Tag Archives: future post ideas

Composing Themselves

This morning I read a great article by the father of a four-year-old who hit upon a way of adapting his love of role-playing games such that he and his daughter could enjoy them together. As he says, this girl is already quite adept at creating and shaping elaborate, fantastic narratives; the only thing he had to do was simplify the mechanics, in particular the means of calculating and noting the logistics of the game.

As a long-time Sudbury educator, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. Over the past sixteen years, it’s been my great privilege to be, as I sometimes describe it, an anthropologist of childhood—studying this exotic culture in its natural habitat, which is to say, unfettered by the limiting, if well-meaning, assumptions that lead most adults to narrowly restrict children’s growth “for their own good.”

And what I have seen in hundreds of young people over the years is this: they are all, each in his or her own way, profoundly creative beings, to a degree rarely appreciated or understood.

No doubt you’ve known glimpses of this yourself. Continue reading


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Schemes & Dreams

On this holiday, I’m nursing my recovery from a cold that’s lasted over a week, eating into my blogging time as well as my work and Zen schedules. As I rest, given the ridiculously warm winter day here in Austin, I’m sitting out on my back patio and taking a look at things, crunching some numbers, considering the big picture.

To my frustration, I realized I’m currently spending more hours per week at school than I am working on CASE and generating a revenue stream. This was never part of the plan (such as I’ve had one), and certainly feels unbalanced. I also discovered that rent and utilities currently comprise 62 percent of my modest monthly budget (adding in Internet, phone, and food, that percentage rises to 73). Again, this hardly seems sustainable.

Clearly, something has to give. I can strive to become more ruthlessly organized, zeroing in on my highest priorities, identifying even the tiniest open spots in my schedule and maximizing my efficiency. As much as I prefer spontaneity over excessive planning (by which I mean planning that assumes more foresight and control than is reasonable), I can set target dates for generating at least some income, for not living entirely off the savings I built up for this grand experiment.

One way or another, I have to become more focused. More mindful, better able to integrate the big-picture forest and the living-in-the-now trees.

For example, I’ve always been better at dreaming than actualizing, more adept at visioning than implementing. Brainstorming, taking a broad view and picking out possible destinations, is something for which I have a talent and which gives me a rush of exhilaration. The time has come, however, to take my many pipe dreams and see which ones might be brought to life, then applied to this quest for work that’s creative, passion-driven, and sustainable in both a financial and ecological sense.

A survey of my current schemes would include the following. Continue reading


Filed under My Quest

Show Me the Money

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jameskm03/5294722210/I’ll admit, I’m getting a little nervous.

Why so? Well, six months into this grand experiment, seeking passion-driven work that’s viable and sustainable, I’ve as yet found only the tiniest trickles of income.

Granted, this dry spell was part of the plan: prior to leaping, I’d saved up enough money to go more than a year without income. Even though choosing a negative cash flow runs counter to my conditioning and personality, it seemed necessary to clear out a great expanse of time in order to find…well, something. Myself? A new revenue stream, a new groove in my career track?

Regardless of whether you buy into the equating of time and money, currently I feel as though I’m running low on both—which begs the question of why I’m writing here, now. Shouldn’t I be working on a plan of some kind, or simply job-hunting? Polishing my resumé, updating my LinkedIn profile, scouring Craiglist for freelancing writing and editing work?

To tell the truth, I’m a little afraid of blogging: afraid it’s a waste of time, that I either won’t have anything to say or won’t be able to shut up (not that those are mutually exclusive, of course). Who knows, though: as I’ve written previously, it’s surprisingly difficult, if not downright impossible, for me to ascertain whether a given activity is an utter waste of time or an investment in the future. Is what appears to be downtime a necessary break? Is there learning or networking going on beneath the surface?

Getting back to the subject of this post, a more personal, pressing question these days is why I seem so allergic to income. Continue reading


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Slammed! (Gifts of Sudbury?)

You may have noticed I haven’t http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmray02/4415770896/been blogging quite as frequently of late—or perhaps you haven’t, because you’ve been just as busy. It’s almost cliché, this holiday busy-ness, but this year I find it especially true: last week I had three rehearsals and two performances with Chorus Austin. This week is relatively light, with “only” two rehearsals and one gig, but next week it’s back into the fray with four rehearsals and one more concert.

Elsewhere I’ve described how my schedule is typically stuffed with choir, working at Clearview Sudbury School, promoting CASE, and meditating at the Austin Zen Center—plus taking care of myself by working out, reading, and journaling. Despite the fact that these are all passions of mine—and despite all the Zen—staying grounded and present remains a constant challenge.

Indeed, I am regularly beset by anxious questions. Where’s the money going to come from to sustain this passion-pursuing? How am I going to reduce time spent on things I enjoy in order to generate some income? And isn’t the whole point of this blog, and my current life quest, to prove that idealism is compatible with material self-sufficiency?

Even were I to focus solely on education, concentrating on CASE and Clearview and Sudbury schooling in general, so many relevant articles and other links come my way that I scarcely have time to do more than skim the vast majority. In fact, I recently had to set up a burgeoning Google doc for all these links—a wealth of promising material languishing in limbo—because I was keeping way too many tabs open in my browser.

How unlike childhood, when school years and summers stretched interminably, and boredom was a real and present danger! Continue reading


Filed under My Quest, Sudbury

The Gifts of Sudbury

It seems fitting on this Thanksgiving Day to launch what I hope becomes a regular feature of Write Learning: the gifts of Sudbury schooling.

The subject of how people benefit from Sudbury is very broad, as there are at least as many perspectives on it as there are people who’ve been involved with our schools. And of course, one major theme of this blog is the value of this unique educational model. Even were I to stick to what I get out of being part of Sudbury schools, plus the effects I’ve seen Sudbury have on others, I could go on indefinitely. So how can I possibly present these gifts in an organized, effective manner?

That said, I’m mindful of Gretchen Rubin’s advice not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and so I will dive into these murky waters and see what pearls lie waiting.

Actually, the idea for this thread came to me when, as I was journaling earlier this week, I wrote the following: “A sense of wonder, a sense of possibility; a sense of empowerment and self-regulation. These are the gifts of a Sudbury education. This is why I am called to this soul-stirring, life-affirming work. Life as play, play as work, work as a mission to engage, explore, create.”

In the future, I anticipate describing the joys of working at Sudbury schools, the invigorating communities they are, and the incredible growth I’ve seen in students—such that many Sudbury  alums are, frankly, role models of mine for how to live a happy, interesting, fulfilling life. My goal is to shed light on just how powerful an environment Sudbury schools are for fostering incredibly strong and highly effective young adults, people capable of identifying and achieving their dreams.

In pursuing this goal, I hope to include the personal observations and experiences of many others as well. To that end, I ask my Sudbury friends: What are your “gifts of Sudbury”? How has being part of a Sudbury community changed your life and the lives of those you’ve known? Comment below, or contact me at bsmith *at* alumni *dot* northwestern *dot* edu if you’d like to write a guest post.

All of you I invite to keep checking back for personal glimpses into the transformative power of learning communities based on freedom, respect, and responsibility.

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Defining Viability

Viability. Arguably the pivotal word in my tagline (“writer/educator seeks viable life of mindfulness and creativity”), perhaps it’s time I took a stab at defining it.

Actually, this post was originally going to be titled “Semi-voluntary Simplicity.” After years of living like a grad student and putting material well-being well below the pursuit of dreams, I wonder if I’ve pushed simplicity past the point of viability. At times, this lifestyle truly feels like a blessing: I get a sense of what’s truly essential in a needs-versus-wants kind of way, and it frees up time and money for other priorities. Yet the narrower range of choices and the riskiness of doing without ready transportation, insurance, and savings offset the liberating feeling that comes with simplicity.

For example, the car I’d driven the past fifteen years was too old to make the move to Austin, so I decided I would start my life in central Texas carless. (Part of the appeal of Austin was that this is a fairly feasible option.) Mind you, I have the money to buy a new car—but the times I really need one are relatively few, and the longer I can manage without, the more latitude I have in generating a viable income doing only, or mostly, things I love.

Yet as much as I love being carless for carlessness’ sake—how many lifestyle choices are simultaneously good for my wallet, my health, and the environment?—it’s also problematic. Traveling by bike and bus requires more time and gets in the way of getting acquainted with the area.

But what does all this have to do with viability? Also, where’s the overlap between viability, sustainability, and self-sufficiency?

For me, viability means a self-sustaining lifestyle, one that balances respect for my own passions and joy with a mindful respect for interdependence and a desire to act for the benefit of all. It’s about not denying myself, yet simultaneously reducing my footprint and looking beyond my own comfort and ease to what is required for everyone to enjoy an authentic, sustainable life.

That all sounds good enough, but again, where are the lines? I intend to discuss sustainability and Right Livelihood further in future posts: for now, let’s consider what viability means from a personal standpoint. Continue reading


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Is This Thing Working?

As I type this, I am sitting in my apartment, my (bare) feet up, the laptop actually living up to its name for once. My browser has multiple windows open, including Gmail and Facebook. I’ve opened the front and back doors, inviting the pleasant breezes of a central Texas “fall” to pass through. The mug of decaf to my left won’t need refilling or warming for a bit, and I am stringing words together.

But am I working?

It’s one thing to work from home: most of the time, I set the computer on a desk, in the apartment’s other room, known variously as the bedroom or the Room of Purposeful Activity (as it contains not only my bed and desk, but also my digital piano). But reliable, high-speed Internet just as easily enables time-wasting as productivity. So, I ask, am I working?

I ask because much of the time, I honestly have to wonder. Rare are the days (in my life, and this economy in general) when work means starting and stopping at specific times designated done by others. Yet from my new vantage point of staffing fifteen hours per week at Clearview Sudbury School and working on CASE the rest of the time, I’m even less certain of what I ought to be doing at any given moment.

Sudbury school staffing (which I hope to explore in future posts) allows tremendous discretion in terms of what individuals should work on, when, and for how long. This morning, however, I realize that nonprofit-building is even more open-ended. There are dozens of things I might turn my attention to, give my day and week to doing. So what should I do now? What’s most urgent, what’s most likely to lead to funding, recognition, and support? Am I spending enough time on this? Can I (literally) afford to take much, or any, time for myself?

I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing, and that is not a particularly comfortable situation for me. It is, on the other hand, a reminder of why I’m so passionate about Sudbury schooling. Our students face this situation every day: they’re constantly immersed, throughout their schooling years, in such decisions as how to spend their time; what they want to do and learn; what’s important to them.

However, I did not have the benefit of a Sudbury education, and so I struggle even to know when I’m working and when I’m goofing off. Keeping track of the hours I spend working? One of the many things I’ve learned in my Sudbury years is that the longer you pursue your passion, the more blurred becomes the line between play and work. It reminds me of that saying, “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Yet the Sudbury life is not about the power of intention magically making your wishes come true. It’s about recognizing what drives you, yes, but then buckling down to do whatever it takes to bring those dreams to life. Often this involves intense grappling with one’s weaknesses and fears, pushing oneself over, through, and/or past  obstacles both of one’s own devising and the status quo.

It also means foregoing the superficial, illusory comforts of such benchmarks as knowing when to start and stop working, having some idea of how much time to pend working and how well one is doing. All those things become a matter of personal, subjective determination. Am I succeeding? Am I making adequate progress? Well…can anyone but each of us, individually, decide these things?

Okay, that’s all well and good—but where does it leave me? Continue reading

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