September 2010


I turned 39 at 8:50 this morning. I’m on the cusp of middle age! As usual, I used my flights to and from Not Back to School Camp to brainstorm about my 40th year. Camp is a great end-of-year celebration and source of inspiration. I’m going to do a lot this year–finish my Master’s degree and see clients for at least 400 hours, for example–but I’ve decided not to put that stuff on my list. I want to concentrate on how I do it. I just watched the outgoing cohort finish up my program and they seemed really stressed out. I want to do it without overwhelming myself, in good health. I want to enjoy it. So I came up with one intention that sums it all up:

This year, I intend to take exquisitely good care of myself.

To me, that means that I think about myself like I do my best friends, with affection and optimism, with care. I am not a slave to being productive.

When I touch myself, I do so gently, with attention, not mechanically or absent-mindedly. Like I would someone I love.

I don’t eat crap.

I meditate 30 minutes every day.

I exercise 45 minutes every day.

I do my physiotherapy daily and get health care whenever I need it.

I get good attention, from friends, co-counselors, or a therapist, when I need it.

I take a day off every week.

I say yes to social invitations.

I sleep a bare minimum of 8 hours a night. That means giving myself an hour to chill out with nothing electric and no reading before bed, and an hour to lie in bed before I need to be asleep, so I don’t get worried about falling asleep quickly enough.

I keep my living space looking nice.

I have some ritual (yet to be designed) which helps me stop thinking about my clients when I leave the clinic.

I’ve also put a lot of thought into how I will prioritize my commitments. They will probably often conflict with each other and I’d like to be able to make choices about what to do and what to leave out with minimal stress. That part will be a work in progress for a while

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baby photo, reading

The author, circa 1974

As previously mentioned, Nathen enlisted some help to manage his publishing empire while he is at Not Back to School Camp. Until now, the help has been pushing the publish button on previously authored posts, but with Nathen out of internet range again, it’s time to post a gratuitously cute photo of him.

His mother says he’s two or three in this photo, and that “he’s never stopped reading since.”

Staff of NBTSC

NBTSC 2010 Oregon Staff

I’m in the woods of Vermont, preparing for the start of the east coast sessions of Not Back To School Camp. Today is staff orientation and the campers arrive tomorrow–over a hundred teenaged unschoolers. If I’m counting right, this will be my thirtieth session. I’ve only missed two since 1999.

In our first go-round of our first meeting, Grace asked us to say why we come to camp. This was my answer:

First, because this is where my people gather. The staff here are like family to me and for the rest of the year, they are dispersed. I can visit them one at a time or in clumps, by traveling. Camp is also where I am most likely to meet my future people. I’ve met almost all of my post-high school close friends at NBTSC.

Second, NBTSC provides the perfect supportive atmosphere to practice how I want to be and serve in the outside world: I want to be a space for love and inspiration to show up, strong and clear, for every person who crosses my path.

Third, since NBTSC happens once a year, every year, with the same basic mission, structure, and community, it provides a consistent backdrop to check myself against. My outside life continues to change, but here I am every year, back at camp. How am I showing up differently? How have I grown? Here that is quite clear.

Last, it’s super, super fun. The young people are beautiful, inspiring, and open. There’s lots of music, dancing and hilarity. I love it.

2010 Oregon session one group photo

NBTSC Oregon Campers (session 1) 2010

This year, the Oregon sessions of Not Back to School Camp were combined into one session so I got to have the same advisee group for two straight weeks for the first time. It was great. In advisee groups, we meet every day and create a new family. We had twice the amount of time to get to know and support each other this time. This was my first advisee group, for example, that had time for each member to tell a short version of their life’s story.

Here they are:

Nathen's Advisee Group, Oregon 2010

On top of the swings are Jonah, Ahren, and Matteo. Below are Lani, Emily, Catie, me, Tina, Kayla, Elijah, Patrick, Laura, and Duckie.

Last term I took a class called Wellness and Spirituality Through the Life Cycle. It was a good class. I learned a lot about how people in different spiritual traditions think about and cope with illness, death and dying. It was also depressing. Maybe it was that it came on the heels of Medical Family Therapy, which is another relentless 10-week focus on illness, death and dying. Ten weeks got me down, but 20 weeks had me hitting some pretty strong existential angst: My parents are getting older and are going to die one day. So am I. My grandfather is 91 and doing great but was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Man, am I going to miss him one of these days.

One day in Wellness and Spirituality we had a guest lecturer–Jonathan Stemer, a transpersonal therapist from Looking Glass, the clinic where I now have an internship. He read us a poem from Mary Oliver and a quote from Rilke. Both of them hit home. It’s hard to describe exactly how, but something about the brutality of death and the possibility of an open mind and heart in the face of it. I try to live an open life, but I think that a stance of openness can be an illusion if not in sight of hardships like illness and death. It can be a game of frivolity or superiority – charming but weightless.

“When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver:

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

And here’s the Rilke quote:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

I love buckwheat but I’ve been frustrated with it. Most of the time it just explodes into this muck in the pan and the texture is terrible. It still tastes decent, but it’s not as good as I remember from my childhood.

So I emailed my dad for his recipe. He made the original buckwheat I fell in love with. Now I know what I was doing wrong: cooking buckwheat just like other grains. It’s understandable. That’s how everyone says to do it on the internet: Two parts water, one part grain, cook until the water is gone. Unfortunately, that is a recipe for muck, not delicious buckwheat.

Here’s how to do it, straight from my dad [with a few comments from me in brackets]:

Saute onions lightly in oil [I’ve been adding garlic, shallots, and other alliums, and sauteing in butter. You can also caramelize them a bit.]

Add buckwheat and stir in with heat up [This step is crucial. If you bought toasted buckwheat, just heat it up. If you bought raw buckwheat, toast it in another pan before adding it to the onions. This is also when to add salt, if you’re not going to use soy sauce in the final dish.]

Then add water about 1/1 [That’s right, not 2:1!]

Turn down to simmer, let cook about 25 minutes and check for enough water. Sometimes you have to add a bit to get the right texture [You have to watch it, at least at first. I had a batch cook perfectly in less than 10 minutes. Other times it’s taken longer.]

You can run a knife down to the bottom of the pan (I recommend using a frypan with lid) to see if you have enough water. It will start getting hard at the bottom if there is not enough.

That will get you perfect, delicious buckwheat, hopefully on the first try. It’s hands-down my favorite food right now.