to make such comments in ignorance, because if I don't tell people about my anxiety, they don't know. I'm good at hiding it. Seeing as I've struggled with it since I was 6 or 7, you could say I have a lot of practice. I've carried on conversations with people while hyperventilating, my hands shaking heart racing, and they can't tell anything is wrong at all.

But even when I tell people, even when they do know, people say the most insensitive things. Become Buddhist! Try meditating! Just take deep breaths! Don't worry! All of which, to someone who's been constantly anxious for almost as long as they can remember, can feel like a slap in the face. Thank you, it never occurred to me to just take deep breaths. And offering meditation alone as a "cure" feels to me like handing a bandaid to someone with blood gushing from their slashed femoral artery and saying that will make it all better! 

I'm not saying that religion or meditation or mantras or many other things can't help people deal with their anxiety, because it can, but for someone without anxiety to think they can solve someone else's extremely difficult struggle with a perky suggestion of a lifestyle change, as if it was that easy, feels more insulting and hurtful than anything else.

Now as I come to the end of this post, I'm trying to feel out what the purpose of writing this is. And it's that I'm trying to be more open about this struggle, because hiding it makes me feel worse, not better. Because I hope that by sharing this struggle, as someone whom apparently other people admire, I hope people carrying stigmas about those with mental illness can examine any prejudices they might hold. And because I know how very, very helpful it has been for me to know I'm not alone in these experiences, and I hope that other people can know that too.

I'll be okay. I have supportive people in my life, and I don't want any of you kind people to worry. I just wanted, as always, to share.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Learning Advice from a Learning Life

Learning is something very personal and very individual, so having found myself being asked for generalized learning advice, I find myself both eager to share but hesitant about what to share!

So I'll simply do what I always strive to do: write from personal experiences. Share what I've found to be important in my own learning and in my own life, and hope that others can find it relatable or otherwise helpful. Much of this seems really obvious, yet at the same time I've never actually sat down and attempted to list all the things I find most important in my own learning, and seeing it all laid out like this is proving really interesting and revealing to me...

Be comfortable learning just enough and nothing more

Read the Wikipedia article, and if you're satisfied with that, stop. Go by your interest level, and don't feel an obligation to learn a lot about a subject if you're not interested in doing so.

Be comfortable focusing on one subject to the exclusion of (almost) all else

Sometimes digging deep and truly immersing yourself in something can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, and leaves you with a very deep knowledge of something or a high level of skill. If something seems wonderful enough to you to do that, go for it.

Learn alone

Books are great. So is the internet. So are solitary walks in the woods.

Self-taught ukulele player

Seek out groups, teachers, or mentors to learn

Sometimes learning with other people really feels best (for some people often, others, rarely). Whether it's in a group where big interesting discussions can happen, or finding a teacher who can help you gain the level of skill you want to have, learning with other people can be wonderful. There's nothing that says just because you're a self-directed learner you can't direct yourself towards lots of other people!

Don't force it

If you find yourself reading the same paragraph half a dozen times because you're just not taking it in, stop. Put the book down. Maybe permanently, maybe just until the next day if it seems interesting again then. But I do find, in my experience at least, that anything I've ever had to choke down or really force myself through, I've forgotten. Every single time. That doesn't mean you might not want to force yourself through a boring chapter in an otherwise interesting book on occasion, or get through a not-so-interesting article online because it's the only place you've found to get that specific information you want. Just that if you're really not enjoying something and there's nothing forcing you to do it (as in, you're not studying for a test you really want to pass), then give up. If you're not enjoying it and not taking it in, what's the point?

Learn to quit

We live in a society that despises "quitters," and we're reminded of this in small ways on a very regular basis. Quitting is usually equated with "failure" (something else we're taught to avoid at all cost), when in fact quitting is sometimes the best and healthiest thing to do. If you thought you wanted to learn ballroom dancing, but then find you hate ballroom dancing class with a passion, stop going. If you loved a subject deeply and spent all your time studying it, but now find yourself no longer feeling it's draw, find something else you want to devote your time to. If everything you've been doing for years has been towards achieving a specific goal, yet you come to the realization that that's no longer a goal that will make you happy, let go of it. This is a lot harder in practice than in theory, but I know I've found much happiness when I realize something's no longer working for me, no longer what I want, and choose to let go.

Ask for help

Even for unschoolers, who usually strive to learn from their community, asking for help can be hard (or at least it can be for this perfectionist unschooler!). But I've had to come to realize that sometimes, you really do need to just ask for help. People are usually very happy to oblige in sharing something they know about and enjoy doing!

Teacher-taught Highland snare drummer

Don't fear mistakes

Again, this is something that even unschoolers can struggle with. Personally, I generally hate learning brand new skills in groups, because I feel really self-conscious about not being good at something, and making mistakes in front of others. But as for the above, sometimes you really need to learn with and around others, and mistakes aren't something to be ashamed of.

Don't compare yourself to others

I fail at this one all the time, yet I always strive to do better at it. Don't compare your body of knowledge to other people, your level of skill in specific subjects, how long it takes you to learn something, or how you learn something. It won't help and it will most likely leave you feeling self-conscious and inadequate (or the reverse, and give you the mistaken idea you're smarter or better than someone else, instead of just that you have different strengths).

Don't let others' ideas about the right way to learn get in your way

If a particular way of learning something suggested by a friend, a teacher, a parent, or a book is working for you, awesome. But just because somebody says that X way is the best way to learn, doesn't mean it's the best way for you. Experiment, be flexible, be suspicious of anyone who says there's only one way to learn anything, and most importantly just go with what works for you.

What have you found helpful to keep in mind when it comes to your own learning? What advice would you give to others? As usual, I love hearing what you all have to say!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What About College?

I’ve been asked some variation on “are you going to college?” more times than I can count, and I don’t generally give a more elaborate answer than “no.” Occasionally, when pressed, I say that what I want to be doing (cooking!) doesn’t require a degree. Or that I’m doing more interesting things (to me) than going to school. But when I was asked that question online recently, I finally wrote a response that explains in more detail why I’m not going to university*, and that response has been re-worked into this post. You can also find this article posted over at Cooperative Catalyst.

So, am I ever going to go to university?

I don’t like to say never, because lots of things change, but I definitely can’t see myself going to university full time or for a degree in the foreseeable future. I’m sort of vaguely considering just taking a class or two sometime in the next year, or maybe, possibly, going to culinary school at some point, but I haven’t really made any decisions on either of those possibilities yet.

Why don’t I want to go?

As for why I don’t plan on going to university full-time, I have many reasons. A list of bullet-point reasons, even.

  • There is nothing I want to be doing right now as a job or “career” or whatever that would require a degree, so the only reason (and this is a good reason to go to university for many people!) would be for pure enjoyment/learning purposes, which leads me to…
  • I’m not very into more academic subjects, as a rule. Most of the things I enjoy doing tend to be really tactile and immediate. I like cooking and gardening and having one-on-one conversations. Sure, I like reading about feminism and social justice and radical education. Hell, a major focus of my life for a few years was reading and talking and writing about unschooling! But I sort of feel that what I really want and need to be doing in my life right now is just that: doing, not studying.
  • I don’t enjoy learning-for-the-sake-of-learning (and having said that I swear I can almost hear a horrified gasp from lots of people in my unschooling community). For me to enjoy and take in information or learn a skill well, it has to feel genuinely important and relevant in my life and/or the lives of the people close to me, my community, etc. I’m very happily reading through a large book on fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz is awesome) because I want to be fermenting more foods and beverages. I’m going to pick up a really awesome looking book (The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer) on wild edibles soon, because I want to be foraging a lot more with my sister come spring. Social justice issues, radical politics, and radical sustainability are important because I want to be a good person, act in as kind and non-oppressive a way as possible, live in a genuinely sustainable way, etc. University has always seemed to me to be so incredibly removed from the rest of the world, and I really don’t want that, or think that that removal is generally a healthy thing.
  • I hate how inaccessible academia is. Both the price, though that is at least less of an issue where I am than many other places**, but also the very language and culture of universities and academia. Though I’ve seen and been bothered by this on multiple occasions, a specific instance that stands out to me was one time when I was at a talk, and this one dude just started bringing up objections and questions in the most ridiculously academic language you can imagine, and referencing books and authors I’d never heard of. As the conversation between the speaker (an academic herself) and the audience member continued, I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. And I say this as someone who is generally read as well educated (by people unaware of my being an unschooler, since then of course folks start to think otherwise), a native English speaker, and someone usually considered skilled with words. It just hit me very profoundly that if this seemed inaccessible to me, how much more inaccessible is it to so very many other people? It just doesn’t sit right with me.
  • Also, when I think of being in classrooms for some four years or more, I feel like I’d be trapped. I’m literally mildly horrified at the idea. It does not sound appealing at all.

There are more personal reasons, and there are far more nuanced critiques of the institution of university to be found out there. But from my perspective, those things are a very good overview of why I have no plans or desire to go to university.

Really, there are so many more interesting (to me) things I want to be doing right now in my life, things that are relevant and exciting and hands-on. No classrooms needed.

*I say university not “college” because here in Quebec, college (also known as CEGEP) is a between high school and university thing, and is not synonymous with university.

**In Quebec the average tuition per year is $2,519 (source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/educ50f-eng.htm)