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My father took the train down from Vancouver to visit me last week. We spent a few days in Portland and a few days here in Eugene, including a spectacular trip to Honeyman State Park on the last balmy day in September.

We walked across the dunes to the ocean and back, talked a lot and swam in a perfect, sandy-bottomed blue lake. What an amazing day. I can’t believe I’ve been living so close to the dunes all summer and hadn’t been! Thanks for visiting, Papa.

At the end of this month, Nathen and I will be packing up, renting a trailer and moving down to Joshua Tree to live near our new nephew and the Lesters. Here’s some of the things I’m excited about:

• Making our first home together and figuring out what our lives are going to be like
• Fixing up a 70s Kenskill travel trailer to live in
• Spending lots of time with the baby
• Being a mere two hours drive from the textile stores in the LA garment district (!!!)
• Finding a place to have our wedding and starting to plan
• Outdoor movie nights with the projector
• Rock climbing in the park
• Fresh goats milk
• Sunshine

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While Nathen is away at Not Back to School Camp in New Hampshire, I, his lonely fiancé, am trying to keep myself busy and in good company. To that end, I moved in with some friends of ours, Nick and Tilke, for a few days.

While I was staying there, Tilke and I talked a lot about colour (or “color,” as I might start spelling it after I get my green card). Colour is a lifelong passion of Tilke’s, and she is in the midst of revising a book she wrote and illustrated on the topic as well as writing the syllabus for a workshop called Experiencing Color.

Tilke's backyard studio

While talking to her about her workshop, I started to describe my own challenges with colour: Since I started making quilts a couple years ago, I’ve struggled with figuring out how I want to put colours together and have realized how little confidence I have about colour. When I do hit on something I like, I mostly don’t know why it works. I described how a few days earlier I’d been in a fabric store trying to choose a few solid colours to buy: when I went for my favourites, the ones that caught my eye –fuchsia, emerald green and bright blue– they looked terrible together. When I tried to narrow my choice down to two colours that I thought of as complementary, the connotations seemed all wrong. I ended up leaving without buying anything.

Plant-dyed fabrics, books about colour.

So here she was, someone trying to figure out how to teach people about colour, and here I was, a real, live colour novice with a hunger to learn. We went to look at her fabric stash and talk it out.

Tilke has a very distinctive colour palette that anyone who knows her would recognize, a family of colours she uses in her work and surrounds herself with. She described the way that certain colours in her family support or “bridge” other colours. I noticed as she moved fabric around that she mostly grouped her colours in sets of three or more. She agreed and showed me how adding a third colour can add a subtlety and depth that you can’t get with two colours.

I started to get a feel for what she was saying. I tried putting together my own set, choosing first a turquoise I liked and then adding another blue, a mushroom, a brown and an orange until – magic! – I had a group of colours that looked great together.

“What if you couldn’t have this one?” Tilke asked, and took out the orange. So I shuffled things around and brought in new colours until I had another set I liked. We talked about the importance of arrangement (which colours are beside each other) and proportion, looking at paintings and photos around her house for examples. Later we played a game with her new “colour library” of fabric samples, where we challenged each other to take the worst colours (eg: neon peach or drab burgundy) and make them beautiful by combining them with good supporting colours. Very fun!

I was so inspired that I started “editing” some patchwork pieces I’d sewn together a year ago that weren’t doing it for me: it suddenly seemed obvious which colours weren’t working, and taking them out made a big difference.

My quilt project, before and after colour editing.

We also had great talks and I got to try out throwing around medicine balls with them in the park (Ooof. My hands were too shaky to keyboard afterwards). It’s so fascinating to peer into – and join in on – other peoples’ lives like that. I’d like to do it again some time.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Dan Savage. He rubs me the wrong way kind of like Dr. Laura rubs me the wrong way. They both have moral codes so strong that they don’t need to know very much about a person before dishing out copious advice. Of course, they are both in the business of giving advice, so I guess it comes with the territory. I just want anyone with that much power to listen more and be less sure of their moral code. Their supplicants are real people with complex, unique histories, families, confusion, and pain. Advice before understanding is premature–I read that in one of my textbooks and underlined it. True. And if you think you understand someone after they’ve said a few sentences, you are wrong.

But this video makes Dan Savage a hero to me. This is using power for good. So many gay kids kill themselves! It’s a real, ongoing tragedy and shame in the US. Just at the developmental phase where fitting in is the highest priority, these kids are often denied respect and bullied mercilessly. But it gets better:

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

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 just read in Brock & Barnard’s Procedures in Marriage and Family Therapy about Wolin and colleagues’ research into rituals in alcoholic families. Apparently, the negative effects of an alcoholic parent were predicted better by the amount that family rituals were disrupted by the alcoholism than by the presence of alcoholism itself. For example, if the family continued to eat dinner together every night, continued with their bedtime rituals, etc, children remained about as well off as those in non-alcoholic households. But if the family rituals were destroyed, the children were much worse off, including much more likely to become alcoholic or marry an alcoholic themselves.

I haven’t read any of the original research, so I don’t know for sure if it is that these rituals actually provide resiliency or if the presence or lack of rituals served as a proxy measure for how bad the alcoholism was. It could also be a combination of the two. It does look like the family therapy literature considers that rituals promote resiliency in general, providing structure and comforting predictability for kids, and resulting in better outcomes. (I doubt they are bad for the adults, either.)  Something to think about, parents!

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