Intro: This is a guest post written by my daughter (my baby girl), MacKenzie, who turns 22 today. Kenzie is and has always been an independent spirit and the ultimate hands-on learner. She enjoys nothing more than a good squishy mud puddle, as long as she can take the time to let it ooze through her fingers and stomp in it while wearing her colorful rain boots. She has always understood, as she mentions in this piece, that diving in, hands first, and making awesomely over the top, messes is absolutely essential to learning.
Kenzie is also a dreamer and a person who acts with intention to make those dreams come true. What she has not said in this post is that back in August, she told us that she was going to contact all of the “kick ass” female chefs in Portland, Oregon (where she lives), because she wanted to work in a kitchen where good (real) food is honored and where the people who make that food are appreciated and respected as individuals, within a caring family-like community.
Long story short – Kenzie will soon be starting her new job at a restaurant called Yonder that will be opening in Portland, with a “kick-ass” female chef at the helm, and a group of people who are dedicated to working together to create awesome food.
Of course, she has had to suffer through a few, not so ideal, positions before arriving at this goal. Fortunately, she used those lessons learned to make informed decisions that brought her to this positive place.
Kenzie Doodle, I am so proud of all you are, all the growing you have done and will continue to do, your persistence, and, most especially, all you do to make the world a better place. Happy 22nd Birthday, Baby Girl!
You Do You
I felt pressured to go to college.
This burden was not necessarily derived from my parents, my extended family, or my friends - it was more so bred from the social expectations and stigmas that my local community subconsciously roused. Nearing the end of my high school career, I found myself searching frantically for that one thing that stood out from my list of thousands of interests, which only increased tenfold on a daily basis. How could I choose what to study when I housed a brain that lacked the ability to hone into details unless I actually cared deeply about the topic?
As a teen I found solace in escape tactics. The latter part of my years in my parental stronghold were spent trying on different personalities, creating art, experimenting, writing poems on my walls, thinking deeply, yelling loudly, testing my limits, and (unfortunately) testing my family’s limits in the process. Like all human children, I learned by asking millions of questions, making mistakes, and creating small catastrophes. I’m undoubtedly thankful for the messes I made, the people who tore me down, and the ones who built me up when I felt undeserving of positive reinforcement. I’m grateful for the life lessons that I endured in order to put my best foot forward. Experience is what makes you grow; not only upward and outward, but also inside the part of you that gives a sharp, pinching warning before you make a royal mistake.
Still, college was a beast that I was convinced that I had to tackle. After taking a full year off, I began my freshman year at Hampshire College. I was excited for the new experience, and frightened by the potential outcome. How was I going to pay the thousands of dollars in loans and interest as soon as I left school? After having grown up in a family who were free of debt and whose income was never treated frivolously, this seemed like a terrible idea that required a lot of faith in a “system” I was raised to question.
Surprise, surprise, one month of school had passed and I had returned to my old habits. Doing my very best to convince everyone that I was happy and I was loving my higher education experience, I was truthfully withering away, and trying to escape. The campus and all that lay within its confines became my tank, and like a goldfish I found myself unable to grow, shift, or adjust. As my depressive symptoms increased, and my will to live diminished with alarming speed, I realized I was only enjoying what I had control over. I was leaving classes without storing any of the information or content that I had been taught. I despised group projects - or working collaboratively with anyone - because I did not always have the upper-hand. I loathed meeting with my professors, partially due to social anxiety, but mostly because I did not care to listen to advice that I was not planning to take.
Most people may think that I took this opportunity for granted, but the reality is that college was just not for me. I was increasingly aware of the inner workings of higher education, and how the out-pour of information that I was receiving was derived from a compounded system of racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and transphobic history. My privilege of attending college was literally founded on the backs of those who could not. This form of education is established on ‘practicality’ and a certain ‘bottom line-ism” that focuses on turning students into products of a world which only serves to break our spirits down. Being a forever social skeptic, I began to struggle against everything I was being taught. Not unlike my own biological system I began to deal with this by creating my own social antibodies, using the arts, language, and expression as personal tools to contradict all that I absorbed.
Sophisticated as we may think we are, western knowledge and perspective expects us to take a huge leap of faith in order to believe that human consciousness is somehow evolving in an orderly fashion. I soon discovered that my research was expected to be linear. I learned that in class there is a descriptor and predetermined formula for everything that ‘works’. For some reason, no one was open to me questioning those set ideas - when I only wished to flush my findings with deeper inquiry of what lays outside of an appropriate reference. I found myself stuck on one overarching topic: everything is constantly evolving. Humans and their systems, channels, and energies are changing rapidly. Human technology is escalating with alarming speed. If you do choose to go to college, wouldn’t it at least make sense for the school to use their student’s natural innate curiosity, excitement, and instincts to explore the vast world of knowledge that exists outside of the finite collection of information that the collegiate experience offers? Humans are more wise than we usually perceive.
I write this because I left college and since doing so I have matured, and regained a copious amount of faith in myself. Over the past two years of being free from an institution’s expectations, I have experienced a shift of attitude and focus within myself. I have grown into a mental space that I know I would have never reached if I were tightly secured to a campus. I have given myself the ultimate gift: a significant head start on the things that I really want to be doing in my life. I have peers outside of college who are becoming the creators who they want to be without attending college. Musicians, chefs, trade workers, writers, restaurateurs, actors, policy makers, activists, film makers, and entrepreneurs - I see these people challenging the world that we were born into and rising up to their full potential as individuals, and team members, all the while withstanding the pressures from their own families and peers to go back to school. It takes some serious guts to stand up to people that you care about and tell them “no, that is not what I want”.
Listening to your own needs and acting on them does not mean that you shouldn’t constantly question your motives and the space that you take up; it means the complete opposite - you should always be aware of the ways in which you embody your beliefs, and how it could be damaging to another demographic, or to yourself. Living and working with all kinds of people has pushed me to create and collaborate, and most importantly to step back and be quiet. I have watched myself grow into a person who seeks to step back and use other’s input. I have witnessed myself sprint miles past the girl who only wanted to prove her strength, wit, courage, and control, and to become a human who knows how to question, challenge, and love herself fiercely. The beast can be tamed - my interests are still in the thousands, but I have learned a few new concepts: 1. focus, hard work, and preservation can actually get you to where you never thought you could be, and 2. You do not need to gain anything from your hobbies other than the sheer pleasure of taking time to do something for yourself.
This is not a declaration. I am not telling you or your kids to not go to college, I am not saying that you are at all wrong for going to school. This is a call to action: for anyone who feels pressured to go to college, to the parents who control their children with directives, rewards, or punishments, and to those who are worrying about what the future holds once they graduate. Instead of expecting yourself, your offspring, or your peers to go to school, try adopting a willingness to be thoughtful, empathetic, curious, and clumsy. By believing that you or someone else is making a terrible decision by skipping out on college, you are sending a direct message to those who did not have the opportunity to go in the first place. If the person making a decision about their educational future is not you, then choose instead to sit down and listen. When given the time and environment, all humans - no matter their age - have the capacity to decide what is ultimately best for their future. And if they fail at first, let that be their lesson to learn and grow from.
Most people surmise that self-motivation is something I don’t struggle with. As much as I hate to refute those assumptions, I have to honestly say that, like most folks, I do grapple with personal initiative every single day. We all have that list of things that we know need to get done (or even started). And for most of us, the tasks we find mundane, boring, monotonous, and frustration inducing are the ones we try avoid at all costs. I mean, who willingly puts themselves through excruciatingly dull, uncomfortable, or painful experiences without a bit (or, days) of internal dialogue first. (In my case, this process has to happen every time I have to do housework, make a dental appointment, do the taxes, clean-up the DRC art room, start writing a grant, or, the really big one, dealing with, despised and preposterous, “officialdom.”)
No matter who you are, anything that does not immediately elicit that feeling of joy or pride is going to be automatically met with distaste, skepticism, distrust, discomfort, or outright rejection.
On the other hand, there are those chores that we take on with relish (no talking to required) - the ones we find the most interesting, exciting, and pleasurable. These are the endeavors that provide that sense of satisfaction and instigate that desire to do more. Yes! This is what self-motivation looks and feels like.
Ah! Therein lies the conundrum. How do we as mentors, help young people find the things that light their fire, when their internal reference point for personal fulfillment has been obliterated by all they have previously experienced in a system that uses coercion, as well as reward and punishment to make them do those things they find stultifying, irksome, and without meaning? They have never had the opportunity to explore the world. Therefore, they don’t know what brings them joy except for the empty diet of instant gratification provided by video games or social media. Which, by the way, I am not condemning as evil, or “the problem with society (kids) these days.” What I am saying is that as with anything, moderation is key.
Once they leave that system, they have no idea how to negotiate the world of free choice. They are afraid of anything that seems like “work” and will avoid the things they associate with their previous experiences. The “white” or “blank" page syndrome is very real, not only for those of us who write, but for anyone who is faced with the seemingly empty imaginative and creative space inside their heads.
Fear is a motivator unto itself – through avoidance, it gives us the false illusion of “safety.” It is that thing that allows inertia and ambivalence to become the strangling forces on our creativity, and it also makes it harder and harder to reckon with, the longer we allow it to rule our emotions.
When I say, “imagine the possibilities.” Or, “you are in charge of your education and life,” between the fear of the unknown, making mistakes, looking foolish, and the false impression that once they make a decision they are “stuck” with it for eternity, they, quite simply, have no idea where to begin.
Oftentimes, they need a gentle nudge – a jump start – something to break the bond of static energy. But, what does that look like within our non-coercive, safe, and supportive environment? As with anything, it is different for every single person. Some require explicit permission to be their authentic selves and a “look in the mirror” to recognize the masks they present to the world. For others, it includes surrounding them with tons of action, resources, and opportunity – people (other kids) modeling creativity and engagement for them to easily (with no initial commitment) get involved with. There are few who need to screw up royally and be faced with either learning how to make positive and productive decisions or be asked to leave. And, then there are those kids, for whom, absolutely, nothing works, except for a brief explanation of inertia, an open invitation to discuss anything (ideas or concerns) at any time, a reminder of the old axiom, beginning is half finished, and (lots and lots of) time and space.
We are excited to announce that Deep Root Center is officially a partner with the Central New York Food Bank. What does that mean? We are able to access provisions from the Food Bank and it's other partners, at little or no cost, for our kids to use to make their own lunches or breakfasts, as well as for cooking and baking classes. Stay tuned as those initiatives take off.
Beyond open, non-coercive, and non-compulsory, the word I use most often to describe the DRC environment is “safe.” Our student members are safe from bullying and manipulation, on all levels - from physical to emotional. I can make that promise when they are here; however, as we recently discovered, I cannot, when they go out into that competitive world where, some people use retaliation, cruelty, and vindictiveness, to “win” life.
Some would say, “but, how is that helping them, won’t they expect to be protected everywhere? You can’t shield them from reality.”
That isn’t the point! So often, kids unintentionally present themselves as targets because they feel inferior, defeated, or just plain sad. They emit an unconscious signal of vulnerability and defenselessness to those who will, without a second thought, take advantage of their personally perceived victim-hood.
The DRC environment is filled with staff and volunteers who genuinely care. Not only do we model self-assurance, self-motivation, humor, and ability to be our true selves, we also meet everyone here with empathy, respect, and thoughtfulness.
In our role as mentors, we guide each student to be assertive yet kind, personally motivated yet unselfish, strong yet flexible, influential and inspiring yet humble, curious yet attentive, imaginative yet honest, and above all we encourage them to be gentle, trusting spirits without becoming vulnerable targets. In doing so, we are teaching them to respond to bullying with a calm, poised demeanor – to walk away from any maliciously inspired conflict with confidence, as well as compassion, instead of wallowing in self-pity, berating themselves, and blaming others for their feelings of inadequacy.
In guaranteeing safety, we are pledging that DRC is the place where kids can learn how to be their best, most authentic selves by making mistakes and exploring all the world has to offer without dealing with people who don’t have their best interest in mind. Then with those new-found skills and confidence levels, they can boldly venture beyond their carefully cultivated comfort zone to discover what they can offer to their community, as well as the wider world.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the DRC Silent Auction this past Tuesday. It was a tremendous success and a ton of fun. We are grateful to everyone who donated goods and services. Please check out the page on the website to see all of the donors.
Yes! Believe it or not, summer is just around the corner. We are developing some cool collaborations and ideas for these last two weeks of summer, including an hour of yoga with Kelly Newman Burnham each day. Stay tuned! Register online here.
Mistakes are the foundation of all learning opportunities. It is completely unrealistic to believe that any of us will make it through a single day without screwing up at least once. The definition of experimentation is making mistakes until you find the solution for that particular scenario. There are major blunders, which at the time, feel insurmountable, and there are others, as Bob Ross so famously, and patiently, pointed out, that are “just happy little accidents.”
When I hear, during a mentoring session, or even a casual conversation, that someone suffers from the fear of making mistakes, I go on high alert. The usual justification for their phobia is that they will look conspicuously inferior, childish, or utterly ridiculous, and someone will probably yell at them. This usually means that not only do they dread them, they will go out of their way to fabricate stories to explain to themselves and others why something happened. These tales often involve placing blame on someone else. After a while this pattern becomes such a habit, that even they can’t distinguish between what is real and what they have made up. It becomes a vicious cycle of burying the dislike for oneself, by making excuses for failure, while holding onto reasons to dislike the person or circumstance they are accusing.
I will be the first to admit that over this life-time a good proportion of my errors have fallen closer to the massively horrible end of the scale rather than the adorably cute, little mishap side. Overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe that heart stopping, gut wrenching, over the top feeling of hopelessness when you realize what you have done. The first instinct is to hide in shame and find someone or something to blame is hard to resist, until you remind yourself, in that stern inner voice you reserve for these particular occasions, that you are human. Your job is to make mistakes and learn from them. The first step is to own it. Stand up and declare, woah, I seriously f**ked that up! The next step is to sit with it, be patient with yourself, examine all the deep, dark corners, which can then, and only then, be followed by reparation to whomever may have been hurt by your actions, including yourself. Fix whatever needs to be mended, whatever that requires, and then, most importantly forgive yourself and move on, more enlightened than you were before.
Taking responsibility for the errors – all of them - using them as stepping stones - is not only healthy for the process of growing as a human being, it is essential for building positive relationships.
How, then, do we teach young people that making mistakes is actually the most important part of their education? What can we say for them to believe: there is nothing to fear, it is OK to mess up, and we actually expect it to happen pretty frequently, when they have already learned from other places and people that the opposite is true? What monumentally seismic, internal shift has to occur before they can comprehend and let themselves off the hook?
Providing a safe, caring environment filled with a supportive community probably tops the list of external conditions. However, is that enough? What else do they need to shake that all-consuming fear?
Considering that changing societies rigid standards for perfection is a bit beyond our scope of influence, the best we can do is offer unconditional love, reassurance, encouragement, and transparency, by modeling the exercise of taking responsibility.
We expect our students to take charge of their lives and education – when, fear instead of curiosity drives that process – the decisions they make are safe ones with no margin for error, or, for that matter, growth. Learning to fly without the net is essential. Go - Jump, Leap, Dive into your next adventure. We expect you to make mistakes, but remember, as long as there was no malicious intent, we are here to help you own it, without judgement, and assist in cleaning up the mess.
(Yup, the title is a nod to the inspirational T.T.)
This is a seemingly valid question for an educational organization. What exactly does love have to do with learning? In a word - everything! Research, as well as anecdotal evidence shows that when caring, kindness, compassion, giving, receiving, respect, trust (as highlighted in last week’s blog), empathy, and appreciation are not only present, but actively modeled, they serve to tear open the sealed off and scabbed over internal place, in each student, where an innate desire to learn then has the opportunity to take up residence.
At DRC, we don’t need endless studies to tell us that providing an environment filled with affirmation and genuine affection, along with an endless supply of open-ended opportunities for exploration and discovery is required to instigate the natural curiosity needed to unearth deeply buried passion and aspirations. We witness this phenomenon in a myriad of small ways that bring along moments of both euphoria, as well as intense pain, which show up as points of excitement and crisis, in the midst of all the other happenings every single day, and take an enormous amount of energy to manage.
Even though we have a specific time set aside for each of the older students (12-19 yr olds) to meet with their mentor (me) every week as the formal place for them to share their vision of the future, brainstorm ideas for ways to explore their interests and passions, talk about the things that worry them, discuss ways to move forward when they are stuck, get help putting together a portfolio and transcript, and set goals, both incremental and life vision - we find that these individual sessions are actually an infinitesimal piece of the mentoring program.
In DRC’s multi-age, and open environment, students are surrounded by all those diverse discussions and activities that spontaneously crop up all day long, as exhibited below. At any given point during the day, there are usually between five-eight kids and at least one, if not two, adults standing around the kitchen island – making food, eating, listening to music, looking stuff up on their phones, and sharing stories. I have realized over the past couple of years that DRC actually replicates the practice of the family dinner, which has been documented as one of the most important factors in raising happy, well-adjusted children, who are able to relate to others in positive ways because they have learned by developing real relationships with their parents and siblings.
Yes, we are family. One that is authentic, dynamic, and constantly changing – breathing in and out with a life of its own.
The new ten-year-old student, who is totally surprised that I didn’t call him out for goofing off in the chill-space. The two new teen cousins who throw clay at the art table for hours on end and “mop” the floor as only two teenage boys can. The thirteen-year-old who spends most of his time in the basement shop and asks for $3 from the petty cash fund to go to the thrift store to purchase a couple of jackknifes so he can work on a yet to be defined project. The fifteen-year-old who tells me that she thinks she wants to become a baker so I contact two local bakeries to set up interviews. The same teen who returns from visiting a friend at SUNY Canton for lunch with a huge grin on her face exclaiming that she is definitely going to college, probably next year. The thirteen-year-old, who has not previously used DRC in a meaningful way, asks me to do his mentoring session in the music room to listen to him play the three songs that he has written at home and asks me to help him figure out how to record them. The genuinely talented teen who is trying to figure out exactly who she is and speaks of the permanent mask she wears. The eight-year-old who has discovered a passion for cooking and makes amazing sausage and gravy one day and mashed potatoes the next. The eighteen-year-old, who indulgently, and ever so patiently, takes on the role of Uncle C., as the others have labeled him, writes his name in Runes on his arm with pen and spends every free moment researching Viking History and super-heroes, and developing costumes and props for cos-play. The fourteen-year-old who was deathly afraid of reptiles, but held a lizard on his chest during a presentation and later proclaimed how proud he was of himself. The tween who is in the middle of intense family crisis and requires unlimited emotional support. The young child who draws amazing characters from cartoons and tells the stories of the world he has made up where they all live together with him. The two teens who work through hurtful comments and behaviors, discovered by one of them, in an emotionally charged confrontation that could have ended disastrously, but instead became a time that they were both proud of themselves. The teen who experiences moments of extreme anxiety and leaves the Center for a short-time to walk it off. The six-year-old who weaves his way through our space watching and listening intently, all the while bouncing on his toes and fidgeting with a toy in his hands and then heads to the music room to figure out how to play the keyboard and guitar at the same time. The fifteen-year-old, who sits in the chill space with headphones firmly planted over his ears, listening to music and watching random You-Tube videos, and one day presents two of those videos (each 20 minutes long - one motivational, the other about music theory) during a mentoring session, with a detailed explanation that proves without a doubt this kid is indeed going to be better than OK. The teen who hides his brilliance in his sketchbooks and is afraid to share his talent with anyone.
We have discovered that providing this space, this caring, supportive, respectful community, where all of that and more can happen, requires not only an abundance of time and energy, but an intuitive, natural skill-set that cannot necessarily be taught through an official or even traditional professional program. Loving and mentoring these kids requires listening to, and understanding, their stories - the traumas, big and small, all the experiences throughout their childhoods that have shaped who they are. In addition, we do all this without feeling sorry for them or allowing them to use those experiences as excuses for not moving forward in a positive direction.
This is mentoring in its rawest form. It is gritty and real. There are equal moments of heartbreak and elation. It is definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone who expects that they can control any situation by simply making rules. This is all about love – pure and simple.
We are assessing the forecast for Tuesday. There is currently a winter weather watch posted. We may decide to reschedule. You can keep track of all the amazing items on the website. We will keep you updated, as decisions are made. Thank you!