Tag Archives: schemes & dreams

The Goldilocks Rule for Idealists

Throughout my life, I’ve consistently shown a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

This was certainly evident in college, when I regularly chose broad topics for short papers (and when I discovered the Robert Browning line “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a Heaven for?”). And it seems fairly obvious in my current life, as I work to build CASE into an active force for promoting the Sudbury model‘s visibility and viability, even as I supplement this project with part-time work at Alpine Valley School and enough freelance writing/editing work to support myself.

Interestingly, my Sudbury and freelancing pursuits are simultaneously insisting that I must refine my focus before I can move forward. This is both frustrating and exciting, as I hone in on a scope for these projects that will maximize their feasibility and impact. I’ve started thinking of this as “The Goldilocks Rule for Idealists”—not too narrow an approach, nor too broad, but just right. Common sense, yes; but in my experience, being both idealistic and pragmatic is no mean feat.

On the Sudbury side, this dilemma plays out on a few different levels. First, there’s the fact that I’m currently dividing my time between Alpine Valley and CASE—which I want to continue, both because it’s fantastic fun to be part of a Sudbury community and because it informs and supports my work for CASE. Similarly, the sheer range of potential projects CASE might undertake makes prioritizing and strategizing rather daunting. (Fortunately, a Google group I recently created is already helping on that score, by giving me a variety of perspectives and feedback.)

I also wonder Continue reading

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Hacking at the Root

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

Blogging often seems to me the height of hubris or faith. What a series of assumptions are required to continue this silly activity, flinging words at the digital void: the belief that I have something worth saying; that my words will find an audience; that I might somehow parlay my ramblings into sustainable work.

Yet I persist because some part of me knows, deeper than knowing, that if there is such a thing as a calling or vocation, mine lies in the direction of word-driven windmill-tilting, an adolescent’s passionate idealism persisting into middle age. As you know (if know me at all), my primary professional passion is Sudbury schooling, a way of revolutionizing and humanizing education to become truly empowering and aligned with how people learn.

Even so, I sometimes wonder whether I’m tilting at the right windmills. As deeply as I believe in Sudbury, would my energies be better directed at something like climate change? After all, if we no longer have a planet (or one on which life as we know it is sustainable), what will it matter how our children are educated? What about political issues like campaign finance reform? (If the system is broken, how can anyone advancing real reform hope to succeed on a broad scale?) Poverty, violence, disease, overpopulation…there’s no shortage of potential windmills, worthy causes greatly in need of support.

In my more mindful moments, I realize that what’s more pressing than any particular issue is the overall level of consciousness in the population at large. In other words, the fundamental problem is not this or that issue, but the fact that far too many of us are either oblivious to real suffering or believe there’s nothing much we can do about it. This is one reason Zen holds so much appeal for me, as a means of developing mindfulness and compassion. This is why I often wonder whether I should give up what I’m doing and immerse myself in efforts to wake myself and others.

But regardless of whether I pursue Zen, or education reform, or political or ecological activism (or some combination of these causes), the real question—the ongoing thorn in my side, a relentless source of confusion and anxiety—remains how to make this work Continue reading

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Squish Like Grape

Long time, no blog, I know.

Let me explain.

In addition to the expected headaches and distractions of settling into a new place, I’ve been fighting more literal headaches lately, having spent the past two weeks rather ill. More serious than this, however, was the nagging case of learning-curvitis I contracted. In my last post I mentioned the joys of tracking down freelance writing jobs. Well, as I’ve learned once again, sometimes getting a job is just the beginning of the fun.

Resume-writing isn’t bad work, I have to admit: for all the silliness of self-promotional writing, I appreciate the wordsmithing challenge; I take pride in my work and enjoy thinking it’s helping people find better employment. Problem is, this current gig is currently paying less than I’d get at McDonald’s or Wal Mart.

This is due primarily to the fact that the pay is per finished product, and nine resumes into the job, I can’t seem to get my speed up. I don’t want to think perfectionism is holding me back—frankly, I don’t want to spend any more time on each resume than I have to. No, this isn’t perfectionism but professionalism: even minimally satisfying work simply takes a while, especially when I have to find the right buzzwords for a given industry and use them convincingly.

It doesn’t help that this is contract work, meaning all the taxes fall on me, or that I discovered my gross pay turns out to be as little as 20 percent of what the company’s clients are paying. Granted, I don’t have to advertise or go looking for customers, but the reality that this isn’t passion-based employment is trumped by its apparent inability even to cover my minimal expenses.

So my immediate dilemma is how much more time to give this business: how long I should wait too see how much faster I might get at cranking out resumes. At the same time, there is a larger underlying question, and that’s the main reason I’m airing my dirty freelancing laundry in public today. Continue reading

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Write Livelihood?

Ah, just like old times: blogging on consecutive days. Seriously, though, after yesterday’s post I’m keen to keep at this question of what sorts of things I can do now—not later, now—that both I and my bank account would find fulfilling.

What I really want to do is spend my days reading, writing, networking and otherwise advocating for CASE. For years I’ve been longing for this to be the focus of my working life, not crammed into the odd margins of evenings and weekends. I want to build CASE into an active clearinghouse and catalyst, bringing people and ideas together to support the cause of Sudbury schooling.

As the executive director, I want to spend hours and hours each week cultivating CASE’s online presence: posting content (and moderating user-generated content), as well as seeking opportunities to comment on external sites. I want to secure funding, brainstorm new forms of collaboration, and pursue additional strategies for marketing the Sudbury model to an ever-growing audience. I want to see more people aware of, talking about, and working together to raise the profile of Sudbury schooling.

Yet the obstacle of startup funding remains. My intention has been to use the savings I accumulated over the past few years to lay the groundwork, put things in place to which I could refer potential donors. However, I’m currently overextended with staffing at Clearview, as well as choir and Zen activities. So there’s one problem. There are also the mysteries of how much infrastructure to create before seeking donors, and where to look for these people.

With my board members and collaborators very busy and geographically dispersed, the rate of CASE’s development remains much slower than I’d like. And my Sudbury colleagues and counterparts are unlikely to become less busy—indeed, one of my main motivations in launching CASE was the realization that Sudbury advocates are typically too busy to attend to all that could (and needs to) be done.

So I understand that CASE may not yet (or even soon) be in a position to support full-time, paid work. In general, the sort of work I find most engaging and worthwhile—passion-driven, world-changing, and all-around empowering—seems rather difficult to find, create, fund, and sustain. Given all this, I need to consider how I might supplement my CASE activities with non-Sudbury jobs that suit my talents, interests, and personality. 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

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