by: Marie Goodwin
Image credit: "The Storyteller" by Rima Staines (www.rimastaines.com/www.hedgespokenpress.com)
This is the opening of my novel, as yet unnamed. It has been a labor of love for almost three years. The story is a gift to me, for it comes from some other place -- a creative well or source -- that has bestowed itself on my mind unbidden and demanded that I write it. I hope you enjoy this teaser.
It is said by the Bandrui that a dream is a door without a key. While that may be true, a story is also a door without a key, and can be walked through again and again, unlike dreams. We can revisit the far-away places in our stories at will, and memorize them so that we can share this door with others throughout our entire lives, enriching the lives of all those who come our way.
I have a story to tell. There are so many ways to begin a story. I’ve told this tale dozens of times since we first settled in this land, some thirty sun-cycles ago. And as I look over the faces of the Pennacook and Duhare alike gathered around the fire in this longhouse, I ask myself where I should begin.
Should I tell of my birth, of my mother and father and grandmother, of all the grandmothers before her to carry the name Bandrui? Should I recite their names? I could describe the land of Erenn that sits far away over Mother Ocean toward the rising sun. It is the place where I was born, a place of impossible beauty, a place so green with life it would take your breath away; a place where the animals are tame and live among people, and offer their lives and their pelts willingly. I see in your eyes that you don’t believe me, that such a thing can be true. Are not wolves and crows tamed by our hands sometimes?
I am old and tired though, and the story is long, so I think I will begin with the dreaming. I was nearing twenty sun-cycles then, still in training at the hand of my grandmother so that I might attain the Three Illuminations. She was known by many names then: Manya the Knowledgeable, the Ollam Bandrui, the Woman who Turns Back the Streams of War. She was the greatest teacher, seer, and healer of her time. And with this great woman as my guide, my world was one of contemplation and the honing of memory. I was not only intent on my studies, but also participated in the healing of those in my community. And there was always so much work to do on the land. It was never-ending, much as it is here.
But a great deer-woman in a dream spoke to me, and it continued to come until Manya sought answers by walking the spiral. The rest of Erenn outside Cruachu — for that was the name of my home — was caught up in a never-ending struggle for control over the land and to expel the foreigners who sailed to Erenn from the north and never left, killing our men and trading the women and children into slavery. But our primary concern was to discern the meaning of this dream, so bright in my mind, and insistent with its message.
It is all so far away now. It seems almost like another dream to me. But I will recite the story, here, during these cold winter nights when stories keep us as warm as the fire. Fix this story well in your mind, for it is my last telling. I will not live to see another spring. Oh, you can't be surprised. I am older than a person should ever grow to be! Even my children are old and grey and my grandchildren have grandchildren. I recognize my time is growing short here, among the living, because my dreams have stopped. The Gods refuse to talk to me for the first time in my life. They no longer have a need to keep me focused on my fate, so they have abandoned direction and comfort for me and wait to call me to their side. I sleep better for it, and welcome still nights and days untroubled by visions.So heed me. I trained many of you in the art of memory, and several of you have attained the Three Illuminations, as I did before you. You must pass the learning to your children and grandchildren. You should tell this story to them, as well as the stories you learned from me and from Aga over the years about all of the Gods — those of this place and of our homeland. They have so many faces, but instruct us to take similar paths. Tell as many people in this wondrous land who will listen. Go to them if they will not come to you. Become the story. Use this knowledge to understand the world, and it will guide you home.
My story is one story of many. I tell it here with the hope that one of you will return to Erenn with the Four Treasures, since I failed in that task the Gods set before me. Perhaps one of you can make right what the Gods promised and then, in the end, denied to me.
My grandmother Manya once said to me of story, “This story is alive in you and, from you, will be alive in your daughters and their daughters. Learn the lesson of it well, and ask it to guide you when the path is obscure or when strange times assail you. It will guide you home." I now say this same thing to you. Use this story, all of my stories, to guide you home.
In the coming nights I will ask you to walk through this door of memory with me. I am opening it for the last time, and there is no key. Do you see it now? It is here and waiting for us all to enter together.
Watercolor of the Cailleach by Sarah West
I'm over fifty now -- fifty-one in fact. Right on time, or so they tell me, I hear the insistent voice in my head. It feels like discordant gong ringing -- "Now is the time," it says. "Right now. You won't have more chances."
I've heard the clanging before, but it was a whisper then. When I turned thirty, it briefly paid a visit on the cusp of getting married. When I was six-months pregnant with my first child, feeling full and ripe, I knew then that I was quickly approaching a time where I would lose myself to motherhood. Others warned me. "Do everything now," they said. "You won't have another chance for twenty years!" And, as is the way with oxytocin and falling in love, the sounds of warning disappeared into a haze of sleepless nights and the light touch of new life.
But now, right now, it won't leave me. I ignore it, and the insistence grows louder. It spills out into my conversation with others my age, and I see in their eyes... yes, they too hear it. They don't hear my interior and noisy demands , but I can tell that they hear their own.
This cacophony seems to demand of me to define and accomplish goals and wants, dreams and sore-spots of longing. When I ponder these things and make a vow to set things right, the urgency mutes temporarily.
But what do I want? Isn't that an enormous question, loaded with possibility and expectation? Mid-century birthdays feel full, like a peach, sweet with the awareness of the short duration of the season of such fruit. I'm ripening again, just as I did while pregnant. What do I have to get done in the years I have left?
So far, I can identify a few things:
The problem with all this mid-life wanting is that it changes your relationships, with everyone, almost in every way. These insistent demands that you change things up to get right with yourself also demands a lot of from the people who love you. They watch you wrestle with demons of your past neglected inner life, and sometimes it isn't a cheerful process and makes demands on them too. And they didn't sign up for that shit! Your messy needs and life-changes rattle cages and smash roles and illusions carefully constructed by time and habit and pattern. For the most part, this is not a fun process.
Tell me, friends, do you feel it? How do you bear it? How do you not spend your days crying with both gratitude for the knowing and the fear of it being left undone? How do you negotiate your life intertwined with others, their needs and wants, their own banging gong ringing in their ears? How does something this messy come clean? I am told it does, with time, but I see no clear path.
Perhaps having an unclear path that is the way of things, or so I'm told. But it sure would help right now to have some way to walk, a hint at a path under fallen leaves and decay, to steady my feet in the dimly-lit forest of this time of my life.
In honor of finishing the "shitty first draft" of my book today (all 165,000 words -- 623 pages), I am publishing another scene. This time it is a dream sequence. Enjoy!
I move silently over the moss covered ground, my weight making slight crescent-shaped impressions underfoot as I walk. Damp air, a prickle on my body, smells of earth, and rain, and lichen. I reach out to touch a tree with my nose, brown fur on white bark...I do not recognize the way and move forward slowly along an ancient, worn path, set deeply into the mossy wood. I am following him nose-to-tail now, his magnificent antlers dipping slightly with each step. We move out of the forest cover to a ledge, and from this elevation, I see a vast expanse of water. The sun and moon are rising in the west in the same course, and even in the dream, I note that this is impossible and that I must be dreaming. There are two islands, far in the distance. I can see much farther than any animal can see and am amazed at this power. One island, illuminated by the rising sun, is covered in forests and wildlife; another is barren, with rocky, bouldered shores. And to the left of them both is a green land. In front of me, he raises his head and turns his face, eyes locked on me. But now he is a she. She is not a stag anymore. She is a woman, still bearing a rack of antlers like an enormous crown. There are patches of woad under her eyes, carefully drawn over an ash-painted white face. She is human, or at least she has a human face, and as she turns toward me she stands tall, taller than any human, growing as she moves with her hands outstretched toward me....eyes fixed on mine. She wears a blue-black cloak with a spiral design felted into its border, with a fur-lined hood and the ancient script running up and down the cloak's edges. I cannot read it, for it makes no words that I understand. After a time, perhaps only just a moment, she says to me, slowly, using my voice to speak back to me,“The Three reweave time. You are the rod.” She pauses for what seems to be a very long time, watching me attentively in my deer form. I look down and watch my hooves become feet, and then wake…
Here's a wee bit of writing from my book. I have not shared very much of it, at all, to any one. But little by little, I plan to share snippets and test the waters a bit. I am just about to finish the (shitty) first draft, and then the editing will come. Oh so much editing. Tell me what you think...
The wolves came at night, late in the evening of our first camp. The fire was dimming after we cooked and consumed our meal; there was talk of people settling in for an early night. We were to be up at dawn. Everyone was tired from the long ride today, and tomorrow’s was to be even longer.
There were fifteen of us in camp, including my parents. My mother’s brother, Conall, stayed behind to run the farm and tend to Manya’s needs, but three of my father’s field hands and their wives and older children were traveling with us to help with camp duties and to run the market at the fair.
My father spent the evening telling the old stories. He sometimes seemed as if he wished for another life, to be trained by some ancient poet, like Oisin son of Cormac, roaming the tribes of Erenn, honored for his words and memory above all others. My father’s calling, however, was to love the unusual woman that was my mother and to honor her family and her ancestors by keeping her land for the next generation of bandrui. Caring for our lineage in this way was undoubtedly honorable, but Father could not hide his wish to bring the old tales alive and to advise kings on what history might reveal for those who asked it questions. He had many tales and poems memorized, possibly more than I had memorized in my many years of training. His whole life, for as long as I could remember, he would sit for hours and learn them by rote from Manya or whenever the poets came to the Lughnasa Fair.
When his last story was over, we sat in silence listening to the wind creak the trees overhead, the smell of wet and wood-smoke in the air. A nearby stream rushed over rocks, pregnant with news meant for the expanse of the dark sea, rushing from the recent heavy rains that drenched the landscape. These consequence of this latest storm left mist and unseasonable cold in its wake, but it was a pleasant night despite it.
My eyes were closed, listening to the water, trying to hear what it whispered and if it had any word for me. A rustle behind me started us all; I seemed to have drifted into an almost-sleep, that place of glances and images from both worlds that meet and shake hands like old friends. A stick-break echoed through the wood, closer now, and I sat up, rubbing my face. Only a few people were awake, and my father was prodding the coals of the fire, readying it for sleep as well. He stood up at the sound and moved toward the edge of the circle.
From a space in the woods behind me, a smell drifted into the circle and grabbed me, — all of us. It smelled of wet fur and animal. Almost as soon as the scent arrived, a great, grey wolf, eyes glowing red-brown in the fire-light walked inches from me, bent her head to sniff my arm as she passed. She sat first, then laid down next to the stones heaped around the fire, her eyes watching us, ears alert for motion.
Everyone froze. My father, still standing, didn’t take another step. I glanced to see if there were others, as wolves travel in packs and there were undoubtedly others around us, but I could see nothing in the dark of the wood. No one moved or even breathed.
Then the wolf looked around again, and then — I swear that this is the truth — she spoke words, Irish words…not the howling, whining, and yipping of wolf talk. She spoke words to us, to me, as if she were a woman sitting at the fire and not an animal in the way of the ancient poets:
“I have lived the days of my life. I have joyed and wandered in woe.
I am feeble and fain and would rest from my travel, searching to and fro.
But that day I am fain to behold, and I fain to behold that day
Raise up the stones from my sidhe, and cleanse my bones from the clay.
At that time, in times to come, the keepers of stories and lore
Will bring to this isle, to all our kin, precious treasures and so much more.
I knew then not to fear the animal, and just as soon as she had finished her impossible pronouncement, she got up, shook herself off, and left the circle at a trot. The earthy animal smell remained for a long time. In fact, I am not sure it will ever leave me.
-- by Marie Goodwin
I've been fascinated by the concept of inflammation in the body and all of its associated ills. Lately, inflammation has been the "it" reason for almost every illness, and -- truthfully -- I believe it might actually be a significant symptom of multiple ills. Inflammation happens.
What causes it? Well, there seem to be a multitude of reasons for runaway inflammation: stress, Omega 3:6:9 imbalance, processed foods, leaky gut, exposure to chemicals and heavy metals, childhood trauma, allergies of all kinds, inflammatory foods, an imbalance of gut bacteria, dehydration, poor sleep. You name it.
What does it do? Metabolic syndrome (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure), arthritis, Alzheimers, low immunities to colds and the flu, chronic pain, depression, candida overgrowth, and is a driver of all kinds of auto-immune disorders. I'm sure tomorrow a new study will show that it causes the "terrible twos" and midlife crises. I wouldn't be at all surprised.
(I would provide links for all of these symptoms and causes, but you can Google just like I can. Information about all this is easily and readily available. Here's a link to get you started.)
When, one by one, my family members were bitten by ticks and came down with Lyme (welcome to SE Pennsylvania!), managing long term the inflammation issues associated with this spirochete safely was a goal. I, of course, turned to Stephen Buhner's herbal protocol as a main guide. I spent a few years experimenting with a single tincture that would address chronic Lyme inflammation to manage my persistent joint soreness, overall fatigue, as well as my rosacea -- an auto-immune disorder that I inherited from my father (Thanks Dad!)
It worked well for me, and then when my husband had chronic back pain and then an almost fatal motorcycle accident, this tincture became a mainstay in his ability to stay off opiod-based pain-killers yet manage the pain (somewhat... there's no killing the pain of an 8" incision from your diaphragm to your groin, not even with opiods.) The proof was in the pudding when he had to quit the tincture for surgery, and in the ten days between ceasing his daily dose and the surgery for his disk rupture, his pain increased from (in his words) "manageable to unmanageable."
So, what is this stuff made of? Here is a guide to making it at home.
Powerful Anti Inflammatories:
Cat's Claw Bark
Japanese Knotweed (This is where I get mine... I know these folks and they are the real deal!)
Oregon Grape Root
Fresh Turmeric Root
Fresh Ginger Root
Healthy Bitters: Supports Liver function as well as supporting other Anti-Inflammatories
Roasted Dandelion Root
For Taste, Anti-Inflammation, and Herbs that Aid Bioavailability of Other Herbs:
Pepper Corns (Black is best) or ground pepper.
Optional: Meadowsweet: (a pain killer)
Optional: Eleuthero Root (to increase energy)
I'm not going to tell you what size container to use. I use varying size containers when I make it. Lately I've been using the jar pictured below. It holds two gallons.
5 Parts: Ginger, Turmeric
2 parts: Cat's Claw, Japanese Knotweed, Oregon Grape Root, Cinnamon, Dandelion Roots, Burdock Root, Birch Bark. Meadowsweet (if you are using it), and Eleuthero Root (if using it.)
1 part: Black Pepper, Star Anise, Saffron (or however much you have)
4 or 5 whole nutmegs if you have whole ones OR 1/2 part ground nutmeg (or less depending on taste).
I use fresh turmeric root (not powder) and ginger. Slice the turmeric and ginger into the thinnest slices you can muster. There is no need to skin the ginger and turmeric, but rather just make long, thin slices out of the fresh root and place it into the jar.
Add all the other ingredients. It will look like the photo on the right when you are done.
Your next ingredient is vodka. I use mid-range vodkas (you can really taste the difference between crap vodka and better vodka). This tincture tastes, um, like medicine anyway... why make it worse with crappy vodka?
The vodka should cover all the ingredients by about an inch.
Mix the herbs and the alcohol thoroughly and then set into a corner of your kitchen with no natural light. Do not put it in the fridge! Mix it daily or whenever you remember to do it.
Wait a week, then strain through a thin mesh strainer or coffee filter. I often use a turkey baster to "prefilter" the mixture into a wire tea strainer, eliminating big chunks and leaving them in the jar. I then strain the mixture into small bottles with droppers, but you could just as easily store it in a mason jar. Just make sure you tell the kids it isn't iced tea in there...
You can use these ingredients up to three times with new alcohol, but the tincture will get less strong each time you do this.
I am experimenting with, at the end of the process, using a masticating juicer to extract everything out of the ginger and turmeric root slices and then using that "juice" in future tinctures.
This is always tricky. People weigh different amounts, people respond differently to pain and pain-killers. This is something you have to experiment with. My husband is 6'2" and he was requiring a "shot" of this stuff 3x a day to manage acute pain. Your needs may be less. I would start with 2 tablespoons three times a day for a week and see how your particular pain/inflammation is responding, and then adjust accordingly. Always use your own responses to the herbs as a guide. Check in often with yourself.
Of course, if you are on any kind of medication at all, you should talk to your doctor about contra-indications. Also, you MUST terminate using this stuff ten days before any surgery.
I'm not a doctor and don't even play one on TV, so I'm just sharing my own experience and not telling you what to do or how to treat illness. Do your own research!
-- by Marie Goodwin
I don't remember much of my childhood. It is an odd feeling, frankly. People reach out to me on social media and say, "Hey I was your neighbor and we all played together. I'd like to reconnect," and I have no memory of them at all. I barely remember the details of my room, for instance. I do have glimpses of things, but a coherent narrative memory for me starts in high school. Much of the rest is lost in some vast, deep ocean; sometimes images come to me in a dream or in sudden bursts of insight. Snippets. Vignettes of time. Random subconscious insights bubbling up from the depths like air from the blowhole of a deeply submerged mysterious beast.
I do, however, have a consistent memory of one part of my childhood, something I've never lost. I once knew what it felt like to be "home."
There was a place in the one-hundred acres behind our small farm where the rickety old barbed-wire fence covered in honey-suckle briefly parted to make way for a small gate. This gate separated the main cow-field of thirty acres or more from a much smaller space, and every time I entered that space, I felt like I had found a magic garden, an abode of reverence and stillness and quiet, all things necessary to an introvert like me. And I felt like I had come home.
Out in "the real world" of school, and friends, and unhappy parents, I felt unmoored, adrift in loneliness and a generalized angst. So many children feel this way, but I never embraced emotionally what surrounded me, what I swam in. I knew, from a very early age, that this was not my home -- this small town in Georgia, the bitter hot summers and rainy forlorn winters: the "born again" religious fervor of my neighbors, the joyless landscape of the flat, red clay, featureless pine-covered earth. I knew, somehow, that my relationship to the land was what "home" was -- even then. And I knew that the rural south was not my home.
Except for the secret field. Except for there.
I would go most days after the school bus dropped us off to an empty house. It was the three of us -- my brother and sister and I, and I was the eldest. We had chores to do, animals to feed, homework to get done, and it was my responsibility to make sure everything was finished before my parents got home. But after accomplishing the work of the day in the mundane realm in our 1970 split-level, I would take my horse out, and we would cross through to the fields in the back, onto our neighbors farmland and I would ride. I almost always ended up in the secret field.
The place was unlike every other place I knew in our small town. It was lush and green, because an earth-bound stone breached the surface soil like some great humpbacked whale and gave up a trickling spring, that gently ran down its face, a constant rivulet that pooled here and there and muddied the earth along the stone's gentle slope. In the land of never-ending pine trees, here rare hardwood trees grew and thrived. The spring fed a great oak, without fail, that spread its branches into a shady refuge. A pecan tree grew a little further down. Even during the most serious of draughts or deep into summer's unrelenting heat, that water ran cool and strong, greening the ground below.
This was no small outcropping; it was the size of the the footprint of a modest house and was always warm, even at night after the sun set. I am told that the outcropping was part of the same granite that makes up Stone Mountain, but I'm not sure if that is true or a guess. Areas of the grey and glistening mica surface were covered in thick moss. I would always feel compelled to lie down on the warmth of the stone. Often I slept there, coiled up on the moss for comfort. In spring and summer, the honey-suckle from the fence gave off an aroma of sweetness, and from all around animals and birds moved in the shade of the great trees that fed from the spring's abundance. I ferreted a folding chair down there, something you might have at the beach, and read under the shade, book after book after book. My horse grazed quietly in the grassy lowlands just beyond the trees. Some times I swear I saw nature spirits hiding in the bushes, waiting for me to return home so they could have their secret place back. Maybe they were just rabbits. I'm still not sure. I'm still looking for the nature spirits though.
Since the cows were prevented from entering this part of the larger field by the gate, the water was sweet and pure and I often drank deeply from it. I would cup my hands in the shallow pools, looking at the glinting, mica-filled sediment that gathered there. I imagined that these were precious jewels, gifts of the earth. The moss gave the water an earthly rich taste. I've only tasted water as sweet from a remote spring in the highlands of Scotland. I wish I could drink that water every day.
I brought special people to visit this place -- friends first and then, eventually, lovers. But no one else understood. At least that is how it seemed to me. Everyone's reaction was, "Um, OK. So what's the deal here?" Couldn't they see? I thought. Eventually I gave up trying to explain it to people.
When I left to go to college, my parents sold the house during their divorce, so I lost access to the secret field. It is probably under the foundation of some McMansion by now, the water seeping into a basement, demanding to run free, a source of constant consternation to homeowners. That idea is a cool comfort.
I've been thinking these days what this place has meant to me all these years. Why is the memory of it pushing so hard at me right now. I've been writing this blog post for years in my mind, and have decided it is high time I begin some attempt to explore its meaning. What this small plot of land gave to me is the deep and unshakable knowledge that there are places where you belong, and that belonging is tied to the land in some mysterious way. You get claimed by it. It makes itself known to you, and you return again and again to its embrace. And it can happen anywhere, at any time. And it may only happen once. But it may happen over and over. It is good to be able to recognize it when it comes knocking.
What I also learned is that being claimed by this land, at this point in my life, informs my conception of what home means to me. Others see home as the place where their family lives or where they grew up; some others feel it is a community in which they feel heard and seen; still others see it in the long range -- Where are my ancestors buried? All of these concepts are people-centered. The version of "home" that feels most comfortable to me is the lush green moss, the shade of a great oak; the darting rabbit-spirits and the burbling spring, a gift from the deep source. It is cool air, and shade, moss, and stone, and water. This knowing has infused itself into my being, unbidden.
Recently, I've begun writing a book (a trilogy) of historical fiction, its story a gift from some creative well-spring that has never reached out to me in my life before now. The story was given to me, almost fully-formed, in a time of crisis in my life. I have been researching and writing it ever since, almost two years now. As a unschooling mom to two in their tween/teen years with a job(s) on top of it, I've had to carve out longer periods to write away from the incessant distractions of home life. The whole "wake up before everyone else and just write an hour or two a day before they get up" idea is not viable in my house. So, I looked for places to write, remote from my every day life, and found the description of a state park five hours away that features an old growth forest with abundant rivers and streams, paths moving through a rocky and mossy landscape up to the "cathedral area" where the trees have never been logged. I knew I could write there.
This place, a cabin in these woods, has been the second place where I feel deeply at home, and I return again and again and again to write. I find a rhythm there where the story slips from my fingers. In sleep, the story weaves itself into my dreams. I awaken and spill more of it into my computer. It is almost a mantic creative process. And deep into the experience of living among the old trees up in this remote cabin, I catch a glimpse of the idea that the story is being dreamt, through me, by the old beings surrounding me.
That sort of communion with the land, the easy comfort of deeply belonging to a place, has been a search I've been on my entire life, a desire to recreate that easy comfort with place. I know people who live in a place that feels like this to them. They are rich beyond all measure in my opinion. Right now, I have to get by on my occasional visits to the cabin in the park and my memories of belonging to a remote stone outcropping in rural Georgia, that claimed me and held me as I slept and nourished me with its crisp water.
I have also begun researching ancestry, to see where the bones of my people lie. My visit to Scotland a few years ago showed me that there are whole countries, not just small fields, where I can belong. The forests and bogs, streams and mountain springs, the endless hilly vistas of that land awakens something deeply resonant in me. It is not a coincidence that some of my ancestors come from that place. And it has made me curious about other ancestral places: northern Ireland, Cornwall, Devon, and Wales. These too hold my ancestors bones.
But I keep returning to the idea that it is the land that claims us, not the other way around. So I am waiting to be claimed. I'm working at being claimed too, by traveling and exploring my deep roots and places that feel likely to offer themselves up. But I often wonder if it will happen again, and remind myself that I should consider myself lucky to have had this experience at all. I just wish that I had understood that I was being gifted something precious and pure as I slept on that rock, the moss cushioning me, the water trickling in my ear. I wish I had known that I had been claimed, that the experience was ephemeral yet eternal. I wish I had known that it would re-make me on the inside and make me a seeker for the rest of my life.
Image credit: Creative Commons: Flickr: Elfleda.
-- by Marie Goodwin
When I talk to anyone contemplating homeschooling, the conversation always takes a turn into the realm of fear. Other topics, like laws or whether to use a curriculum or even thorny issues like finances and priorities, seem to be relatively easy to overcome -- or at least assuage for the moment. But there is always a part of the conversation, arriving after a thoughtful pause, that opens up to the dark forest of one's fears. Parents fear they will not do enough, not be enough, not know enough. Fear that the child will be doomed to a life of isolation, illiteracy, or incompetence. They fear being different or setting themselves apart. They fear that college will not be possible. They fear being judged by their friends and, most especially, their families. They fear being lonely on the path. Sometimes all of this is rolled up into a big anxious ball of "Oh, it's nice that you can do this and I agree it is important, but I can't do it. I just can't."
I know how it feels because I've been there. I've walked it too. I continue to walk it. I do not know anyone who has removed their children from school (or never sent them in the first place) that hasn't felt this fear at different times, in different ways, as they made their path in this world along the edges of our culture. These questions and concerns were stronger for me when my children were very little, before I knew teen and grown unschoolers, all of them successful and thriving. These fears still surface every now and again. They've been surfacing a lot over the last two years. Here's why.
Right after my daughter's tenth birthday, she came home sullen from a playdate with some friends. She has many friends. These friends happen to go to school. It didn't take very long to get to the bottom of why she was so unhappy. "I'm stupid." she said, the tears popping up into her eyes. "I can't read, and all my friends can. They are making fun of me, and they don't even like to play with stuffed animals and do imaginary play anymore. They make fun of me!"
My heart broke in about a million pieces right there in the kitchen. It was true that she was a late bloomer in reading. We tried over and over again to introduce it to her: the alphabet, easy-reader books with great pictures, fairy-tales. We read to her all the time. But she always flat-out refused to even try when we asked her to work on reading or writing. I consulted a couple of specialists I knew at around age eight, when she still didn't even know her alphabet, and they told me just to back off. She would read in time. The unschooler in me agreed. She would read when reading was important to her, and not before. And man, was she determined not to read...stating that, "Reading is the colonization of childhood!" (I mean, really, what eight year old says that?) So I had her vision checked at a doctor's appointment (it was fine) and then I backed off.
But two years later here she was, crying to me, asking me for help. That day she agreed to begin making an effort to read. Her self-esteem was in the dumpster at this point, and I realized we had some repairing to do. She is a super-intelligent, artistic, creative, out-of-the-box thinker with a memory like an elephant. Surely she could read if she put her mind to it.
But she couldn't. She couldn't remember sight words. She couldn't track the lines. She tired after one or two pages, saying her brain hurt.
We had her eyes checked again, this time by a pediatric specialist. She needed bi-focals. (The earlier doctor's visit had only included a checkup on her distance vision, not mid- and short- range vision.) That helped the situation a little, but still did not solve the major problems. She made up words that didn't exist in the reading; she read things backwards -- from right to left -- and wrote them that way too. She could not figure out lower case "b" and "d" and "g" and "j" and so many other combinations. I felt like we were in deep water and not swimming very well. She was starting to give up hope, and I was extremely frustrated. I often felt that she was just being stubborn or refusing to do the work she needed to do to read, even though she wanted very badly to read. How could a kid who could remember a park we went to when she was 18 months old not remember how to spell the word "horse" or her best friend's name? How could a kid who lectured me at age eight about "the colonization of childhood" not be interested in books?
So I started to research. A lot. And the more I read and talked to specialists, the more I realized... she has dyslexia. And not just a little. She is very dyslexic.
I also found out that I had been doing pretty much everything wrong to help her. In fact, I was probably making it worse. Cue: all my fears of failing. Pretty much every one of them. I could hear the wolves howling in the darkness of the Forest of Uncertainty and I was really afraid.
What you have to understand about dyslexia is that it isn't simply a learning difference that makes learning to read and write harder for some kids and that's the end of it. It does make reading and writing harder -- that's for sure -- but it impacts virtually every aspect of a child's development: social, emotional, intellectual, physical. These impacts are rooted in brain connectivity between the right and left hemispheres and are often hereditary. And this isn't bad! It is just different from the norm-as-dictated-by-industrialized-schooling, and it is estimated that one-fifth of the population may have this difference. There are significant upsides to being dyslexic and there are significant challenges.
The upsides often include:
The challenges are many, varied, and often subtle. On top of the reading and writing issues that most people know about, dyslexic kids have fairly important struggles in their social lives as well. This I didn't know before I began researching, and so much began to make sense once I understood it.
Dyslexic kids often suffer from a negative self image because they are teased by their peers about all of these issues I've just mentioned, and this cascades into other areas of their life even into adulthood. Kids who go to school suffer the most from these social issues because peers and teachers often think they are lazy or dumb, and this often causes acting out in a variety of different ways. At least my daughter was buffered from the full brunt of these difficulties because she's at home, but she got a good dose of it regardless.
Understanding these nuances of this learning difference, I began confronting the issue head on and involved Sadie in every part of the discovery. I explained how she learned differently and invited her to consider both the positives and the hardships of this kind of learning style. She and I researched people who were dyslexic in the past and what they achieved -- Leonardo da Vinci is now her hero. I read up on programs and tools to help her jump start her reading and her engagement with books. Using these tools she is now reading. It is still hard for her and it will always be, but she is able to read. It feels like we have a path now through this uncertainty. In truth, however, this is always going to be a challenge for her in some ways and a gift to her in others. We are focusing on the gifts.
I feel like one of my biggest fears about choosing this path to unschool my children hit me head on. I have a child with a learning difference (and one without) and she did what so many people fear will happen to their kid -- she struggled with reading. This is a bogey-man that is so often held up to people choosing homeschooling. "You aren't an expert! What if your child never learns to read!?" they say. But you know what? We were able to give Sadie years of stress-free learning when play was the best way to explore the world. And she loves to play, even now. We then identified the problem when it became a concern, and she is working hard to learn in her own particular way. She is a painter and is beginning to learn the violin. She designs clothes for her dolls and stuffed animals. And best of all, the hard-ship she's had to endure has given her a very strong backbone. She knows who she is and is not afraid. And even though my fear came true, we walked through the forest of that fear together as a family. And now it is something beautiful.
Nothing in life is certain. I cannot guarantee you that, if you choose unschooling, it will be a effortless path of all light and joy. You are going to have to walk the rocky, uphill path through woods of uncertainty. You are going to have to confront your own fears and help your children do the same. There are no certainties anywhere in life, and we all know this. Meeting and solving big and frustrating problems as a family is a gift that you give to each other. You are a team, and if you are lost in the woods and the wolves are howling, don't you want to have your team by your side? I know I do.
by Marie Goodwin
I find myself immersed in a reading stint focused on feminism and intersectionality lately. The last election cycle provided an across-the-board, bi-partisan gut-punch to the radical underpinnings of feminist work and everyone knows it; many are writing about it. Too many to list. As a college student in the 80's, I read many of the radical feminist thinkers and took them under advisement as I began to make my way as the world moved into the 1990's and beyond. But it hasn't been until relatively recently (say in the last ten years: "recent" for a fifty year old) that I've wedded the radical underpinnings of feminism to the critique of neo-liberal capitalism, thanks to The Ascent of Humanity. (And, really, how asleep at the switch do you have to be to study feminism in college and NOT understand that. See my earlier "DeSchooling" essays….) And only since I read Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes, in 2010 did I connect it all, very deeply in fact, to the environmental movement and depth ecology.
Right now, feminism is fervently awakening to (or, to some a little older and more radical, rediscovering) these same ideas. Feminism's long-term future, I believe with all my heart, lies in radically critiquing deeply held economic systems while wedding itself creatively and inextricably to the enormity of the environmental catastrophe we find ourselves situated within. Even so, so much of the public conversation about feminism is STILL mired in semantics: about who is and who isn't included, drawing lines about who is "woke" and who still slumbers in a patriarchal soup of bullshit. This conversation, while Rome is burning, grows ever more wearisome. I have zero patience for the semantics discussions when there is so much work to do.
Yet here I am ... about to have a semantics discussion.
Ah. Semantics. What do we call the thing we are doing? There are few words more encumbered with emotional baggage, divisiveness, and posturing than the words "feminism" and "patriarchy" in our culture. Some feminists have given up entirely trying to define and use these terms and seeks to critique culture using other labels for themselves. I don't disagree with their reasoning, and it doesn't make them less "woke" or a less potent activist. At this point the term "feminism" -- with its important history and all that encompasses -- is too narrow a frame for me. And increasingly this is true of others that I speak with on this subject.
Feminism is now, as never before, entangled within the very broad ideas of changing cultural stories, specifically in radical economics, radical politics, and in environmentalism, with the clanging-bell urgency of our need to reclaim, as a species, our place as earth protectors for future generations. Perhaps it is time to think of feminism as, in the words of Thomas Berry and more recently Charles Eisenstein, one branch -- one avenue -- into our cultural exploration of the "the new story" (and "new story activism"). Perhaps "patriarchy" can be most simply described as "the old story," circumventing the male/female divide that so many hear in the word "patriarchy" (at least speakers of Indo-European languages.) New Story activism includes social justice, of course; an entire book, Blessed Unrest, attests to all the ways that this movement is growing strong world-wide and how social justice movements are, inextricably, linked to environmental movements. And most feminist activists I know would agree that they are a part of the "blessed unrest" -- perhaps one of the originators of this wide-spread global awakening.
My intent here is to try to use these terms to frame "feminism" in its broader context and encourage my allies everywhere, men and women, to adopt words and deeds that reflect this. This "reframing the conversation" is especially important today; the word "feminism" has been co-opted with alarming and increasing regularity by women who participate fully in the corporate world-destroying machine of neoliberal capitalism. It is now considered "feminist" by large swaths of the population to kill, starve, or poison other women and their children in the name of progress if you are a powerful woman in "developed" nations and making good money at doing so. It is considered "feminist" to bully and attempt to guilt others to vote and behave politically according to your definition of feminism, because -- you know -- "There's a special place in hell…." So perhaps embracing the radical roots of feminism and aligning your inner wordsmith to a larger frame is needed right now, especially if you are uncomfortable with the Time-Magazine-version of co-opted feminism "light." And right now, the biosphere -- our beloved home -- needs all the voices, especially women's, to stand on its side and say "NO MORE!" rather than fighting incessantly about whether the social-media target-of-the-moment is actually, in fact, deserving of the title "feminist"… (take your pick: Amy Schumer; Beyonce; trans-women; stay-at-home-moms; blah blah blah).
This semantics game is wearisome, folks.
We have much bigger fish to fry. Our children's children's lives, alongside the place that we all call home, are dependent on us figuring that out.
by Marie Goodwin
I have a bone to pick with some members of the unschooling community, and this bone-picking is a long time coming, frankly.
When I first started down the unschooling route, oh so many years, I spent a long time foraging for information on on-line forums (Mothering.com, for starters), joined boards, and finally jumped into the world of Facebook mostly to join unschooling groups and see what my ex-boyfriends were up to (I jest about the last one. Kinda-sorta). I thought surely, here, I'd find my tribe: tolerant, kind people walking a barely-lit path with their children, just like me. We would be comrades. Our kids would grow old together, even if I never met my virtual friends and mentors in real life. I took it as a given that these people would be patient and kind, answer my questions with helpful grace, and give me a high five with my little successes, which is what unschooling is entirely comprised of… day-to-day little successes. For many many years.
I was, with a few wonderful exceptions, wrong.
What I encountered from the get-go was a litany of dogmatic, mean-spiritedness, snark, judgement, condescension, and rude-ness, especially to newcomers asking simple questions. I mean, this is the internet. You get that no matter where your interests land, especially on Facebook. But I did expect better from unschoolers. I don't know why, but I did.
So I stopped going to such places and asking questions. I had a few friends on-line and in-real-life with experience. In the areas where I didn't have experience, I either asked them or I figured it out on my own. I wanted on-line community because the world is a vast and interesting place, but I was … well… disappointed. Disappointed in the Kool-aid drinking about who was "in" and who was "out," disappointed in the snark and testiness at newbies, disappointed in "leaders" who seemed to encourage this type of behavior in their on-line groups and pages.
And you know what? I get it. I get sick of defending our right as a family to walk this path -- this really freaking lonely path -- to outsiders. I get sick of every damn mainstream voice in the media and in our community saying what we are doing is crazy and won't work. I get REALLY sick of all the questions, asked over and over and over again: "How will they ever get into college?" "Don't you think they'll be weird?" "What about [*#&&%, #&@*@, &&@#^&*] socialization?" I am sick of it too.
But, unschooling parents, please, for the love of everything that is good in this world…. STOP BEING RUDE TO NEW PEOPLE ON-LINE.
You are not helping. You are not being cute and awesome. You don't look cool. Most importantly you are not engaging people to think more deeply. You are chasing people away who might be curious about this lifestyle, thinking, "Well, who wants to participate in unschooling if THAT is what you get for asking a simple, damn question?"
Why am I bringing this up today?
A "famous" unschooling mom [famous = someone who has been on mainstream media and had to endure mainstream bullying by mainstream talking heads; they are not famous because they are more skillful or better unschoolers in any way] posted today that her oldest had "graduated" from high school by taking some equivalency exam from a distance learning site. He had passed with high marks. Of course. But when I posed a question to said famous unschooling mom, asking quite simply what was the program that that her family had used, two of her followers replied with some snark to me, saying [I paraphrase], "There is no program. It's called unschooling dummy. Look it up," with a couple of other commenters dog-piling on at my [gasp] stupidity at asking about the "program" she was using. Stupid me. They told me.
This type of stuff is common. I see it on unschooling Facebook groups almost daily. I see people get (and have been myself) really defensive over the tiniest question directed at this lifestyle. But I also see how such emotional discharges damage the really revolutionary work that we are doing in this world. If we are going to actually make a change in the way education is constructed and delivered in this country, we are going to have to grow this movement outward to people not yet in it.
And being nasty to newbies when they ask simple questions is not going to get us there.
by Marie Goodwin
My daughter loves animals. Her room is awash in the stuffed variety, but we haven't been able to have live pets of our own in our house because of my husband's allergies.. No dogs or cats. We do have four guinea pigs, but they can't live with us; so we house them in a friend's basement. Sadie is filled with remorse over our animal-free home, and she is on a mission to correct it.
A hamster... how allergic could daddy be to a hamster?
She has, for months, worn us down. Yesterday, Chris begrudgingly agreed provided that the hamster stay in her room and the cage is kept fastidiously clean. Today, she woke up and started the "Great Hamster Habitat Project."
She pulled boxes out of the garage and, all day long, cut and taped and glued and marked and cut some more until she had created a multi-level home of hamster complexity. Nevermind that the hamster will chew through the box in a nanno-second; she is undeterred in her imagining and creating of the home that she wants to provide for the new addition to our house when the time comes. She cares not one whit that the hamster will live in a plastic habitat like all the other hamsters of the world, because THIS house has a chair and table for her new sister, Ms. Star Hamster (formerly known as Cupcake Hamster.) This house has chutes (and ladders), hiding holes, and secret entrances. This house is fit for a hamster princess.
At one point this evening she looked up from her cutting and taping and said, "I know you love this project I'm working on, mom. You know why I know? I'm not even a LITTLE interested in screen time while I'm creating this....", thinking that is the only reason I would be happy with a day filled with cardboard creativity.
It helps, I'll admit. But it isn't the only reason. What I find important in this work is her ability to delve into something with every ounce of her being and stick with it for 12 hours. Not many kids I know can or will do that... and certainly not for the idea of a pet, the reality of which has yet to be realized.