[00:00:01.140] – Abby
We’re recording. Amazing. And do you want to start by introducing yourself, your name, where you’re at, your pronouns, anything around you that’s delightful?
[00:00:17.140] – Mel
Yeah, I would love to start there. So I’m Mel Compo. I use they/them pronouns. I’m currently in Brooklyn, New York, on stolen Lenape lands. I am a facilitator at ALC-NYC and have been for the past five years.
I’m also the librarian of that project, and elsewhere in the world I am an artist, a poet, a play worker, a zine maker, and generally an agent of joy and gender chaos.
[00:01:01.230] – Abby
I love that. Because I’m focusing these interviews on facilitation, my next question was going to be: “What are some of the processes and happenings that you facilitate?” But you answered some of that.
[00:01:20.670] – Mel
I mean, I would love to get more specific into it, because it’s a big part of my life, and it’s a big part of — being a facilitator has changed so many other parts of my life in the last five years.
It’s a really incredible reciprocal relationship for me. So at ALC-NYC, I work with kids generally from, you know, K – 12 age range. And I like to play in art making and storytelling generally. And I host– I’ve been hosting an offering called Art Jam for the last year on Zoom, which feels very emblematic of the kind of facilitation work that I like to do, which is that I hold the space for an hour and a half and whoever wants to join me can join me.
And whatever art they want to make, they can make. And whatever they want to talk about, we can talk about it. And I really– I really relate to that sort of open container holding as an essential part of my facilitation. But outside of art making, I love to play outside with kids. I’m a rock climber. I’m a tag player. I’ve learned quite a bit of acro yoga, partner balance acro yoga, in the last several years, and I’m always interested in word games and wandering through strange intellectual territory, with preteens in particular.
Yeah, and the other part of the facilitation game that I’m thinking about a lot recently is the I want to call– I don’t want to use buzzwords like “emotional intelligence.”
But that is kind of what I mean.
I’ve been, you know, especially during pandemic times and relating to the community of kids online and also my my larger community of humans that I love and the networks of people that I’m a part of, you know, learning to articulate a, like, trauma based– trauma informed, rather, model of interfacing with our feelings, which are real things that we have and that are not valued in our traditional education system and that are really important information about what our bodies are doing and what they need.
So there’s the play piece, there’s an emotional piece. And then the third part of my facilitation that I would name is an anti-oppression bias. That I always want to come from a place of anti-racism. I want to come from a place outside of gender binary. I want to work to dismantle ableism… And when I say these things, I mean in myself, primarily, because, you know, as…as we move through the world, it’s our own biases that get reflected in our relationships.
Doing a lot of learning and unlearning around where my privilege is and where my identities are marginalized, and learning to leverage those privileges and to help people who don’t share them and to–
[00:05:14.210] – Abby
Just all the New York sounds. It’s cool…
[00:05:16.500] – Mel
Just gonna let that go by for a second. OK. All right. So I’m always trying to leverage my privilege to help those who do not share that, who are oppressed by those privileges, and to try and use my marginalized identities or the places where I’m visible in my marginalized identities to speak out.
So that’s it. That’s the three pieces: play and feelings and anti-oppression, yeah.
[00:05:47.760] – Abby
Thank you. I’m appreciating the learning that’s visible in how your answers to these kind of questions have changed.
And I’m like, “Oh, I too have learned to give, like, three to five bullet points. [both laugh] Yeah, I see you.
Have your relationships to play and feelings and anti-oppression work changed since you started…
I’m, like, not trying to be like, oh, “since you started facilitating” and name that starting point as, like, when you became aware you were facilitating, because I’m pretty sure it’s a thing you were doing before you named it. But…
[00:06:37.290] – Mel
Well, I think that that’s an interesting framework, actually, for how I would answer that question, because there’s the point at which I started facilitating at ALC-NYC. Right? So let’s call that– let’s name that the point, right– is a time where I became where I started becoming more intentional about all of my practices. And intentional about my practices, not in a way that…Up until that point, I had related to practice as the thing that you do in order to prepare for the real thing, which is the performance.
And after I started facilitating at ALC-NYC, there was a real shift in my — a necessary shift in my — understanding of what practice is to be, not something to prepare for the real thing, but the real– the realest thing there is. Right? What we practice, what we do every day is what creates our material reality and our emotional reality and our imaginative reality, right?
The act of practicing something makes other worlds possible. And so, you know, to it– it feels very neat to answer that question like, “Yeah, I did. I did change the way that I practiced facilitation.” And I started noticing that all of my practices mattered, even the ones that I thought of as being incidental.
[00:08:11.560] – Abby
Do you have any stories of facilitator moments that facilitated those awareness changes in you at all? I’m, like, imagining you in the makerspace…
[00:08:29.390] – Mel
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s definitely one of the places where it happened and you know, it actually– I — so to go back a little bit to my schooling context, which is that I went to a suburban high school that was very conventional. And in my school district, you had to choose art or music for scheduling reasons when you were 10 or so, going into middle school. And I come from a family of musicians. And so I chose music.
And subsequently for the next 15 years or so, I didn’t make any art, really. I didn’t draw. I told myself I was a person who couldn’t.
And then you and I actually were doing a Spanish offering with some teens one day in the makerspace, and we were talking about Frida Kahlo and self portraits, and the activity that we were doing that day was that you got out a mirror and we all started drawing these self portraits. And for me, I think I draw seven self portraits that day. Like something really clicked.
And so shortly after that, I enrolled in a painting class at the Brooklyn Museum, out near where I live.
And I started regularly showing up at this class every Sunday. And it was me and mostly a bunch of old ladies, retirees. But the teacher, whose name is Zen Brown, is an incredible painter, a really radical artist. And the way that he approached painting, like opened that door a little further, that for me it had been cracked open with these self portraits and the, like, visceral satisfaction that I got out of making an image of my own likeness.
And then I started this painting class and started a larger project of, of making a self-portrait and showing up and painting it every week. And even though I had never painted before, you know, Zen really didn’t want to talk about that or talk about what I could or couldn’t do. He was much more interested in which lines I already had on the canvas, and how much paint was on my brush versus how much water, and how much pressure is your hand using right now, and what color — What if you tone down that color or what if you added to it? And I began to, through this process of learning how to paint, I began to, like, have a real experience of practice as just… It’s a thing that you engage with. And I still have that painting, and I still make self portraits actually very regularly as a part of my art practice and a part of my practice of imagining myself as a transhuman. Right. So the other lesson in this is not just, like, if you keep showing up and putting ink on the page, then one day you will have an image and then you can have feelings about it, which is true and nice and lovely, but also that if you keep this practice of putting ink on the page, it will teach you something about what you’re looking for.
You know, and what I was really looking for was a way to imagine myself differently. And so there is the the concrete and the abstract of practice. There’s the concrete of the, like, your skill increases every time you make a line. And there’s the abstract of — and your understanding of yourself deepens. Every time you look at one of those lines you think “I made that line.”
[00:12:18.940] – Abby
Yeah, I…That reflection on our making as a kind of processing and integration tool really resonates for me, and it has the same tendency culturally where, a bunch of us who are, schooled to be, like, really rigorous and, like, chasing top grades and stuff, come to it with like a seriousness and a perfectionism, that is what keeps us from engaging sincerely until we break it. And it’s the same, I’m sure you’re familiar with it from, like, in activism scenes to — right? The like, you know. That grumpy rigidity. And you are human who had to shake those tendencies.
And I watch you, like, support preteens, particularly, in either shaking those or avoiding, you know, taking them on in the first place. So I’m wondering if you could share about, like, what that process — I mean, and it’s ongoing, but — what that’s, that practice is for you? How Zen…
It’s funny. I had in my notes to ask about painting class, or when you were like, I will go be facilitated now, like, how did people hold space for you to transform?
[00:13:58.930] – Mel
Yeah, I love that question because you’re… You know, the way your framework is absolutely correct, which is that I am, you know– I was a high achiever in school.
Like, we — those of us who went through the system and performed — it’s really hard to shake that habit. And it was really rewarded for me, which made it even harder to shake, you know? Like, it’s nice to get affirmation from people that what you’re doing is good and that you’re smart and that you’re– you’ve got it together and you’re on the right path. You know? Even though whatever that path was– You know. And I made it all the way, I graduated university. I got a quote unquote, good job. I was, like, a blond, cis-passing woman with a corporate job in Times Square and a nice salary. And I was like, I hate all of this. So I really felt like… It took me a while. It took me until I was twenty five or so to realize that checking all those boxes wouldn’t make me happy. And so I really started this, like, exploration and back into practice from a point of view of, like, I did the other thing, and it didn’t work for me. Like, check, you know.
So in a weird way, my completionist, perfectionist tendency helped me, because I was like, “OK, I did that whole thing. And the result of that experiment was dissatisfaction. And so now I’m feeling around for something else.” So I definitely approached it from a place of genuine curiosity about what other modes of being there were. And, you know, it didn’t feel nice in a, like, I have clinical anxiety kind of way. Like, I was really struggling with my mental health and my emotional health.
And those two things are not necessarily the same thing though we often lump them together.
So… So coming from that place and really finding teachers among preteens, as you say, because I — preteens are really at an incredible age where they’re old enough to, like, comprehend the secrets of the universe.
Preteens are really interested in playing with me and curiosity about the way that the universe is going to collapse, you know? Or what a fractal is, like, getting into big questions about the whys and hows of aliveness is I think– They’re really at this moment, right at the end of childhood if, you know, if we were to define it as being before teenage years, where they have all this accumulated knowledge from their point of view as children, which is really genuinely unique and fascinating and different from an adult perspective.
And, you know, when I– so I chose that I was going to move away from this academic checkbox list, and I started moving into relationship with children and preteens in particular, and I started seeing the ways in which they could generate real magic just on the fly.
They’re not really, you know, they didn’t have to sit down with the goal in mind of what the thing would look like at the end. Like, they could just start and wind up with something that was really inconsequential to the joy that they got out of making it and…
When it comes to being facilitated, you know, I talked a little bit about holding space at the beginning, but when it comes to being facilitated, I really enjoy when somebody teaches me something explicitly. So when a kid teaches… For example, I’ve had a lot of kids teach me how to make slime over the years. And, and I also went to a, to a really fabulous art camp for Grown Ups, where I met a slime collaborator as well, an adult named Parch S.
And in all of those relationships, the other person has opened space by saying, or has opened a space which feels to me like an invitation, to make an art, to make a mess without a goal. To just take that part of it off and to say, you know, that this game that we’re playing right now is much more important than the outcome of the game, who the winner is.
I think I kind of went off on a tangent there, but I think that’s what I was getting to.
[00:19:08.500] – Abby
Oh, that’s perfect. I…And you, and you ended with slime. Which I hear facilitators and adults who are new to expressive art spaces and self directed spaces, like, relating to slime particularly, and all those other sensory exploration kind of adventures, as you know, reacting against the mess, reacting against the perceived waste. And I’m wondering if baby facilitator you experienced any of those kind of aversions to those messes? And then, like, what– what that change has been like for you?
[00:20:03.380] – Mel
Absolutely. I love to talk about Slime, because I did. I started from the mess place. I’m a Virgo sun, so messes are hard. And when I started at ALC-NYC, we had a crew of tinies who were six to eight at the time, who weren’t so much into slime as they were into potion-making, which involved, you know, a very similar sensory exploration kind of play.
Right? Like, water dripped on the floor and using acrylic paint or whatever to dye it and put it in bottles and add glitter and use glue and, you know, generally make a mess of these materials. And then leave them out at the end of the day. Be a six year old where you do a project and then you walk away from it. And part of my role as the facilitator was to go and find that six year old and help them clean up.
And, you know, over the course of the year, when you have this repeated conversation and the only access you as the adult are having to the sensory exploration is the cleanup, it does become really frustrating. It’s annoying and also I have… A thing that I’ve learned in the last five years is that conversations about cleaning up after yourself are a constant in any self-directed space, and that’s just the way that it is. And that’s OK. And that’s actually made it a lot easier to relate to it as, like, you know, you’ll always be talking to kids about cleaning up after themselves. That’s preparation for them being adults who can clean up after themselves. Being in community is hard.
Being a community with different cleanliness standards is hard, and we’re all learning. Right? So, like, to be able to take the cleaning piece and learn to hold it with lightness and, like, yeah, this is… This is inevitable. Know we’ll be cleaning up messes. I got, I got myself a pair of slippers, so I stopped stepping on the potion making in my bare socks and not really… Because we’re a “no shoes inside” space. And that really improved my life greatly.
You know, I went about and asked, like, how can I take care of myself in this way? What’s it about this that’s annoying? So I can shift my mindset. I can, you know, engage with some material tools, like a pair of slippers, that will make this less unpleasant for me. But then the best thing that I did was that I went to this art camp for grown ups. It’s called School of the Alternative –shout out! –and their project is located in Black Mountain, North Carolina, that is working to create a non higher education educational space for adults to come and play together.
So I… Wow. So this is three years into my facilitation at ALC-NYC. I found this program through someone I knew, and I applied and got a full ride to go practice being facilitated. It was new for me in that I wasn’t going to run any classes. I was just going to go and take others’. And the week that I went, there is a class on the schedule called “Slime Machine, Slime Machine” taught by an artist named Parch S.
And I went to that. And I got there and I was like, “I’m a slime expert. I know all about slime. I work in the self-directed space. Kids are making slime there all the time. I know slime.” And so the first day class, we each made our own individual slime and it was a mess. It was so much harder than I thought it was. And I realized in this moment as my hands — And I went fully two hands into it. Shaving cream, borax, glue, like, dye, you know. So I’m fully two hands into this slime and it’s so stuck to me and I can’t get it off.
Other people are making these very neat slimes, like, very cautiously around me. And Parch is– who’s facilitating this offering is reminding me, like, “if you just keep working it, it’ll be OK.” Like, “It’s not going to be stuck to you forever. You know, you just have to keep moving it around so that the bonds can form, so that it can form the slime.” It was a real…And it took me an hour of adding a little bit of this material or asking someone to–
Even… Even worse, I had to ask for help getting the materials I needed into my hands! And kneading this slime until it became something that was, you know, not stuck to my every single finger, but that was malleable and that I could move around and really admire without feeling how trapped I was in this process, you know?
That hour of having my hands in the slime was the most that I had engaged with the medium itself in my years of facilitation, even though I had come into this situation thinking I was such an expert because I my proximity to slime made me an expert. But the thing that the practice of practice keeps teaching me is that it doesn’t count unless you’re doing it. It doesn’t count unless your hands are in the slime. It doesn’t matter how many children are making slime around you; unless you, too, are putting yourself in their shoes and having the sensory experience, you actually don’t really have a sense of what’s happening here.
And this is the thing that I love about being a facilitator as opposed to being a teacher, right, is that a facilitator is someone who does something with you. The whole time that I was stuck in the slime, Parch had, like, whipped up a very neat one in this plastic bowl and was, like, you know, twirling it around. And the fact that I could watch that alchemy happen in real time was a reminder that just because my practice, just because my process was a lot slower and wasn’t– it was emerging in a different way–
It didn’t mean that I wouldn’t get to the place that I was trying to get to, which is just I wanted to be free of the slime on my hands. Right? It wasn’t like I want to have this, like, perfect thing to play with. Slime is a great example of an art form that’s not very… It’s not very results oriented. Right? The most exciting part about slime is not having a slime at the end. And in fact, they get kind of weird.
You can leave them out and they get sticky like or they get crusty on the outside. I’ve done these experiments with young people as well and… But, like, the experience of making slime is, is art. It counts. I went on later that week to turn an entire gallon of glue into slime and, like, and put all this glitter in it. And I carried it around in a big plastic tub. And the feeling of being able to go up and offer it to someone…And the delight on their face when they could they were interested in accepting my offer or even the like amusement when they turned me down…
All of that is part of the art of slime that feels really joyful and essential. And… And also the thing that I’m trying to get back to in any art making practice, which is that– the availability. Your feelings are really available to you when you’re making art. And in these difficult times, in any difficult times, the practice of engaging with our feeling of joy, our embodied feeling of joy– Right? It happens somewhere in your body, just like when you feel afraid and there’s like a clench or when you feel anxious…
Right? That’s a much more appropriate feeling to talk about. When we talk about performance anxiety, you feel that clenching your body, but also when you’re making joy, when you’re making art from a place of joy, you feel a different feeling. I personally feel this, like, real expansive warmth right below my solar plexus. And so that– it’s when I move my practice of slime from being “I am the adult who cleans up after or who makes sure that these children clean up after themselves when they make slime.
I’m glad they’re having a good time, but like, oh, this is annoying” to “Oh, actually, the making of slime is a liberatory experience, and cleaning up is just something that humans have to do after ourselves as a regular practice forever.” So it’s really not that big of a deal if– Really it would be so much worse to not make slime, if I frame it that way.
[00:28:49.930] – Abby
Oh, my gosh. Yes.
[00:28:55.330] – Mel
Wow, that was fun.
[00:28:58.420] – Abby
[00:29:01.660] – Mel
[00:29:04.370] – Abby
Yeah. I mean, you hit all the– all the things. I’m aware we haven’t talked about field trips, and that while that’s a thing you haven’t gotten to do recently, that is a thing you historically have enjoyed and soon will get back to.
[00:29:26.970] – Mel
That’s true. I’m happy to talk quickly about field trips. It really, really relates to one of the agile roots that’s very meaningful to me, which is that the medium is the message. Right? We learn more from our culture and from our environment than we do from the things that we’re explicitly taught and…
I live in New York City. I’m born in Brooklyn, and I’ve been moving through this city my whole life, and there’s so much to learn in New York City, not just like explicitly at, you know, institutions that we associate with learning things. Like, you know, I’ve been to the Museum of Natural History with kids, and we go to the Met regularly. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a 20 minute walk from ALC-NYC and one of my favorite places in the world, despite its problematic position as an institution.
So, like, I’ve had those conversations with kids, you know. So there’s the, like, explicit learning museums. We’ve been to Queens. I once took 10 kids an hour on the subway to the end of the seven line to go to the Queens Science Center together. I think I did that twice, actually, and I remember it very vividly because I got into a really in depth conversation about the nature of good and evil with one of the teens on the way out to the science center.
Because my other thing about field trips is, like, those kind of conversations happen way more often on the subway than they do anywhere else. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what is it about the nature of… And it doesn’t have to be on the subway. It could be walking. It could be on the bus. But there’s something about the nature of being in transit to or from a place in New York City that really– where we’ve had an experience together that really opens up these big, intellectually curious conversations that I love to have with young people.
So that’s my spiel on field trips.
Basically, any any intentional adventure that you’re having can be a field trip. I’ve taken field trips to other playgrounds that were deeply rewarding. One time I went on a field trip that some young people organized to the playground next to the Met so that we could all have a really epic game of hide and seek tag. And it was one of the most fun field trips I’ve been on. I love to go on a field trip that a teen plans and that I can just show up at and say, you know, I’m just the grown up here.
Like, you lead the way. I think that learning to navigate the world that we live in, both in a material “how do I read a subway map? How do I swipe through the turnstile? Where’s a smart place to stand on the platform?” I mean, these are obviously New York City specific considerations, but these are New York City kids that I’m talking to. If I lived somewhere else, I’m sure we would be having different conversations, right, about what’s in our ecosystem and what’s in our neighborhood and what’s in our community.
It’s just that from this position in New York City, I get to talk about so many exciting things. Because of the museums, but also the archipelago. Right? We get to take the ferry from the south of Manhattan all the way out to the Rockaways and talk about what’s in the ecosystem and what is an archipelago and the history of building this island. And I feel trips are just an amazing vehicle for shifting your perspective and remembering that learning is happening in natural and all the time.
You’re always doing it, out in the world. And the more that you immerse yourself in the world, the easier it is to see it.
[00:33:39.580] – Abby
Yeah, sure. I love listening– and I’m aware that people are going to listen to this from outside New York City — and I love listening to New Yorkers especially, who work with, like, self-directed kids talk about our experiences of the map of the city, because… Because you’re like, “Oh, the good playground for tag!”
And I’m like, “Oh yeah. And the other one that’s great for like snowball fights and sledding, you know?” And there’s the… The prominence of different points on our maps shift because they’re so youth informed and play informed, and, as you pointed to the way that, like, liminal spaces are, like, our– our locations. Right? It’s the subway between school and the Queens Museum, or the path by the Harlem Meer.
And that’s something that, like, the richness of the liminal space is something, and the play spaces was something that I worried a little bit we would lose moving online for covid. And there’s a bunch of ways that we’ve not lost that.
But your art jam offering that you mentioned earlier is something that I hear from other facilitators and parents and kids that they experience as one of those openings. You know, an expansive space, not totally liminal, but also, like, it is. They can show up and ask about the nature of evil or whatever. And I’m curious about how you hold that space and how you set up that space.
[00:35:53.780] – Mel
I mean, one of the things that I didn’t include in my intro, but that I do identify strongly as is that I identify as a witch. I’m a practitioner of liminal spaces, is what I mean by that. I think that a liminal space is one where you have a lot of…of…choice available to you. Like, future available choices, and that when we hang out in the liberal space with our choices, we get a real sense of expansiveness, which I think is maybe what people relate to in Art Jam, you know? And when I approach these spaces….uh… I think about… I think about…I’m struggling to, to look for spatial words, actually, as I try and describe this. I’m, like, I hold myself on the outside.
I, you know, I open the center, and I know that that’s very abstract. But what feels very important for me with holding these spaces is that it’s actually not really about me or my feelings or my interests. I’m always here the full person that I am with my feelings and my interests. So if you want to… If a kid shows up to Art Jam and wants to talk about how werewolfism in Harry Potter is a metaphor for being a man with HIV,
like, yeah, I could talk to you a lot about that, because that’s really at the center of the Venn diagram of our two interests, apparently.
But if you don’t want to talk about that, I’m not attached to that being our topic of conversation today. That if you want to show up and you want to see how many noises your synthesizer can make,
great. I’m a… I’m open to that as long as everyone else in the Zoom room is consenting. I’m happy to facilitate, “hey, did you check and make sure that everyone in this room is consenting before you press all the buttons on your synthesizer?” but really taking a step back from, like, showing up with, like, this is about me and my wants to, like, this is about whoever is…whoever I’m holding the space for. And I really need to decenter my own expectations in order to be able to hold accurate space for me.
And that’s not to say I need to shrink myself or pretend like I’m not the full person that I am. But it does mean that if a kid disagrees with me on something, I don’t have to win that argument. It means that if a…if I throw out an invitation to play — I’m like, “Oh, does anyone want to play Scribbl.io right now?” And they’re all like, “No,” great. We don’t have to. And I think that a lot of people get really tied up trying to facilitate spaces where they’re like, “Well, I’m throwing all these things out there and nobody really wants to do the things that I’m suggesting,” as if that’s a failure on your part in some way, when it’s really not. It’s it’s useful information about what people don’t want to do, because the more clear you are about what people don’t want to do, the clearer you can get about what they do want to do and talk about and be and play.
So, you know, part of my practice as a witch is that I regularly practice stepping outside of myself in it and seeing where I am oriented vis-a-vis the other people or my own thoughts or the choices that are available to me. And then when that comes to facilitation, it’s really about decentering my expectations and opening up space for the other person to explore what they’re here to explore today.
[00:40:27.120] – Abby
And that’s… You do that, and you do it with grace.
Also a bunch of the other offerings you facilitate are more class– classically considered “classes” where, you know, you can not have attachment to, you know, being ready for the AP bio exam in a month, but theoretically, there is a shared goal. Right? How does your prep and presence for those offerings differ from what you do with Art Jam?
[00:41:17.800] – Mel
It’s a bit of a shift in the…in what people are consenting to when they sign up for the offering. So when you show up to Art Jam, you’re consenting to, like, being in this open space. And I’m consenting to playing in whatever comes up right now. But if you’re showing up for art history, for example, what you’re consenting to is, like, a…
is giving your full attention to this thing that you’ve said that you want to learn more about, whatever that means. And so, you know, there’s a real difference between the two offerings. Certainly in art history, I do a much more traditional “well, we’ve been doing a tour of the world around the year fifteen hundred. Right? And we’re looking at the –” We just looked at some really incredible Yoruba, Yoruba art that’s slightly earlier, it’s from the 14th century, but —
I keep… I check in periodically, right? So, you know, right after winter break, “OK, we’re going to be looking at China, Japan and Korea for the next three weeks. Is that what you want to do? Are you interested in this? Great. Let’s do it.” And I think that you can still build in these cycles of intention and consent, and in that you can make space for people to say,
“I actually don’t want to do this.
I want to learn about something else. Can we talk about a different place? A different time?” But the– the thread through both offerings is this thread of enthusiastic consent. Do you want to be here right now? What do you want to be doing here right now? And, you know, a teen can enthusiastically consent to wanting to take an AP bio exam or an AP art exam. Right? And or a teen can enthusiastically consent to
“Actually, I am going to apply to this specialized high school right now. And that means that I need to show up for maths twice a week and be in the quiet room.” Or whatever. It’s just a matter of making explicit that, yes, this is the thing that you want, and, yes, you are consenting to do it in this form because you know… And I’ve mentioned before, because I’ve been also making a science offering all year that started out as biology and then shifted to ecology.
And it has been interesting to watch as we struggle with “do we want to” and how we want to acquire new information. So we watched a lot of Crash Course videos — shout out to Hank Green, who’s a fabulous science educator, but he talks so fast, like, it’s hard to integrate that information. And so that worked for us for bio. But then as we got into ecology, we decided that we were going to do something slightly different, and we practiced making slideshow presentations of organisms in our ecosystem.
And that kind of worked. We kind of liked it, but we kind of didn’t. And so, you know, we had a conversation right before our spring break where I said, let me know. I made a proposal about a way that we could continue doing ecology. And a kid brought in a different proposal about, oh, well, maybe we could study a different discipline of science and we could transition to astronomy and, you know, to end the sprint on a conversation about, “OK, this is what we’ve done so far.
Here’s what we learned. Right. Did we like that? Do we want to go deeper into this thing or do we want to pivot into something else?” It’s the same conversation. I’m having an art jam. It’s just that we’re playing with a different time scale. And so when I do those offerings, I never assume that we want to do it forever or for on and on into eternity. I assume that we want to do it until at least the next break.
And we’ll check in on it then. But it’s… It’s time travel, it’s playing with time.
[00:45:26.550] – Abby
And just for folks who are very, very new to self directed education, if a kid comes up and is like, I would really like to study chemistry and you have zero interest in chemistry.
[00:45:39.200] – Mel
[00:45:40.530] – Abby
What do you do?
[00:45:42.480] – Mel
I say no. I say, “Oh, my gosh. You know who really likes chemistry? Abby.” And I wouldn’t be wrong.
Like, it’s a really great thing about being as part of a facilitation team is that I don’t have to fake interest in things that I’m not interested in.
You know that there is… I trust that there’s another facilitator, and that if there’s not a facilitator, that there’s another kid or there’s another adult in our community who will volunteer like that. There’s another resource out there. That I don’t have to be every resource for every kid, and that I’m a better grown up to them for it, for being able and for being able to model saying, “no, thank you. That’s not for me.”
[00:46:30.830] – Abby
Yes, awesome, thank you. I want to ask about your experience as a DM.
I want to ask about Playwork. I want to ask about, you know, designing alternatives to systems that, like normalize certain bodies and brains and ways of being in the world.
But we are running out of time. So is there something that I didn’t ask about, or any of those that you’re really excited to talk about?
[00:47:10.320] – Mel
Your last point makes me just want to talk briefly about being explicitly trans in spaces with young people. Mm hmm. In part because I realized I was trans– because a teenager asked me one morning at ALC-NYC. It was 9:00 in the morning and he goes, “Hey, can I ask you a quick question?”
And I said, “Sure, what’s up?” Which is my traditional response to that question. And he said, “Do you consider yourself to be a cis gender person?” And I said, “Oh, no, I don’t.” And it changed my life, obviously.
But it continues to be a really important part of my facilitation, because no one had ever asked me that question before. You know, I made it almost twenty eight years, twenty seven years of my life before I even asked myself that. And I think that part of why it was so hard to for me to imagine that I might be trans was because I had no idea what a trans person might look like. I had this, like, you know, there are some stories out there about binary trans people who know that they’re born in the wrong bodies and who are oppressed their whole lives and find out and later are either able to triumph or, you know, they die in a lot of these stories.
Very, very upsetting trans literature out there. But as we’re in a moment — and I’m thinking about this because Trans Day of Visibility was earlier this week and more and more — I’m noticing gender expansive teens showing up for programs that I’m running… A lot of she/they identifying humans, which I’m so excited to see, or, like, a kid who wants to check the gender bot on Twitter every day and see what the gender of the day is. You know, the gender of the day is three.
[00:49:07.760] – Abby
I love that bot.
[00:49:11.060] – Mel
You introduced them to that bot. Yeah. And so, I think that for me, part of the practice of play and part of the practice of being more expansive and antioppressive and emotionally aligned, all of the things that I talked about early on that are important to me about being a facilitator, are– make it so that it feels very important to always be explicit that I’m a trans person and that it’s great. I have a great time being a trans person.
I have a delightful pink mullet. I often wear glitter. The children dubbed me the Melicorn a couple of years ago and now that’s just what I want everyone to call me all the time. You know, I– I’ve had a real… I started taking hormone replacement therapy earlier this year, and I’ve had a real glimpse of how puberty changes your brain in a very interesting firsthand way. Usually the first time we go through puberty, we don’t have very much perspective on it.
But to go through it again as an adult, I’m like, Oh, yeah! Your juices really do affect your flesh and your, your thoughts.
So and in all this, not only has ALC-NYC been, like, the place where that kid was able to ask me that question, but also I’m really fortunate to, like,– I think, Abby, you’re the first person I asked to use them pronouns with me. And early on in my transition before I was, you know, transitioned my pronouns elsewhere, with my family or whatever,
I was already transitioning at ALC-NYC and it was not a big deal. You know? And I love… And I love that ALC can be a space where we really normalize, like, “Yeah, experiment with your gender identity. That’s something to play with.” Like, your gender expression is just one piece of who you are and your gender identity is another piece and you can play in them. And they’re just a practice of how you move through the world, and that– that’s just another space of possibility.
And to bring it back around to D&D, shout out to D&D and role playing games generally for being a wonderful place for young people to experiment with their genders, to create characters of different genders or different alignments, and to play being a different person than they are. I think that one of the things that makes me so sad about schooling, and about my schooling, is how early on it reinforces gender binaries and the stereotypes that go with it. Even– you know, I grew up in an era of real “girl power” feminism– Even as people around me were like, girls can do anything,
I didn’t really feel that way. And so, you know, existing in a self-directed spaces, being a trans adult in self directed spaces and having that just be one part of my identity, not like the whole thing is a really essential and joyful and liberatory part of all of this for me.
[00:52:16.510] – Abby
Lovely, thank you. Do you want to shout out the sci fi books that you…
[00:52:25.820] – Mel
I have so many books! I do, like, as a librarian
I do feel like it would be remiss of me to not. So I would like to actually start with a not sci fi book. I would like to start by recommending Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology, which is a brilliant text that reminds us that, whatever else you believe about whatever is real or not, it’s undeniable that you have a body and that oppression is something that happens to us on the level of our bodies. And so that– that was really a book that changed my life and changed my thinking.
I want to recommend…Wow.
I want to recommend so many books. I want to recommend N.K. Jemisin’s, The Broken Earth Trilogy, four stories about how we move through apocalypse in order to generate worlds that are new and fundamentally different because they address the intergenerational trauma of the past also. N. K. Jemisin, Crown Heights native, really just brilliant all around human, and the video of her on YouTube accepting the Hugo Award for the third book in this trilogy — she won the Hugo Award for every book in this trilogy — is really phenomenal, and it’s worth watching on its own.
What else do I want to recommend? I want to recommend The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is the book that taught me about anarchism in a really accessible and useful way. Um, I would like to recommend A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, which is a really wholesome, delightful sci fi that explores community, intentional community building, interspecies community building, too. I always want to recommend Octavia Butler Parable of the Sower, which is super relevant for our times, but Xenogenesis is the book that really affected me the most of of her work.
It involves an alien race that has a true third gender, which is very interesting to me. And oh, and the final book that I’ll recommend is Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks, which is another book that’s very interested in community building, specifically in a– in a post-colonial world. Yeah, that’s that’s my sci fi slate.
[00:55:33.260] – Abby
Thank you. Well, I mea… And I ask because part of the… I mean, one of the things that I sit with on Trans day of visibility and all days is the whole, like, visibility is, you know… “Where’s the safety component?!” And all that.
And as you said, part of that is, like, what we can imagine, and what is normalized in the imaginations of our young people is, like, part of what seeds those features that we actually want and need.
And one of your superpowers is sensing, like, when a kid is looking for the new story, right? And doesn’t know, and you’re like, Hey, do you want to go read Ancillary Justice in the library?
Or like, here’s my copy of this…
[00:56:24.850] – Mel
That’s the other book, that has to go on the list for sure, by Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice. Yeah, I do. And I love sci fi. You know, I talked a bit about how being a visible trans person is very important to me because the things that we make visible are the things that we allow ourselves to imagine. And when it comes to my own expansion of imagination, like, these sci fi authors have really been it for me.
They’ve really done– they’ve really helped me to imagine worlds that… It’s like, No, no, no. Not only is it that, like, the — not that — everyone’s not speaking the same language. It’s that some of these languages don’t have gesture, you know? Like, what do you do with this?
Or what happens if your language doesn’t have gender in it? Then what? You know? So I love sci fi for the ways that it asks, like, what if, you know, what if this were different?
[00:57:30.530] – Abby
Oh, man, so many more things than that, but we are at a time. Thank you so much. This was delightful.
[00:57:37.910] – Mel
This was really fun.
[00:57:40.610] – Abby
Where can people find you?
[00:57:45.190] – Mel
People can find me on Instagram at “the” underscore “melicorn”, and they can also find me on my website, magicalmelicorn.com.
[00:57:57.040] – Abby
Yeah, and that has links to your patreon and the places they can book tarot readings with you?
[00:58:04.570] – Mel
It’s got my blog about self directed education. It’s got Patreon for my daily tarot card pulls.
I think there’s a link to some fan fiction that I wrote on there, and it’s really a mixed bag of Mel’s art stuff.
[00:58:22.230] – Abby
So I will put links in show notes once I figure out how to do that. Thank you for accompanying me on this brave new experiment!
So excited to be a part of it, as always.