Sunday, June 20, 2010

Creation and Courage: The doing and The undoing - "Forget Yourself"

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves." -C.G. Jung

"I have not failed. I have successfully discovered 1200 ideas that don't work." -Thomas Edison

"Give me a fruitful error any time, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." Vilfredo Paret

It has been far from a "sterile" week.
Children are regularly wet or muddy or both. There are the obligatory scrapes, bruises and a few cuts - signs that children are out of doors using their bodies actively in play.
Someone donated a canoe. Friday afternoon saw Warren with makeshift paddles (read: shovels) taking the children around the pond, pulling invasive pondweeds out by their hands. Peeling off layers and going for a swim.
We built a big bonfire out of over growth the children cleared. The fire department peeked around the corner to say a friendly hello and make sure everything was under control. They seemed well enough pleased.
We have had guitar teachers, jugglers and stilt-walkers out.
We are continually making unanticipated impromptu decisions and more involved long-term decisions while trying to involve the children as much as possible in that process. We have realized the need to become more and more grounded in our guiding principles and why we are making the decisions we are making. But we are learning a great deal from that in and of itself.
This project is, as one staff described, "an organic process." That means that it is not only a natural, free-flowing progression shaped out of the particular materials and individuals local to this space and environment, but that it is also a creative process. That it leaves room for discovery, for surprises, serendipity, chance, and for learning from things that work as well as those that don't. Since we are trying new things and shaping our days organically, this means certain concrete disciplines -such as highly prioritizing circle time every day with the children to talk about what is and isn't working, what is and isn't good or safe, what needs to get handled better and decide what changes we need to make to create the space we all want to be able to thrive in. It means being aware of and responsibly addressing possible hazards and safety concerns.
It also means some not so concrete things, like trusting and listening to our intuitions. We are learning early on how to be attentive to input from others coming into the space while holding to our deep intentions - those mutually held ideals which have created this in the first place. It means not having an unrealistic expectation that everything will be perfect from the inception but giving ourselves space to continually evolve and make changes at a reasonable pace.
We are creating something new. And creating implies trying. And trying, creating. Fear of failure checked at the door.
Having the courage to do that as adults - to see every new venture full of errors and learning and growth - also gives children space to try things and re-arrange and try again. And that is fertile ground for true creativity.
There seems to be a cultural paranoia against any kind of "failure." The response in institutional and even much of what's passed as "alternative" education is to micro-manage, to pull the noose even tighter on the throat of freedom and creativity, to further reduce it to a "proven" formula that appeases worried parents and inept institutional "norms" by eliminating the elements of chance and the possibility that things might not go as planned. It is skirting the periphery of a hunch that every human is born containing everything they need to grow into who they need to be if left to grow freely.
Albert Einstein said, "I do not believe much in education. Each man ought to be his own model, however frightful that may be."
It can be frightening to put into an educational practice the belief that in the process of life, creativity and discovery, no-one can tell you the right answers to the test - that each individual must learn to rely deeply on their own intuition, perceptions and reason to develop an internal map with which to navigate life. To trust ourselves, to trust our children AND THEN to teach our children to trust themselves- making our educational highway out of an unpaved, bumpy dirt road- means a lifestyle of discovery, trusting that this road is going somewhere good and in the meantime, it's a hell of a ride. It is "bursting with possibilities."
I realized at the beginning of last week that I was so utterly stressed about the unknowns ahead. What if it doesn't work? What if the kids are bored? What if people think we don't know what we're doing? What if we DON'T know what we're doing?
By Monday, overwhelmed by a feeling that did not serve me well to begin with, I threw it up in the air and gave my heart and full attention to the presence and play of the children who had come that day without any such baggage. All sense of pressure dissipated.
I observed my children who could hardly sleep for the excitement of the next day of play. And then myself, who could hardly sleep for the worry of the next day. Children have an intuitive "play instinct acting from inner necessity." It is an adult discipline to simply show up with oneself and be guided by the children, back into that space. The gift, then, children give back to us when we show up unhindered to the canvas of right here, right now, ready to throw down and have fun, is to allow the creative organic process of this space, and thus our own selves, unfold.

In talking about this with a friend, I related an experience I had a couple of months ago. In the midst of a lot of personal changes and difficult decisions, I was under the weight of tremendous pressure.
I went to a party with a good friend as an effort to go out and have a "good time." We didn't know many of the people there; we ended up sitting in uncomfortable chairs, making meaningless small talk and exchanging knowing looks across the table. Bored, we picked up a detailed celtic cross coloring page someone had set out for St. Patrick's Day. We pulled in a basket of crayons and entered into our own little coloring universe at the end of the table.
Both dreamy, creative types, we became childishly excited about the opportunity: the possibility of what we could make together, directing our boredom toward a St. Patty's print-out. There was a subversive feel to the whole affair. A superiority in checking out to the tune of a coloring book.
We were fairly confident that we could harness our childhood expertise in coloring with our adult sophistication and create something pretty spectacular. We started testing colors and deciding on the best combinations and patterns. We were so sure it was going to be amazing.
We intently and carefully began to execute our masterpeice, immersing ourselves in the coloring - paying attention to detail, process and instinct while intuitively responding to the other, to the feeling of co-creation with someone you are resonating profoundly with.
It felt incredible, exhilerating even, until about halfway through. As all our process was finally beginnning to take shape and we had been intently coloring for a good while, we both began slowing down a bit to verbalise our nagging suspicion -that despite our subversive pride and our assurance that cooperatively we were going to astound the room- our little thing was turning out god-awful ugly.
At which point we laughed. And laughed. And laughed. A genuine emotion in a room of prentension. We couldn't stop laughing and amid the joy of utter failure, a gorgeous idea occurred - to make it as ugly as we possibly could. We started grabbing the worst colors we could find and filling it in heinously, trying to out-do ourselves in a celebration of banality. We fell off our seats laughing so hard.
That total release to abandonment and joy - the release of any pressure what-so-ever was brilliant. It was gorgeous.
It is a hidden beauty : to give oneself full permission to fail and to fail spectacularly and utterly with abandon and hold on to that joy or discouragement if it may be, and try again, in a different way, try something completely unheard of and try again - knowing that you're making PROGRESS. In all the attempts that don't work - the beautiful Something - the Perfection of the concept emerges. Just like that.
That is the space I want to stay in - the safe space I want to create here at the school.
Play - Making - Unmaking - Failing - Laughing - Playing Some More
A safe space for trying and creating. A safe space to be a child might feel dangerous to an adult.
And I'm not going to lie. It feels like it requires all the courage and faith I have available to me. But I am so whole-heartedly grounded in the what-for:
"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." -Henry Miller


  1. Bravo! Beautifully written. What a wonderful first week it was.

  2. weeeeee! been so busy moving we've been thinking of you all.....see you soon///xo