We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.
David Orr from "Earth in Mind"

Jun 18, 2007

Coming into My Own (long)

Grandma Mary has Alder today so I have been busy working. The morning was slow but I made up for it with five super productive hours after lunch. In the middle of editing and rewriting I was inspired to write the following, it is more a personal meandering than anything. I would really love to hear other people's stories about coming into their own.

My story is a bit of a ramble, but understanding doesn't always come in a flash. Mine was more like a stone wall, rock by rock as they are found. There was a breaking point though, a time in my life that I can look back at as when this all began.

It was the summer after college, I was making up a few classes at Umass and living in my dad's cabin. I was finishing eighteen years of school and was looking for a job.

No, actually I wasn't looking for a job. While my friends rushed off to interviews with resumes on linen paper I could not see that in my future. I still had a few months of classes before I was employable and was fine that there was nothing there waiting for me.

After the courses ended I fell into a job painting an old colonial house (who said you can't do anything with an art degree). It was a solitary job, I'd work my eight hours stopping for a two hour lunch when I would bike to the lake and go swimming. I saw people occasionally but I was happy in my hermitage. After work I would walk to the post office to get the mail and send off a few letters (this was back when people still wrote them).

One day I received a letter from a friend who I had been writing about my indecision about the future. Her letter suggested that I visit her in northern Minnesota where she was living and then move to Colorado with her in the autumn.

By the time I had reached home I had mentally packed my bags and boxes. It was reading that letter that made me realize what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: be happy. I had not applied for any jobs because every job description sounded constraining and consuming. I wasn't interested in tons of money so that was never a motivator. Understanding this I realized that I was happy to work various jobs to support my real interests.

That first year after college I learned more then than I had in all of my schooling. I had driven cross-country, canoed in the Boundary Waters, learned how to shoot a gun, learned how to ski, rock climbed, tried snowboarding, took a solo hiking trip in the desert and much more. I took what ever jobs I could to cover rent and food.

As the years in Durango passed I still felt that something was missing. I had fun with my friends and lovers but it just that, fun. I went back to school to get my teacher's license and stumbled upon what was missing, practically by accident. I did my student teaching at Community of Learners Charter School (COL) (and continued to be connected to them for two more years). The school was travel/ natural world focused. Students did not move from grade to grade only completed portfolios one each for elementary, middle and high school, with areas such as intrapersonal skills and natural world. The teachers I worked with blew my mind. It wasn't their teaching styles that was so amazing but their views on life and how to live it. I began to discover a entire world of people who looked at the world in a way that immediately made sense to me.

But for the five years I taught I still felt torn. Here I was implementing the very structures that had made me so miserable. Even in a place like COL there are rules and expectations.
Out of misplaced responsibilities I returned to school to get my master's through Goddard College, in a low residency program. Goddard's model of education was student led, I loved what I was learning and how much automony I had.

My studies introduced me to authors like David Orr, Ron Miller and John Holt. I focused on the importance of a connection to place had in people's lives, specifically how to connect children in school with the places they live. But the more I read the less I saw a need for the educational system in my life. I think there is a place for schools in the world but it wasn't my place to be working in them.

A moment of clarity came while I was reading "A Life Worth Living" a compilation of John Holt's letters. Reading the progression of his ideas I realized that I had been unschooling myself since I had graduated college. That having the freedom to learn what and when I wanted had been what made my life so different now. I knew that I did not want send my own children (unborn) to school and that I couldn't support the system I worked within. So I decided to stop being a teacher.

This was the final piece in my search for understanding of my own happiness. Understanding what constructs of my life are unnecessary and caused me to be unhappy, and being able to let go of them, has allows me to be more joyous in much that I do. Without expectations it is easier to work hard, care deeper and love more easily.

Of course this tale was not as solitary as it sounds, I had many guides along the way, none more than my husband. I feel that I should thank those people who have touched my life along the way, some only briefly others for years.

[In no particular order]
Bliss Bruen, Kate Chasson, Hallie Whitney, Sam Carstens, the Darby's of Paonia, the Lehrman family (where are you now), and Molly Peacock.

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