I was thinking of you and of fulfilment of Heather Davis’s invitation to contribute to Le Merle. I thought: 20 lines each for the publication. It has been used before in times of writerly immobility, to force out sentences on days when one shies from or dreads the blank page or white screen. Let me offer too, as encouragement to an overall structure for a collective Merle piece: a short passage from American poet and pedagogue Charles Bernstein: “Paratactical writing, thinking by association, is no less cogent than hypotactic exposition, with its demands that one thought be subordinated to the next.” In the example of 20 lines that I’m thinking of, by Harry Mathews, Mathews presents himself in the picture, and place (a country house in France), and the everyday. While writing it he, if I remember correctly, turns from the everyday rural thoughts to write on the singular death of his friend Italo Calvino (who, recall, Matthew Ghoulish quotes from in the Goat Island book – quickness, lightness, consistency, etc. – qualities for the next millennium, which is our present one). I wish I had a quote here about the personal and the universal, but let me just say that these 20 lines are a letter to you, as well as a description of some mid-summer, mid-August now, Collective feelings, with on one hand thoughts on our updates that began taking over the meetings, but also on my own obligations like syllabus building for my fall stint at the art college. Here are some thoughts: How do we write together? When something is coauthored, how it is coauthored usually remains mysterious. Should it remain mysterious to us? We’ve never written to each other before, so how will we do it for a public?
This is a brief record of our summer apart. I write this from my bicycle crossing the Glen Cedar footbridge, and from a handmade raft floating past the Island into Lake Ontario, from the unreality of an uptown basement. – It was from Stendhal: “Twenty lines a day, genius or not.”
Five days have passed since the twenty lines above were emailed to the group. Five days of virtual silence from the group in response. If anything has remained consistent over the more than two years of our existence – besides our unflagging fascination with education and our determination to decorate every meeting with a delicious array of snacks and treats – it is our erratic commitment to activities other than meetings. It is our lackadaisical handling of attachments. They do not get opened until the last minute. Or it takes a little while for us to get to them. Although we are eager to say, “Yes! Let’s do this writing piece!”, we are busy people. We are parents. We are teachers. We are scholars. We own homes. We are looking for work. We travel. We find it hard to get to those attachments.
I am nine lines in and not sure what to write next except that today I have been thinking a lot about change. What were we at the beginning? At the beginning we were a group of enthusiastic collaborative researchers. We took turns learning about various projects and schools (e.g. Deep Springs College, Black Mountain College, Sudbury School, the Edible Schoolyard, etc.) and presenting our research to the collective. At a certain point we felt the desire for our reading and talking to progress to the realm of creation, of “doing”, but were frustrated by our inability to do so. Why were we unable? What stopped us from making a school? Also, why are reading and talking not considered a form of doing? And can we, the group, be our own audience, the subjects of our experiments?
So where are we now? Have we grown forwards/backwards? How would you draw our change over the years? Would it appear as a straight line bulging here and there? As a spiral continually extending outwards? A ball expanding and contracting? A series of holes?
A ball expanding and contracting is exactly how, when I forced myself to commit concisely to a single image, I imagined the universe. It was my last year of high school. I thought it was necessary, or at the very least important, to have a visual representation of the universe I could wrap my head around, in art class. Mrs. Jill Branham East brought tuna and crackers to class, for us students that got too little food at home, to concentrate. I pictured a sphere that was ever expanding, within it another front that was ever shrinking, or collapsing, defying limitations of matter and thought. I pictured it a little like breathing, where simultaneity was possible if you looked long enough and it occurred to me the universe and I were perhaps related.
Mapping the movement of simultaneity became a means to enrich the dualisms and otherness which seemed to pepper my non-art classes that used mostly words—except math class, where I was mostly lost save when we talked about triangles.
When we build projects that are universes unto themselves, some as humourous exercises, we posit an idea, like a food, can be produced for nourishment or enjoyment, and play is a form of re-mystification; the idea collapses initially both upon itself then ripples outward becoming the stone that is lost and next the wave– running nodes of interference and compounding interest. Simultaneous movements in and out are our collective thoughts, emerging and converging. A group effort to overcome the subordination of the next, since progress is really just packaging, and that it’s all right under our noses, the everyday a breath in the always.
Attachments are hard to open, it’s true – or maybe you could say it’s hard to open yourself to attachment. Somehow, through a few years of meeting, talking and eating, we have stayed attached to this idea of an educational collective, one that is somehow radical and somehow oriented toward research. Why are we still attached to this form of being together, when we also occasionally berate ourselves for not really “doing” much of anything, including research? What is so radical about gathering to feast and give each other updates on our projects and our educational lives?
I know about a year ago I felt like quitting RERC – we had lost a few founding members to jobs and school abroad, and new members were just getting their feet wet. Toronto is a city of work, not of casual conviviality: even squeezing in a brunch every month or two starts to seem like a burdensome distraction from productivity. If we are trying to shake off our subordination to progress, or to explore a gentle anachronism – baked goods, slow thinking – we are also surely trying to carve out a space away from the imperative to produce. Staking out a place and time where we don’t have to produce much of anything feels a little decadent sometimes. It has that utopian shimmer: we claim the right to be lazy, to kick ideas around, to experiment together, to read something (or not) and see where our conversation ends up. And our conversation is generally a real pleasure.
Shared pleasure, conviviality, feasting, conversation: all of this might be radical, in the old sense of radix, getting to the root of things – in this case to the root of sociability and being-in-common. RERC might be a bit like the lowly radish, which shoots up some bitter greens and sends down a little exploratory root that might grow into something delicious. Or not. Still, I am attached to these conversations, these soundings, these little immersions in our collective everyday.
As I look back on this summer, which I have spent traveling in India, building a deck with my parents, getting married, and honeymooning in Europe, I think about lessons learned by simply doing and being. Having the luxury of an extended mental vacation to allow thoughts to percolate in my brain, these ideas bubbled to the surface:
- My window on the universe is a pinhole and I will never understand human nature or why human beings frustratingly perpetuate inequity so great that it cannot be comprehended.
- Studs on a deck should be placed every 16″ and deck boards should be cut in 4′, 8′ and 12′ lengths.
- Climbing a mountain is difficult, especially when carrying 40lbs on your back, but if you have a partner who is willing to go along with your crazy mountain-climbing, wild-camping inclinations, you’re doing alright.
- The best things in life are unnamed, found down twisted unmarked paths, and might take three times longer than expected to appreciate.
As others have mentioned, we are all busy people, living in a busy city. And while it would be wonderful for RERC to have some lofty goals of creating a school, organizing a conference, or even writing something on the topic of art, education and protest, the real value in RERC is in:
- The time spent sharing our discoveries in life and trying our best to expand our pinhole views of the universe.
- Building things together (tangible or not) and understand how they are built.
- Having a group of seriously smart and creative friends willing to go along with crazy ideas, climbing mountains or otherwise.
- Wandering down paths that might lead us nowhere or might lead us to a lunch of tuna and crackers (or in some cases, a delicious 4 hour long slow food lunch of tuna carpaccio, wild capers, pickled seaweed and smoked fish soup on the shore of the Adriatic).
That is to say, while we sit here pondering RERC and the future of our breakfast club, I believe that the best way forward is to stay the course, even if we don’t have a compass and we have no idea where we are going and we still haven’t opened that attachment.
In the course of searching for my tiny green notebook, taken to many RERC gatherings over the years, I found:
– Three tennis balls in unopened packaging
– One Saudi princess’ cell phone number
– A RERC guest speaker’s forgotten watch (I thought I returned that)
– A Panasonic cassette walkman
– High School II the documentary by Fredrick Wiseman still wrapped in original blue/grey present ribbon
– A VHS copy of The Way Things Go by Peter Fischi and David Weiss
– Pinup girl matches
– Lens cleaner
Green notebook found
First RERC meeting potential topics/ areas of interest: free schools; memorization; Edible Schoolyard Project; slow school movement; unknown modernist schools; avant-garde poetry; experimental gallery education; Summerhill; mentorship; play/theatre; Arrowsmith; Debra Meiers; Sudbury Valley; sustainability of an alternative school model; open schools; “city as school” CUP; student/teacher relationship; educational theorists; neuroplasticity; adult education; theatre of the mind; Renaissance techniques of memorization; Black Mountain College; Deep Spring
Next meeting Saturday February 21 (Nicole’s) 10:30am-12:30pm (Amber, Malcolm and Nicole presenting)
It’s 11:35pm, 25 min to the submission deadline given to RERC members by Amber. It’s 25 min to my bed time and 17 hours since I had a moment to myself (to think). I sit here wondering how best to use this last sliver of the day. I sit here trying to visualize RERC. We are a ball. A steel, rust covered, glittering, gentle and resilient ball which folds out into a lotus flower. This ball carves out an existence among gentle waves. It carves out time where none exists. It carves out mindfulness and expands with our collective effort, energies and enthusiasm. It’s been 4.5 years since the inception of RERC. I know this because my body was growing a human when we met for our first meeting. That tiny being can now walk, talk, speak and think. RERC’s lifetime has been long when I parallel it with my wee one’s development. Long enough to introduce me to alterative programming, art education, conscious space, design, discussions with no goal, exercises with no purpose and time to think. For me our gatherings are a time to stop and reflect on the pedagogy I believe in; to fantasize about a dream school, to see through the fog of the environments that exist and see edible schoolyards, classroom farms and pickle gardens. My summer has been quiet without RERC. Well, my mind has been quiet. I see a new school year beginning, and with it a revival of gatherings. It’s 12:01. Past Deadline. May the radical continue…