This week I was recovering from my trip to PES/Toronto, so I did not make any offerings for the day (Offerings must be made on Sundays, when I was on a bus and pre-occupied). There was still magic throughout the time that I spent with the kids, possibly because I was more available to the day that was unfolding.
A rundown of notable happenings:
- Arrived at 12pm – half the ALC had gone to the Uncommons
- Hang out with James and learn about Mindcraft upgrades
- Watched the end of a Pixar movie with most of those present (Zootopia)
- Discussed my thoughts on Zootopia with Ryan
- Found that my juggling balls were missing (Sterling helped me find some)
- Supported Oliver – dealing with his emotions/frustrations with Sterling
- Coffee Time!
- Caught up on some Email work on my laptop
- Check-In with Ryan over broader interests and developments – i.e. PES but also TC progress
- Check-In with Abby
- Clean-up time drama from Oliver (he may be ‘hangry’)
- Mega-Spawn check-in with everyone (I took some pictures, below)
- Gratitude Circle – my candle!
- Shared my thoughts with Timo about Zootopia (he asked, after Ryan mentioned them in gratitude)
Zootopia troubled me because of the possibly racist implications of using the animal kingdom as anthropomorphic stand-ins for our own ideal society. Disney/Pixar are setting up a kind of magical reality that is supposed to reflect the diversity of our urban metropolises. The trouble begins when you consider how these animals have children – they can only breed with their own kind. There are no Mules or Ligers or Zebraphants or what-have-you, in ZOOTOPIA. On this, Timo made the point that two men or two women can’t breed but they can still have a family (adoption).
This shows the innocence of the second point I want to make about this imaginary world: that such a world is acceptable until you consider reproduction. In that way it is almost a way of tricking us into accepting the conditions of such a world. “It’s just a kids movie”, and notably I did not discuss these thoughts with children but only with Timo who was engaged in a reason-able discussion on the topic. I made my argument known to him, not trying to convince him of it, but to reveal what I had told Ryan. I did not bring up the reproduction issue until I was sure that it was just Timo and I talking (he is around 11).
The problem (with reproduction) in treating the animal kingdom as a kind of model for a Utopian society, is that it allows for class discussion and diversity (hence the name of the film) but obscures the very fact of the myth of race. Race is NOT equivalent to the differences between animals, all humans regardless of race are the same animal.
On thinking through this further, one can consider the Pixar films ‘Cars’ in which we suspend belief and allow for anthropomorphic vehicles living on an earth eerily familiar to our own (one doesn’t want to dwell to long on the absence of all humans in a world of intelligent machines). The point of interest is that at least in Cars there is not this potentially racist subliminal message.
I went and wrote this comment on a news article:
Nobody else picked up on the horrifyingly racist implication of using anthropomorphic animals to deal with race? ‘Cars’ would have been a more appropriate way to deal with race, instead we have the Animal Kingdom fed back to us as a Utopia. Let me be clear: there are no MULES, no LIGERS, no ZEBRAPHANTS in this movie. What the animal kingdom analogy does is serve us a subliminal message: recognize each others diversity but don’t get TOO close to each other. Rabbits mate with Rabbits, not Foxes (remember her parents are both rabbits).
Disney may have intended to deal with racism in a magical pre-sexualized fantasy world (i hear you object), but then why have a Gazelle (as Madonna/Gaga or similar) dancing provocatively with Tigers in the end credits? Look at the crowd of mixed animal classes all oggling the singer.
Fact: Race is a Myth (in every scientifically meaningful way). Yet Zootopia intentionally or not massively distorts this reality. Perhaps children will walk away from this movie thinking that recognizing that we are all capable of anything (based on merit) and ‘utopia’ is living together in a diverse metropolis, if moralizing works at all, but they will also more troublingly make the parallels of animal classes to race. That’s the worst kind of racist thinking – the kind that doesn’t even know it’s being racist.
It’s important that we all understand exactly why this is troubling. I do not mean that Disney is acting in bad faith, that they are trying to be racist (intention is irrelevant). I personally think that the reason we need to call Disney and others on this film is so that we can move the conversation forward. Disney can do better. Just compare Zootopia with Song of The South: at least they’ve come a long way.
Gratitude Circle – Babbling upgrade
Abby offered to let me run the gratitude circle meeting and i nearly turned it down. Then I remembered that I’d told Ryan (@ryanshollenberger) via Slack weeks ago about an idea for using babbling more effectively. It was based on my experience in Jack Gray’s session where he used an old story-telling practice to generate material.
The idea is simple:
- Speak for a minute. Everyone speaks at the same time and is focused on their own storytelling.
- Tell the same story a second time – as close to or better than the way you told it the first time.
- Tell the story a third time – this time with the group listening to one story at a time.
How I delivered the practice was to slowly reveal the activity. From my own experience of doing this, it helps to not over-think the next steps, therefore the teacher-facilitator intentionally reveals the steps as each one arises. I gave this some thought before I decided to do it this way, because as it turns out I did hear some objections to the process. Timo didn’t like not knowing in advance how the game worked. I accept this objection. The game-shifting board is a tool for making explicit the rules of interaction and the ‘game’ being played. I wonder at whether this way of doing things will be more effective, less or about the same, now that the rules are transparent.
Part of me thinks that in order to give yourself over to the process, the revealing is a necessary part of the practice. In Goia’s Soma Therapy work he would do this type of thing repeatedly, introducing variations on the games and preventing us from controlling the experience by changing up the process and responding intelligently to an awareness of our expectations. A further objection to this is that it mythologizes the teacher and places them in a kind of omnipresent role of knower-in-advance. In this way I agree with Timo’s objections. This is not necessarily in the spirit of ALFing.
However, in order to best introduce the tool itself, it was helpful to limit explanation. Sometimes a thing can only be truly understood by experience. This is very Deweyan. For these reasons I am curious to know if people enjoyed the experience and whether they think it is a tool they will use again. I think that @abbyo made some interesting comments in response to @timotree’s objection in this regard. I recall that she suggested that it is valuable as a tool for cases when an individual is so taken by the power of the spotlight that they continue talking almost exclusively for the pleasure of being heard. They just don’t want to stop. The group groans (sometimes audibly), but it continues.
I think this is one way that it is a valuable practice. Another way is in practicing forming your story. If you only have a minute to speak, what will you include? How long is a minute? What does it feel like? By practicing the performance of your minute twice before standing before the group, the individual can refine their story and omit the time-wasting ums and ahs, as well as facts which are less interesting/urgent to the speaker.
That said, with this first practice of this tool, I made a point of asking people to try to re-perform their story as they had performed it the first time. To try and repeat the bodily positions. How does this help you remember? How does this structure your thoughts? Does it free you from questioning yourself and the value of what you have to say? This was also, I appreciate, a part of @timotree’s objection: being asked to remember something that he didn’t know that he was going to have to remember. Nobody likes a pop-quiz.
I hope that on reflection that he appreciates that what he shared was a snapshot of who he is and that this is what gets heard in these single minutes, not the speakers mastery or failure. I made a point of this to him, but i recognize that experience always trumps explanation, so I can only hope that his memory serves as a teaching moment in reflection.
Overall, as this reflective post shows, the experience was a valuable one for myself. I think that as a tool this offering will be taken up again by the students. There are many other things one can think or say about this practice that I would love to explore in conversation or experience with others.
Some notes (for myself) on future use:
- The Facilitator as DM should talk, as I did, between steps if only to give time for the group of individuals to think about themselves. Remind people of the following steps. Encourage a shift in focus away from the story and towards the telling. Away from the what and towards the how. Like a guided meditation.
- Encourage the refinement of the story. This time I emphasized felicity to reproduction (also what Timo objected to), though this was to encourage an awareness of bodily position (thank you Eli! loved it!). Next time I would stress the way that retelling a story inherently changes it.
- Encourage alternative modes of storytelling. Interpretative dance should always be a valid option.
- Do not ride the timer during the active listening (3rd time). I said ‘POP’ when the persons minute was up. This could still be useful to cut someone off if they go well beyond time, but it prevented smoother transitions between stories. If people finish early, this too can be a natural transition. Also, what if someone did not want to share?