Two Years of Lefty Parent!

Well its the anniversary of many harvest feasts, but particularly that 1621 event at the site of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts where the English immigrants feasted with the Wampanoag Native Americans who had helped the “pilgrims” cultivate the land and fish, saving them from starvation. For me it is also the two year anniversary of the start of my “Lefty Parent” blog, now more than 250 posts later!

First of all I want to call out that I am thankful for my family and friends that have encouraged and supported me in this effort (including my son Eric who suggested I start this blog in the first place). But I am also grateful that the writing process has helped me work my way through my own version of a midlife crisis that I think I have been wrestling with since I turned fifty five years ago but have only really consciously understood for maybe half that time. With our kids basically grown up and running their own lives, the existential question was, “What am I doing with my life?” and further, “What was the value of this half-century of human experience anyway? Was it just water under the bridge or is there some wisdom that could or should be shared?”

Maybe emphasizing the point of the crisis in some metaphorical or metaphysical way, was my bicycle accident just over a year ago and my resulting (I assume) neurosurgery for a big blood clot above my brain. I am grateful that I have been able to survive and even leverage those personal calamities (and a three-month medical leave that gave me a “time out” from the distraction of day-to-day life to really focus on the nature of my crisis in that developmental stage that Erik Erikson characterizes as “generativity vs stagnation”.

So anyway, when I launched my blog I identified seven themes that seemed to be running through my life’s experiences to date…

1. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”

2. Life, at its best, is a series of adventures – not always successful, not always happy, but compelling narratives worth living, sharing with others and spurring our full development

3. Understanding the context that surrounds the situations we find ourselves in is always critical to effectively navigating those situations

4. We are most fully realized as human beings if we take responsibility for our own actions, adult or youth, and given that, are best able to do so when we have the liberty and agency to rise to that challenge

5. It is most effective to treat people with respect, whether adult or youth, listening, speaking for yourself, and offering your assistance and wisdom when it is asked for and trying to avoid providing it when it is not

6. The education that stays with you are the things you learn on your own initiative, not what others demand that you learn

7. There is a synergistic, creative tension between trusting your own inner judgment and being connected to something transcendent and larger than yourself, whether civic, religious, energetic, magical, spiritual, universal, or ecological

Though I think these themes are all valid threads in my experience, I find it interesting in categorizing each of my pieces by one of the seven, the themes of “Education” (72) and “Context” (71) account for significantly more than half of what I’ve written.

Under the rubric of “Education”, I continue to wrestle with the whole concept of formal vs informal learning (schooling vs unschooling) along with our education system as a lagging rather than leading institution in our societal transition from hierarchical to more egalitarian organization. (Certainly having a kid who crashed and burned in school forced that issue.) Life to me is all about development, so how does formalizing that development perhaps help or hinder it, now in the information age vs back in the industrial age. Was “schooling” maybe more important then and somehow less important now? Conventional wisdom seems to be that it’s the other way round.

Alternative educators talk a lot about the importance of creating an “enriched environment” in which the learner can play a (the) major role in their own learning. As my mom always used to say, “Bright kids will tell you what they need”, and she always characterized her kids as bright. I have generalized that principle to, “Kids will tell you what they need”, because I think every human consciousness has that spark of light somewhere inside them.

As to “Context”, it seems so critical to me to understand the larger narrative that a particular person, community, circumstance, venue or effort lies within. Mimicking the techniques of the Industrial Age, we tend to compartmentalize things and perhaps take them out of their full context to examine and study them. This kind of compartmentalizing or de-contextualizing seems to have had a real impact on formal learning, as well as other aspects of our society, replacing richness with rote.

Even though I don’t recall him ever explicitly saying it, I sum up the greatest wisdom my dad (the consummate English Professor) shared with me in the phrase “life is an adventure”, full of unexpected inspiration and learning, but also ordeals as well. I still recall Saturdays or Sundays as a kid when my dad piled my brother and I in the backseat of the car and just headed out in one direction or the other for the day to see what we encountered. That all weaves back into the themes of narrative within a context.

But now in hindsight, looking back at two years worth of work, I see other themes emerging…

1. Based on my reading of Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, the whole idea of the human race’s transition from patriarchy to partnership, from hierarchical to more egalitarian organizing principles, and the application of those egalitarian principles to all aspects of our lives.

2. The revolutionary and evolutionary impact of the Internet, what appears to me to be as profound a new technology as printing and movable type was in the 16th Century, and just as transformative. I think we are now launched on as profound a “Reformation”, though I don’t think it is clear yet the actual dimensions of it.

So two years into this new path for me as an essayist, I find myself at least psychologically “addicted” to getting my writing time in and producing finished essays, one per writing-day if possible. I find myself plotting and planning each week to build in as many of those writing-days as possible, ideally at one of my “coffee house” haunts where I can take advantage of wi-fi, free coffee refills, places to plug in when my laptop (now netbook) battery runs down, and a willingness to let people sit for hours or even all day. Even though Starbucks now has free wi-fi, I gravitate to the locally-owned, “one-off” coffee places for that more friendly neighborhood ambiance and energy. (A “shout out”, as they say these days, to “Barclay’s” at Nordhoff and Tampa and “Perks” at Nordhoff and Balboa, my two Northridge neighborhood favorites!)

And finally… thank you for your support! You folks who read my blog pieces and particularly those of you who comment. It is so critical as a writer to feel you have at least some sort of an audience, and then to get feedback from that audience. When I hear from one of you, particularly when something I wrote maybe inspires or moves you, it makes my day!

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