After six days in Portland with Kenzie, I am back in Chicago, with Ian and Cassidy, until Sunday evening. This two-week trip, beyond getting me out of my little corner of the world, was absolutely essential to my mental health. I was tired to the point of being short-tempered and uninspired, which was not ideal for me, the people I spend my days with, or DRC. Those profound levels of exhaustion were bringing me dangerously close to burn-out. In the last few months, while dealing with everyday responsibilities and crises, along with all the tasks related to founding a not-for profit, without a significant break, in two years, I realized that despite the deep joy and pride my work produces, I was becoming increasingly ambivalent to everything I had spent nearly six years creating.
No matter how invested you are in your work – whether it is something you have built from scratch or is purely a day job, everyone needs an occasional break. In these two weeks, I have learned, once again, that taking care of myself – doing “nothing” while staring off into space, reading a book for pure enjoyment, wandering, aimlessly, around an unfamiliar city, eating food that delights my palette, sleeping and waking without a schedule, writing, and spending time with people I adore – is absolutely necessary for, not only my sanity, but also, my ability to fully engage with the folks who need me, as well as the growth of Deep Root Center.
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My month of travel continues on Wednesday, after a brief stop at home, to visit my brother’s farm in Vermont and then the three day Liberated Learner Conference in Amherst, MA., which is one of the highlights of my year. It is where I am so very fortunate to have the yearly opportunity to connect with my colleagues, who are also building Self-Directed Learning Centers around the Country. I will spend the remainder of the month in Eastern MA. with my sister and then back in VT. to help plant my brother’s hemp crop. I’ll be back “in the saddle,” fully refreshed, the first week of July.
I have always believed that travel opportunities provide the very best education. When you intentionally remove yourself from your own comfy little corner of the world to experience other cultures, lifestyles, and types of communities, you can only return with a greater understanding of humanity, as well as yourself.
Leaving the solace of home became essential, for this highly sensitive, extreme introvert, when my children chose to seek their “fortunes” in far flung cities across the country.
This past Sunday evening, I began my two-week long journey to visit them in Chicago and Portland, OR., when I boarded the direct flight from OGS to ORD to visit my son, Ian, and his partner, Cassidy for three days, before heading out to spend a week with my daughter, Kenzie.
This was my third visit to the “windy city.” I deeply appreciate the ease of moving around urban areas; my friends and family are surprised that I miss living in Boston and that I would ever consider living in a city, again. The CTA and your feet will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go, in my case, on Monday morning, from Ian and Cassidy’s apartment in Edgewater to the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Zoo, the River Walk, “the Loop,” and back “home.” My adventure started at the corner of N. Sheridan and W. Catalpa at 9:30 am on the #151 bus.
I soon discovered that mid-morning is when all of the folks who rely on walkers utilize the bus to get their groceries and do errands. As #151 proceeded down North Sheridan, a few shouting matches ensued when those with carts and walkers got on or off and collided in the narrow confines of the front of the bus. At one point, an older woman was trying to get off with her walker and another older gentleman was trying to get on with his, which was over-loaded with his belongings. Their tires became entangled and everyone simply sat there and watched these two physically disabled elders struggle, while the bus driver waited. Hesitantly, I put my backpack down on the seat, stood up and lifted the lady’s cart up and over so that she could disembark. The remainder of the three-mile journey was a thought provoking, and, not to mention, eye-opening experience to the day to day reality of people living in poverty and hardship in the close confines of the city.
In that 40-minute trip to Lincoln Park, I vowed to make it my mission to smile and send out positive vibes filled with kindness and goodwill for the remainder of the day.
See, I believe it is possible to lighten someone’s mood by greeting them with a real smile and a “good morning,” assisting those who are encumbered with bags, carts, or strollers and other belongings, or even starting a casual conversation.
What would happen if, our elders were respected, honored, and taken care of as the wise people, they really are, in our society? What if everyone felt “seen” and important? Could we change the world one bus full of people at a time? I am convinced that the answer is, “yes, absolutely!”
That answer, however, relies heavily on every single one of us making it our mission to instigate a kindness revolution – fueling a transformation of our culture with compassion, empathy, and respectful dialogue, which leave blame and judgment behind.
I never imagined that meek little old me could ever be a revolutionary. But, there you have it. I, categorically, refuse to stand by to witness suffering of any kind. No, I am not in the southwest getting arrested for bringing water to desperate people, in an inhospitable environment, seeking a safe place to bring their children. Nevertheless, I am that person who smiles, reassures with a slight touch on the arm, and stands up, completely outside my comfort zone, to help another – allowing them to continue on with their day – hopefully, feeling a bit more cheerful, relevant, and less burdened.
This insurrection is dependent on every single one of us vowing to support, comfort, sustain, mentor, and simply love one another, despite all of our petty differences. Along with, understanding that diversity, in all of its forms (ethnic, neuro, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual, age, socioeconomic, etc.), can only make us stronger. And, fully comprehending that our survival as a species, totally depends on all of the above.
Yesterday, on my third day in Portland, I had the opportunity to witness a beautiful interaction between a talented, aged, busker playing drums, harmonica, and accordion at the Skidmore Fountain, a young boy he invited to play the cymbal, together with a baby in her father’s arms, who was borrowing his shaker. He played and sang a classic rock song while the boy hit the cymbals, mostly, randomly. Then he played Twinkle -Twinkle with them, while I sat on the edge of the fountain utterly captivated. This particular encounter may have seemed like an accident of my meandering explorations; however, I chose to see it as one more sign that the kindness revolution has, indeed, begun.
This was just one of a thousand serendipitous moments that pop up, every day, without any warning, to gently remind us to slow down, live in the moment, and bow in gratitude for the amazingly, creative, and brilliant generosity of our fellow humans.
Outside stimuli, which are seemingly innocuous to other folks, assault and quickly overwhelm the senses of those of us who are highly sensitive. I am particularly vulnerable to sound (loud noises) and emotional turmoil; however, I also respond adversely to chemicals, (cleaning solutions, pesticides, perfumes, etc.) visually cluttered environments, strong odors and tastes, and certain textures. My personal negative reactions vary from slight annoyance to “get me to hell out of here, NOW!” Those who spend their days with me, have come to recognize my triggers.
I recently read an article that described highly sensitive people as “canaries in the coal mine” - the ones who sense danger before anyone else. We, quite simply, experience life without filters – everything we encounter is observed (seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, and intuited) and then flows through without obstruction. Some set off all the internal alarm bells and others induce moments of pure wonder and awe. We, literally, have a visceral experience to the things most folks will walk by without a second glance.
I firmly believe that every single person is born highly sensitive; however, most, over a fairly short period of time, build up emotional callouses (thick skin) in direct response to the abrasive pressures and expectations of living in this world.
Picture the infant who stares intently at your face, the one who will only settle down when swaddled tightly, or the one who kicks off anything that encumbers their natural movement. Imagine the three-year-old who dances through a crowd - weaving in and out seemingly, unintentionally, avoiding certain people and embracing others. Or, think about the five-year-old who is walking through the woods darting from one amazing wonder to the next, ignoring the well-worn path, to first stare up into the tree tops to notice the tiny little nest made from sticks, mud, and fluff, and, in another moment crouching down to peek through a hollow log, and then quickly bouncing to the other end to peer from the other end to watch the line of ants march through.
Young children notice everything, especially those things that cannot be physically observed - nuances within a conversation or the emotional “temperature” of a room. They are inherently open-minded little sponges who absorb all the good of the world, as well as everything toxic.
As children enter formal society, usually through daycare and nursery school, they are given subtle (or not) cues about how to “be” in western culture. They are encouraged to remain stoic, unemotional, competitive, independent, and to “behave,” with rewards and adult approval. For those of us who "fail" to desensitize or “tune-out” by the time we are school-age, we are told to “buck-up,” “stop being so emotional,” “sit still,” “follow the directions,” and “for goodness sake, please, stay (color, walk) within the lines.” And, when those verbal admonitions are not effective, and we begin to act out, further, are soon labeled, “troubled” or “oppositional,” and ultimately punished.
Whether intentional, or not, these designations come with a lifetime of hurt and toxicity, which often translate into anxiety, depression, and low self-worth or esteem. This attempt to create conformity and obedience is all carried out in the name of education. The irony confounds!
I will argue, till the end of my days, that humans were designed in a way that life-long knowledge is innately driven by curiosity, and can only be acquired through off-trail and outside the box exploration, while we are following our interests and aspirations, and only when we are allowed to respond with all of that naturally, intense, and overwhelming emotion that springs up to engulf our very being.
I will be taking some much needed time away for most of the month of June, visiting my own children in Chicago and Portland, attending the Liberated Learners conference in Amherst, MA, and then visiting my siblings in MA and VT. I will be checking email and messages regularly and will respond as quickly as possible.
Two days ago, we celebrated the final day of the 18/19 academic year, as well as Chase’s last day with us as a student member. He joined Deep Root Center in August 2017 and despite growing and maturing tremendously over the past two years with us, his personality remains pretty consistent with the following DRC Spotlight I wrote in November of 2017, after knowing him for a few short months.
“Thanks for the warning”, Chase responds, with a sly grin, every time someone announces they are leaving the room, but will be coming back soon. This is often followed up with his trademark observation – “fabulous.” In a place where everyone takes great pride in their word play skills, Chase is always happy to engage in any witty repartee.
This past year, Chase’s verbal jousting grew to include the statement: “this is why we can’t have nice things,” which he threw out at every opportunity, whether it technically made sense or not. It became the running joke, which everyone responded to with varying levels of tolerance. My forbearance, honestly, ended about two weeks into the run.
Unfortunately, Chase did not have the opportunity to decorate for his favorite season because we were deeply into the process of moving from Main Street to our new home at 48 Riverside. He made the best of it by decorating the cellar for one day, soon after moving in, with his entire collection.
Chase spent a good portion of this past year studying Viking History and lore. He also started creating and drawing “Were” characters; his drawing pad is now filled with these otherworldly creatures. Chase delves deeply into every subject he decides to pursue, yet on the surface he appears scattered. He has a million ideas and wants to investigate all of them, but usually ends up getting caught in the web of one or two projects, which often times remain unfinished because of the wormholes he follows in the quest for deeper understanding. When all of that intense focus and mental gymnastics become too much, he loves nothing more than to escape (at least once a day) to either Heritage Park or the SUNY Canton trail to race, run, play, and climb.
The other kids have dubbed him, “Uncle Chase,” and we are delighted to announce that he will be expanding on that role to be our Apprentice starting this August. We asked him to take on this position, due to the fact that everyone looks up to him, not only as a role model to emulate, but as another person who cares deeply about them, and who they know will advocate for them in the wider world.
Everyone needs an “Uncle Chase” – that ridiculously, fun-loving guy who will put up with your antics until you have reached the limits of even his tolerance. After which, he will smack you down to reality with a drolly, precise exclamation that reflects his innate ability to connect on that profoundly human level with every person he meets.
Congratulations on finishing your High School career, Chase! And, welcome to the DRC Team! I am looking forward to mentoring you in this new position and watching you continue to grow and mature, as you take it on with your trademark exuberance and passion.
A reminder that the DRC Fundraising Garage Sale is Saturday, June 1st from 8:30-2:00. We will be accepting donations this coming week. Please get in touch if you have something you would like to donate. Thanks!
I will be out of town for most of the month of June. I will be available through email or text.
Check out this amazing opportunity:
DRC's seedling coordinator, Christopher Raymo, will be offering Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)classes each Friday at 10am this summer, June - August. The classes will be individualized for each student and tailored to styles and technique that fits each person. The classes will be free to DRC students and open to the public for $10/class. Simple uniforms will be required. To register and get specific info about the uniforms please contact Christopher Raymo @ 315-262-7261.
School is the culturally accepted place to become educated. Yet, most of us know people who graduated from high school (some with honors) who don’t know how to write, effectively – they have no idea how to take their thoughts (spoken words) and turn them into cohesive sentences, with punctuation, that people can easily understand. There are millions of folks who sat through Algebra, and like myself (who took the Algebra regents four times before passing), could not begin to successfully solve an algebraic problem if their lives depended on it. The same goes for the sciences – despite years of Life Science, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics, a great deal of adults don’t come close to understanding the scientific process. (Hence the insistence that climate change, or, even, evolution is a hoax.) And, then, there is Social Studies (History), which accounts for years of watching the clock, listening to the endless droning lectures about the complexities of what came before us. Is it any wonder we are destined to repeat the exact same mistakes, endlessly?
Nevertheless, we are still afraid to deviate from the status quo, called school. We are petrified that our kids might not learn what they need to know to survive, simply, because that sanctioned institution constantly reminds us that young people are lazy, unmotivated, apathetic, and need to be told what to learn.
What many do not quite grasp is that our children have acquired the propensity to be lazy, unmotivated, and apathetic in response to that coercive, stifling, and oppressive environment, which only rewards obedience, subservience, compliance, and the ability to fill in a worksheet correctly, while punishing creativity, innovation, and free thought. Subsequently, in the process of getting educated, most kids have, quite literally, learned to hate learning.
Think about it, have you ever encountered an indolent, unenthusiastic, or indifferent toddler? Most likely not – due to the fact that we are all born curious, with the innate desire to create and learn about the world around us. Research has proven that our inherent motivation to acquire knowledge does not go away simply because we turn 4 or 5 – it continues throughout our lifetime, unless it is effectively shut down by outside forces.
I believe that most of us recognize the above statements, and, ultimately, realize that most everything we have individually learned has been self-directed - based on our personal interests and aspirations. We became good at something, not because we sat in a classroom and listened to someone tell us how to do it, but because we did it, over and over and over again.
To this day, I struggle with the intricacies of spelling, or, for that matter, grammar (despite the tortuous months in sixth grade we spent diagramming sentences). Regardless, I have spent years writing, relying on spell and grammar check, dictionaries, thesauruses, and that little reference book I purchased for my first English Comp, Class at Cazenovia College in 1983, all the while developing an authentic voice that sometimes (OK, often) disregards all the rules. I write because it is an important part of who I am, and it is essential in how I express myself to the world. More importantly, it quite simply, makes me happy.
It is possible to release the fear and stand up for change, to defeat this particular status quo. In doing so, we are providing every single young person the opportunity to explore the one (or many) thing(s), deeply, in their own time, and on their own terms - that ultimately makes them happy, and, yes, even, successful.
Consider this unsolicited message I received this past week from Maddi, a student who finished high school at DRC, last May: "Hey, Maria! I just wanted to say that I miss you and everybody else there! And, I wanted to say thank you, I appreciate everything you've done for me so so much, I don't know where I'd be right now if it wasn't for Deep Root❤️"
For more on this topic, you can listen to this Blake Boles podcast. He is a leader
in the self-directed educational movement.
We are also very excited about the new film Self-Taught, by Jeremy Stuart,
the director of Class Dismissed. While we are waiting for our copy,
which we will be sharing with anyone who is interested,
you can enjoy this trailer.
Don't miss it - June first during the Dairy Princess Celebration! If you have items to donate please get in touch.