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Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: December 2012

So, I wrote my first newsletter in years in December 2012. It was about realizing I didn’t want to lead travel tours or speak on unschooling; how I felt lost and angry not knowing what to do; and why the year 2012 may have been the best year of my life (even though I didn’t do anything worth writing home about).

Not sure why I didn’t send it in December. But here it is now.

Dear Readers,
It’s been a long time! I last wrote almost three years ago and I first wrote this travel newsletter over 10 years ago. I was 18 years old writing from the Netherlands and the start of my travels. Now, I’m 29 years old sitting in my own apartment, in my hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts (while sipping herbal tea and wearing slippers).

Whether I’ll keep this newsletter going long enough so I’ll be wearing diapers while writing it: I don’t know.

But I have continued traveling. In summer 2010, I led my third Worldschool Travel Tour (again to Japan). In 2011, I traveled around Israel, Palestine, and Egypt during the start of the Arab Spring. And this Thanksgiving, 2012, I went to the exotic lands of North Carolina and Florida!

I was actually planning on traveling to China this past winter (2012). But I changed my mind at the last minute. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Actually, this year at home in Boston has been one of the best years of my life. It really has.

Why? Travel, or anything else really, is not worth much if you don’t bring your soul along. My last few trips abroad I had wonderful experiences, met some great people, and learned a ton. But I wasn’t really there.

The name of this newsletter, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” comes from the poetic translation of my last name: Gerzon/Gershom. But the literal translation in Hebrew is just “Stranger There”. But I wasn’t there. So I definitely couldn’t write this newsletter, be a Gerzon, or be an Eli even (whatever that is).

I kind of lost my way a few years ago, dear readers. This past year has been like one long, slow soul retrieval. I’ve been trying to find myself again. I’ve been retracing my steps far beyond the last few years and exploring new areas as well.

This past year I fixed the the handle on a drawer on a desk I inherited in 1997 from my uncle, dad, and grandfather. I waited 15 years to do a job that took 15 minutes! I took out art I made many years ago from inside that desk, and displayed them in my room. I finally threw away things I had held on to, and moved from house to house in unopened boxes, over years and years. I finally framed two beautiful paintings I bought in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan in 2006.

I started taking classes and volunteering for the first time in many years. I studied voice acting. I acted in a teeny tiny play. I’ve been volunteering teaching English to a man from Algeria. As people often say: I think my student has taught me more than I’ve taught him. I’m just now completing a course that’s trained me to volunteer as a spiritual caregiver for elderly people in the Boston area.

All those things may seem pretty little on the surface, compared to world travel, but they’ve had a lot of meaning to me. And that’s what travel was always about for me: finding meaningful experiences. I’m not sure why I lost that sense of meaning in my last few trips. But that’s why I’m glad I didn’t travel to China this past winter: I didn’t want to travel without that meaning again.

So what happened a few years ago that took me so off track? A few years ago I thought I had things clearly laid out: I would keep leading Worldschool Travel Tours, speak at unschooling conferences, write for my blog, and finally write a book. It was such a relief to have what seemed like a steady, long-term, monetarily viable occupation that others would appreciate and even validated all the “weird” things I did: leaving high school, skipping college, and wandering the world. But I started to have my doubts about it all.

I was very angry when I realized I might not be the right path for me after all. I felt kind of betrayed actually.

I haven’t followed any sort of conventional path in my life. Instead, I made a deal with the universe: I follow my bliss and work my butt off, and in return, the universe shows me where I’m meant to go next. It had worked so miraculously before. It wasn’t showing me this time. I thought the universe wasn’t holding up it’s end of the deal.

I felt so lost and angry, including at myself. I just couldn’t move forward. All I wanted was some meaningful way of being of service to this world. Actually, what I realized eventually is that I was holding myself ransom. On some level I decided: “Alright, universe, if you’re not going to hold up your end of the bargain, I’m not going to either. I’m not going to really try.”

It took me a long time to consciously realize that’s what I was doing. When I finally said it out loud to someone else I realized how completely ridiculous, immature, and sad that stance was.

What really helped was realizing that the universe hadn’t actually betrayed me or broken its end of the bargain. I had.

The deal was I’d follow my bliss and work really hard. But at some point I started following my ego rather than my bliss. There’s a big difference between those two things. But on the surface it can be hard to tell.

I didn’t do things that were against what I believe. But I avoided writing and speaking about what I was really interested in: the things that challenged myself and others, the things that gave me bliss.

I do often feel like I wasted a few years of my life following my ego and then being angry as my main occupation. It can be very upsetting to reflect upon. But at the same time I did make a living, travel, and get a new apartment during that time. I also studied a lot of history, hung out with friends, dated a lot, read a lot of comic books, played video games, and listened to NPR and Democracy Now! constantly. Those can all be great things. And they were great for me much of the time. I guess my effort to do nothing valuable was only half-assed.

Anyway, I suppose it was something I had to go through. But I hope I’m able to let go of my anger, look at things honestly, and move forward more quickly, if I find myself in a similar situation again. And I encourage others to do the same. Life is short.

Ultimately, I do need to forgive myself for whatever time I may have “wasted.” Otherwise, I’ll just keeping getting angry about the fact that I’ve been too angry. And I am thankful that I stopped when things didn’t feel right. I could have kept going in a direction that wasn’t right for me.

Also, I definitely need to write more, I’d love to speak at more conferences, and I might even lead more tours. I just have to be clear about my goals. I have to bring my soul along and incorporate the things that really matter to me in what I do and say.

Recently, I’ve been getting involved with activism against global warming. I’ve thought for many years that global warming is the number one important meta-issue of all issues: if this planet becomes unlivable for us what does anything else matter? But besides the fact that we need to, I also now have hope that we can change the course we’re on. I’m starting to devote myself to this because I have hope and see it as a huge opportunity.

I hope everyone has a wonderful season of shining light into the darkness. May you continue to shine light into the darkness in the coming year, even when the darkness is not so clear.

Yours,
Eli

Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: Spring 2013

Dear Readers,

I finally wrote another newsletter this past December 2012 but didn’t send it. Here’s a summary:

I once was lost but now I’m found. I once had no idea what I was doing with my life, but now I finally have meaning and purpose: climate activism!

 Writing and leading travel tours that would eventually inspire change was going to be my purpose in life. I was very upset when I realized it wasn’t (was upset for a few long years actually). Now I realize we need to take direct action for change. Acting now for climate survival and the changes it will create is now my purpose.

Maybe that sounds heavy and not very sexy and meaningful: “After all that profound searching and world travel, you’re going to be an activist? You’re going to shout at protest rallies, knock on doors, and write to your members of Congress?”

 Okay, let me put it in Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter terms:

We humans are pretty smart. We’re so smart we have the power to destroy our homes, aka our environment, in various ways. Usually, our solution has been to move on to another area of our wider home, aka the planet. We happen to have discovered a new way of destroying our entire planet. We have nowhere else to go.

For the first time in our modern existence the survival of human beings, as a species, is threatened. We are heading toward such high temperatures, such extreme droughts and storms, the extinction of so many plants and animals, so many refugees, so many disrupted farming seasons, so many wars over basic resources…. We, human beings, may cease to be as we are unable to do, what we so love to do: adapt.

 Still, let’s look at the bright side! I think there is one.

 This is our initiation as a species. This is when we are forced to prove whether or not we are willing to face our true selves, change, and grow. Trust me, I know one doesn’t face ones true self until forced! Maybe we would have gone on making human existence worse and worse without really changing anything if it wasn’t for the climate emergency we’re facing. Now is our chance to look at everything and change more than just how we heat our homes and power our cars and factories.

 Thank you greedy, short-sighted fossil fuel CEOs, politicians, and all of us who have enabled this to happen. The climate emergency is something we must face and it’s an opportunity to create something better.

 Actually, in Chinese the word for “crisis” is the same as the word for “over-used-cliche-that-nevertheless-has-a-lot-of truth-to-it”.

 But I must highlight this fact: this is an opportunity to prove ourselves bytaking action. It seems to me, right now, if people have great ideas, positive thoughts, have done amazing inner work, and can write and speak very well, we won’t be addressing the climate emergencyunlesswe are using our assets, strengths, and skills to take real ACTION ON CLIMATE.

 Everyone needs to follow their own journey. I respect that if only because I know I’ve taken a very strange journey myself. But all our journeys will come to an end if not enough of us address climate change, right now.

The strange thing is I’ve believed for many years that climate change is number one. I’ve started to get involved now because I now have hope inspired by the growing, well organized, passionate climate movement.

 Urgency also motivates me. Scientists estimate we have 3 or 4 years to start making significant reductions in green house gases (carbon and methane) or a positive feedback loop will take us over the edge into irreversible climate change.

Some important science:

 As the ice caps melt, less heat from the sun bounces off of them and is instead absorbed in the Earth thus heating the atmosphere more, thus melting more ice… and so on. The melting ice also releases methane hidden underneath it, into the atmosphere. Methane is more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon. That’s also the reason natural gas is actually just as bad: it produces less carbon but through methane leaks in the pipes it warms the planet about as much or possibly more than coal and oil. (You can read a recent study about natural gas here.)

This whole winter I volunteered full-time for 350MA a Better Future Project. Just when I was going to have to go back to landscaping, last week they hired me as their Tar Sands Organizer. I’ve never felt more satisfied and like I was using my gifts to the best of my ability as now.

I feel like after all my searching, I have found my path. You know, that whole: follow your bliss and then realize all the wanderings you did prepared you and led you perfectly to where you needed to go? I had lost faith in that for awhile. But yeah, that happened.

I was in the middle of chanting/meditating in late December and just broke down crying for 5 or 10 minutes. I cried because I was so relieved. It was a relief to realize I had found what I was looking for after all these years.

There’s much more I could write. And I will soon send out that newsletter from December chronicling what I’ve been up to the past few years. But I just want to finally send out a newsletter. It’s good to connect with you Dear Reader. And good to connect with the Stranger in a Strange Land who writes these newsletters.

Happy Season of Rebirth and New Growth everyone!

Love,

Eli

P.S. Surprisingly, I’ve never brought up “politics” in this newsletter before, let alone asked people to take action. But Dear Readers please send in comments to the State Department against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: fast, easy, and important! It would mean so much to me personally too. And even if you’ve sent comments before, you can send more!:

www.350ma.org/reject-kxl

You can read more about Keystone XL and the problems with it here.

And if you haven’t heard about the tar sands oil spills in Minnesota and Arkansas just last week, read about them here:

And on March 11th, 2013 I participated in my first act of civil disobedience at the office of TransCanada in Westborough, MA in a Funeral for Our Future. Read about it and see photos here.

And here’s the powerful video that I think really captures the spirit of the action:

 

Convention, Free Thinking, and the Reality of Dirty Socks

I highly recommend thinking for yourself. Free your mind. Don’t blindly follow convention. But sometimes, following convention is a good idea. The bottom line is to check in with reality. Here are a couple examples revolving around the stark reality of dirty socks.

Using Your Freehood and Questioning Convention

In fall 2006, I was traveling around Guatemala with an Australian guy and a Swedish woman. That’s always what happens to me when I travel: I travel alone but I end up meeting people at hostels. We share a conversation, a meal, or travel together for days or weeks.

Anyway, the three of us were traveling together for a couple weeks. Elin, the girl from Sweden, was complaining about how she only had a few pairs of socks left and so she had to pay to have her laundry done every few days. Ray and I said: “You know you can wear them for more than one day in a row?”

Elin was shocked. She certainly had the freedom to wear the same socks a couple days in a row. But she didn’t have the freehood to question that convention. ”Really? Don’t you have to wash them every time?”

“It’s best. But, it’s not a big deal. Especially if they’re dark colored socks.”

She took the information to heart. A couple days later she informed us she had tried it. I still remember her beaming smile and wiggling with glee when she told us. She wore one pair of socks for an entire week straight after that.

I’m kidding. I’m not sure how much she continued the practice. But I’m glad we freed her mind: by way of her feet.

So, it is true that it is possible that you can occasionally wear socks more than one day in a row without causing any damage to your feet, your socks, or the noses of those around you.

It’s occasionally possible… but not always.

 

The Reality and the Consequences of Dirty Socks 

I have a confession. I’ve gotten athlete’s foot on a couple occasions. It sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s when you have a fungus growing on your feet that causes a painful burning sensation. Not fun.

I studied up on athlete’s foot and the best natural ways to treat it. Turns out soaking your feet in a mix of plain old vinegar and water will do the trick. I did that for 20 minutes, a couple times per day, for several days, and the athlete’s foot was gone. I followed other bits of advice as well.

Apparently, diligently changing your socks every day is also important. The vinegar kills it but you can reinfect yourself if you don’t put on clean socks every day.

I was talking to an American woman named Betsy. You might describe her as a hippie. She’s not one to follow convention. She has a lot of freehood.

I discovered she had had athlete’s foot for awhile. I told her about the vinegar. I also asked her if she changed her socks every day.

She said, sort of matter of factly and with a little pride, “Oh no, I wear the same socks for a whole week sometimes.” She wasn’t joking.

I explained to her that in this particular case following the mainstream convention of changing your socks every day was actually important if you wanted to heal yourself.

 

Question How You Question Convention

This is of course, a very small example about socks. Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about how important it is to question things and have freedom, and personal freehood. But there are times when the prevailing convention happens to be the wisest thing to do. And honestly, when in doubt, it’s often best and safest to follow convention.

One of the things that bothers me the most is when people decide they are beyond the convention of being kind and considerate to others. They think they’re so much smarter or more genuine than others that they can flout silly conventions like treating everyone with respect. Maybe

The most extreme example of this comes from art: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and the movie “Rope” by Alfred Hitchcock. Both stories feature people who think they are beyond being punished, or caught, for murder. Actually, most murders are committed by people following orders in armies or gangs: people who do not question enough. But again, these stories are extreme illustrations of how far you can go if you question convention too much.

On a lighter note, as the comedian/philosopher Jerry Seinfeld once said:

Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.

Other times you can start down a path that will make you very unhappy or cause great harm to others if you don’t question convention!

 

Conclusion

People who have the courage to question convention are very valuable to this world. I’d just like to urge people to not question blindly. We need to inform ourselves of many viewpoints and be ready for the possibility that the conventional approach might be best in some specific instances. We’ll be that much happier, more courageous, and more valuable to the world if we do.

 

Global Warming vs. Climate Change vs. Climate Chaos

I was very happy about a lot of the U.S. election results on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. But I think the single most important issue of our time was hardly discussed at all by Republicans or Democrats: global warming. People also refer to it as “climate change”. But I think “climate chaos” is the best term for the changes we are facing. And as Super Storm Sandy has shown, the changes are not in the distant, hypothetical future: they are now.

Because of that urgency, I think it’s important to choose our words carefully. Again, words have power.

 

Global Warming – sounds good!

To be honest, on the surface, the term “global warming” actually sounds good, or even great. I live in Boston, Massachusetts and I often wish the weather was warmer! But we live on a planet with complex, interconnected ecosystems. Raising average temperatures even slightly can cause huge changes in our climate, including creating very cold conditions. More and more people understand this in the U.S. Most people in Europe already understand and “believe in” global warming and climate change.

The problem is that even people who understand it aren’t pushing for big changes with urgency that we need.

 

Climate Change – sounds neutral! change can be good or bad….

Technically and accurately speaking:

As the name suggests, ‘global warming’ refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature…. ’Climate change’, again as the name suggests, refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature.

as this article states from Skeptical Science: Getting Skeptical About Global Warming Skepticism.

But the fact is, many people now use the term “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably.

There’s one idea for why this is: according to this scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he was forced by Republican political appointees to start using the term “climate change” instead of “global warming”. Dave Miller writes in a letter to the editor:

“Climate change” is politically correct nonsense, but Republican pollster Frank Luntz and George W. Bush are to blame, not Al Gore. Luntz sold the phrase to Bush: “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming.” While “global warming” has catastrophic connotations attached, “climate change” suggests a more controllable challenge. Bush agreed.

Republican political appointees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where I was a biologist, forced scientists to always use “climate change” instead of the accurate and alarming “global warming.”

DAVE MILLER
Astoria

Maybe “global warming” does sound more alarming than “climate change”. But I think we can do a lot better:

 

Climate Chaos – sounds really bad and is accurately descriptive 

“Climate chaos” is the type of “climate change” that we are already experiencing: chaotic, unpredictable, and extreme. As some people have said after Hurricane Sandy: “We seem to be having hundred year storms every couple years!” Actually, just last year Hurricane Irene caused such severe flooding in Vermont that bridges that were hundreds of years old were destroyed.

In the case of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, my home of Boston experienced strong winds and rain that caused trees around my house to fall over and some people in Massachusetts were without power for many days. In both cases we were definitely spared from the worst of the storm. But who knows when my neighborhood could be the center of the storm?

There are still “global warming deniers” but others say that Hurricane Sandy may become the new normal. I think they’re both wrong. I think it’s going to get a lot worse. Just how much worse depends on how much we change things on a society level now. I’m proud of the fact that I get by without a car. But personal efforts are not what will make enough of a difference.

I can’t recommend this article highly enough: A Convenient Excuse by Wen Stephenson in the Boston Phoenix. Wen speaks with such courage, honesty, and authority as a mainstream journalist turned climate activist. He talks about the need to talk about global warming and climate chaos, as a crisis. Even publications that acknowledge man made global warming exists, do not talk about it enough, with enough urgency. One article every few years or even every few months, or weeks doesn’t give the issue justice.

And I submit this addition to the dialogue: climate chaos.

And on more concrete terms, check out 350.org and their Do the Math Tour. They’re going around the U.S. right now. Meet up with groups like them (350.org also has state and regional groups) and see how you can get involved.

I’m glad Obama was reelected but he has done very little to address climate chaos. We need to put pressure on him and other political and business leaders starting now.

And support Green Party and other candidates who already understand the urgency of the threat of climate chaos. I don’t live in a swing state so I voted for Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein without hesitation.

 

Freedom vs. Freehood

Many years ago I was introduced to the term “freehood” and how it relates to “freedom” as we usually think of it. In short, freehood is about being free as an individual, from inside oneself. “Freedom” is about having a free environment.

The term comes from Rudolf Steiner an Austrian philosopher from the late 19th, early 20th century and founder of the Waldorf Schools (one of which I attended for 1st and 2nd grade). He wrote a book entitled Die Philosophie der Freiheit which was published in English as The Philosophy of Freedom.

But Rudolf Steiner is said to have taken issue with that translation of the title. He said that the German word “Freiheit” is not the same as the English word “freedom” (and not just the fact that the German word, like all German nouns, is capitalized). He said that “freedom” refers to ones environment or domain, as in the words “kingdom” and “serfdom”. In contrast “Freiheit”/”freehood” refers to a state of being like “childhood” and “adulthood”.

Now, I think that you could look closely at the English (and German) language and find some problems with that analysis. Still, I think the distinction is very important and I value the creation of a distinctly new word for the English language.

Also, I got a great interpretation of the word from a man named Tony Ten Fingers. I took a workshop he led about mentoring young people, drawing upon his upbringing and his Oglala Lakota traditions. I told him about the word “freehood” and he liked it. He said he imagined “freehood” as a cloak with a hood you can wear personally.

(Tony Ten Fingers often talked about the importance of wearing ones “regalia”. I guess he thought a “freehood” was an good addition to that. I told him about the word over ten years ago. This year I friended Tony Ten Fingers on Facebook and I noticed him still using the term. He often gives short status updates as a form of “microblogging”. They can be inspiring, beautiful, and wise comments on balance, mentoring, ancestors, the environment, climate change, ritual, and so on. Some give glimpses into everyday life on the Lakota Reservation where he teaches at Oglala Lakota College.)

Back to the word itself: suffice to say, I like the word and the distinction it makes.

So often in our world we concentrate on what we are allowed or prevented from doing. People get angry about being told what to do and having any restrictions placed upon them. But I think often most of the restrictions we face are internal and self-imposed.

We prevent ourselves from doing many of the things we truly want to do. One of the main ways we do this is by not knowing what we truly want to do!

I’ve referred to this quote multiple times but I’m going to do it again because it illustrates so well the point I’m trying to make:

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like…. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes, and there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving. -D.H. Lawrence

(Especially since I have referred to this quote so many times I want to give credit: I found it in a book of quotes compiled by Barb Lundgren who runs the Rethinking Everything Conference.)

A lack of basic freedom in ones surroundings is of course a very real problem as well. And when we lack freedom around us that can lead to internalizing it and our lack of freedom becomes a lack of freehood. But once the struggle is over for freedom, personally, I’ve found that’s not the end. I’ve found myself with freedom in my environment, but still a struggle to be a free individual, to have freehood.

So! I was inspired to try NaBloPoMo when I found out it existed from fellow blogger and grown unschooler, Elisha Burkett. I’m a little late and I can’t promise I’ll write something every single day, but I will try. I’m just very happy to have an excuse to write. Thanks for reading.

 

Training to Volunteer as a Spiritual Caregiver for the Elderly in Somerville-Cambridge, MA

Last month I started a class that trains people to volunteer as spiritual caregivers for the elderly in Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts. My sister took the course earlier this year and absolutely loved it. I’ve been trying a lot of new things this year, but it took me some courage to sign-up. I’m really glad I did.

This program came about when Nancy Willbanks was working at the Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services and noticed while we have all sorts of programs to help elderly people with transportation, medical care, food delivery, etc. there’s nothing in place to support elderly people when they are dealing with crises and are in need of spiritual support.

 

What is Spiritual Caregiving?

What does “spiritual support” mean? I’m not exactly sure. I guess most people would be more comfortable using the term “emotional support”. That is part of the job I’m sure but it seems to go beyond that. One of the points made in the course was that the types of issues we’re dealing with go far beyond Freudian psychology to bigger questions and anxieties (it’s worth noting though, that we aren’t working with people who are suicidal, have serious mental illness, or facing death: that’s beyond the scope of this program).

My uncle, Robert Gerzon, wrote a book called Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety. One of his central points in the book is that there are actually three different types of anxiety: natural anxiety (fear when we hear a loud noise in the dark, anxiety right before a performance, etc.), toxic anxiety (often repetitious, always unhelpful, negative thoughts and worries, OR an unrealistically positive “pollyanna voice” that sets us up for disappointment), and sacred anxiety.

Sacred anxiety is anxiety that comes from facing life’s big questions: our purpose, God/the divine, the nature of the universe, love, meaning, life, death, etc. Sacred anxiety is about issues and questions that might not have an answer. I think that’s what spiritual caregiving is about in this program. It’s about helping elderly people with their struggle and pain around those issues.

As I said, many of these issues don’t have “answers” or anything you can “solve” or “fix”. So a lot of the course concentrates on listening. Because listening is often the only comfort one can provide when trying to help people facing these issues. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

It takes a lot to stay centered and present and hold space while someone is dealing with these profound things. My goodness, it does.

 

Example of Helpful Course Material: Listening When Someone Feels Guilty

One of the things I found most helpful in the class is the part about listening in a balanced way when someone is feeling guilty and wants to share. We talked about different approaches according to different characters: Harsh Harry, Libertine Larry, and Caring Cary.

So Harsh Harry comes down hard on the confessor, who then just feels worse and/or gets defensive. And Libertine Larry insists right away that the person is not really at fault and dismisses their negative feelings. Both approaches don’t give the person a chance to really share and address how they feel.

I’ve noticed myself and others take both approaches. But it seems in my life I’ve noticed the Libertine Larry approach more often: people who might think they’re trying to be nice, but actually they’re refusing to really engage with the person and how they feel. Harsh Harry isn’t really engaging either. It can be difficult to engage with emotions especially when we’re trying to avoid our own.

Then there’s Caring Cary: he listens in a balanced way. He listens and doesn’t try to force the person to feel guilty but also doesn’t allow them to dismiss or rationalize away the appropriate guilt they might feel. Cary engages and helps the person process their negative emotion so they can forgive themselves and possibly try to do better next time.

And as I just read in another book from the course: you’re not going to instantly follow a new approach. In this case, talking about failing to be assertive: “When – not if – this happens be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for being able to identify a nonassertive response, and take a moment to identify what you’ll do next time. And then let it go. Inconsistency is a legitimate part of the normal learning curve.You can’t develop new patterns without occasionally slipping back into old ones. Concentrate on what you’ve done well.”

The names of the two books I’ve referenced here are: Christian Caregiving – a Way of Life by Kenneth Haugk and Speaking the Truth in Love – How to be an Assertive Christian by  Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth Haugk.

 

Using Christian Books for an Interfaith Volunteer Program

Did I mention the course books are really Christian? And the woman who runs the program is an ordained Christian minister? And one of my fellow students who is Jewish by heritage and identifies as Buddhist, chose to leave the class because it seemed too Christian and/or theistic for him?

Actually, Nancy makes a real effort in class to “translate” much of the course material into general spiritual terms. And in the class handouts she includes writings and teachings from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and even Wicca.

When my sister told me about this course months ago she said excitedly, “When I read this Christian stuff, I can’t help seeing so many parallels to the Buddhist books I’ve been reading! It really seems to me like they’re saying the same thing.”

Generally, I have mixed thoughts and feelings about this sentiment. But my sister seemed genuine, I trust her judgement a lot, and I believe there is a lot of truth to the idea that ultimately great spiritual traditions are “all saying the same thing”.

Throughout Kenneth Haugk’s book Christian Caregiving: a Way of Life he says the book is for Christians and that Christians have a unique ability to offer the best caregiving. But all of the advice, information, and tools in the book seems very helpful for anyone. I don’t find it quite as easy as my sister but I am able to “translate” most of what he writes into terms I can appreciate, even though I don’t identify as Christian.

I think a lot of the information is very practical, honest, realistic, and beautiful for anyone. A lot of it is about balance, being present, realistic, and honest (including about your motivations for caregiving), and making sure to take care of yourself too.

I’m thankful the course exists and I’m thankful Nancy is teaching it in an interfaith way, as much as possible. I do wish there were books and courses that were from a broader perspective so people of all faiths could easily learn these skills and help others. By “all faiths” I include people who don’t have a religion. I know many people are turned off by the subject of religion, faith, spirituality, the soul, and so on, because of negative associations they have. I share many of those negative associations with religion and, honestly, Christianity specifically. This course has forced me to re-question some of my views on Christianity. Mainly, each Christian is an individual and even if I disagree on some things it doesn’t mean that person isn’t doing great things in the world and that I can’t learn from them.

(I will say, it seems like everyone in the class is very gay-friendly: not all devout Christians are homophobic, certainly not in Massachusetts.)

 

Wherever You Go, There’s Your Soul

And again it helps me to refer to another family member, this time my aunt Rachael Kessler who passed away a few years ago from cancer: she wrote a book called The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. The premise of the book was that even if we want to keep religion and school (church and state) separate, students/young people are still going to bring their souls to school! And they are still going to face profound challenges (”sacred anxieties”) and need support.

I really appreciate this idea and how it applies to all of us. I wish I had expressed this appreciation more when she was alive. When the book came out in the year 2000, I was pretty closed minded to any reference to “school” that didn’t have the prefix “un-” attached to it.

My point in referring to her book is: even if many people don’t like thinking about or even believe in spirituality and soul, that doesn’t mean people don’t struggle with issues of meaning, purpose, life, the universe, and everything.

When my mom heard that the spiritual caregiving program serves elderly people who are facing a crisis she said, “Doesn’t that apply to pretty much every elderly person, all the time?” I would take it a step further and say that it applies to most people of any age pretty much all the time!

Imagine if people had more spiritual support and caregiving at other times in their lives: teens, young adults searching for direction, new parents, people in a midlife crisis, grieving people of all ages, etc. What a wonderful service that would be.

Also, the whole Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services program is state funded so it puts a very valuable, real human face on a social welfare program. Those so called “entitlement programs” often have a bad reputation. But it seem like the programs they offer are very helpful for people who really need help.

At the start of this post I referred to the courage it took me to start this course. Actually, in class we often pair up and “practice” listening and caregiving. Sometimes we’re roleplaying a character but often we’re asked to share our own spiritual struggles. It’s scary to do and has highlighted just how rarely I do that even with my close friends and family. But it’s kind of liberating and comforting, both to share and to listen. Anyway, I’m glad I joined the course.

 

In Conclusion: There is No Conclusion

I don’t really have a point or a conclusion. These are just some things I’ve thought about and observed. I’m sure I’ll have more to say by the end of the course in December, let alone after I start providing spiritual caregiving for someone.

Anyway, writing this blog post is actually just a big excuse to avoid doing the reading for the class that’s due tomorrow. Just kidding, of course… but I better get to it now. Thanks for reading.

(Here is a link to info on the volunteer program which has a new training class starting in January, 2013: Aging and Spiritual Well-being – Spiritual Caregiver Volunteer – Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.)

Radical Unschooling: the Negative Post

Years ago, I wrote a blog post called Intro to Radical Unschooling. In it, I described some of the things I like about radical unschooling. I said I’d write another blog post addressing negative things I don’t like about it. Finally, this is that post.

Why Now?

I heard of radical unschooling in 2007 at a large unschooling conference and was honestly somewhat skeptical. But the idea of total freedom for children was interesting, and I was excited by what a large and vocal following it had across the country.  So, I kept an open mind.

Over time, I noticed more and more things that bothered me about the philosophy, or at least how I saw it being implemented. My inspiration for writing about it now came from an unexpected source.

Recently, I was walking along and noticed a girl from my sixth grade class standing on the front steps of a house just a block down from me. I’ve lived in my apartment for exactly a year and never realized she lived so close. We’d only been in the same class for a year, but we still had plenty to reminisce about and catch up on. For example, I told her our classmate Josh just had a baby. Her jaw dropped and she said, “Wow! Must be a good looking baby!” (Oh, sixth grade and the crushes we had.)

Then she told me why she had gone to a different high school. Her parents had seen the track she was headed down and knew a change needed to take place.  Apparently, she had been hanging out with “the wrong crowd.” She was even taken home in a cop car a couple times when they all went out looking for trouble and found it. She said it was hard to fit in and that was one way she tried.

When she got to this art centered high school everyone seemed to be really focused on working toward their own goals. She said it had a good effect on her. In fact, she looked off down the street, took a breath and said, “It’s actually one of the best things to happen to me.” It made me think about the way some things can truly alter our lives and who we become.

Exceptions to Radical Unschooling 

Then it made me think about radical unschooling. This was a case where parents made their child do something, something major, without their child’s consent, and the child grew up to be very thankful for it. Definitely not an approach the radical unschooling community would endorse — but in this case, it worked.

This is also a good example of how we can be affected by our environment. When unschoolers, radical or otherwise, talk about people’s natural motivation to learn and do what’s ultimately best for themselves, they often don’t acknowledge the power of our environment. What I’m motivated  to do is affected by what’s available, what’s needed, what others are doing, what’s considered “cool”, etc.

My awareness of the significance of environment on a person’s life is part of what motivated me to come up with the term “worldschooling.” When we put ourselves in certain environments it can motivate or even force us to learn things, for better or for worse.

Maybe some radical unschoolers would acknowledge this case of parents sending their child to a school of their choosing as an exception where the radical unschooling approach was not the best thing. Of course, they might insist the parents should have taken her out of school altogether (and I might disagree because maybe she’d still run with the same crowd in town).

I did speak at an unschooling conference (with mostly radical unschoolers) and tried to make the point that sometimes it is best for parents to push their child to do things. One mother insisted she’d never force her son to do anything. I said, “What if you knew he was doing something that might get him killed?”

She replied serenely, “Well, maybe that’s his destiny.”

Now, I think she underestimates the power of her instinct to preserve her own child’s survival: she would try to stop him if she thought his life was in danger (regardless of her philosophy). There are no radical unschoolers in a foxhole.

But her words do show how far some radical unschooling parents go in insisting that not forcing their children to do anything is the ideal. Personally, I think the ideal is truly happy, healthy people who know themselves, and do their best to share their gifts with the world.

And I think there are times when that requires a parent or caretaker to override what the child says he/she wants. Usually, things are not as major as the story above. And definitely, it’s not always clear how best to act or whether to just let a child learn from her/his own mistakes.

Among radical unschoolers you do often hear the example, “If my child ran into the street when a car was coming, of course I would grab him/her.” But most situations are not as clear, and each parent does ultimately have to decide if and how to intervene in a child’s life. Again, I think most radical unschoolers would acknowledge that as well.

Then what is distinctive about radical unschooling?

If all parents have to decide for themselves when and how to intervene in their children’s lives, then what makes radical unschoolers different?

The Distinction of Radical Unschooling

I think that’s why radical unschoolers talk about video games, TV, food, and bedtimes so much: it’s something on which they all agree. Radical unschoolers think the best thing for children is if they are given unrestricted access to all these things and allowed to sleep whenever they want. They may have a lot of junk food, play lots of video games, watch lots of TV, and stay up really late during certain periods. But, according to the philosophy of radical unschooling, they will eventually develop their own healthy, balanced way of living if given enough time and trust.

Almost all parents who are not radical unschoolers think this approach to TV, bedtimes, junk food, and video games is ridiculous. By concentrating on these things radical unschoolers can differentiate themselves from other parents. Every group needs their own way of identifying themselves.

Personally, I think this approach doesn’t take into account the power of addiction and seduction. Sometimes we get hooked on something and then come back to a healthy equilibrium or stop completely. Sometimes we don’t. For example, I’ve heard young children have the ability to regulate their intake of proper nutrition given access to healthy foods. They might have “too much” salt or fat in a particular meal but measured over the course of a week it actually evens out perfectly. Then there’s sugar. Sugar is addictive, and given open access to sugar many children will continue eating an unhealthy amount.

Truthfully, I think what’s distinctive about radical unschoolers is their concentration on not forcing their children to do anything or impose any rules. They point out, I think rightly so, that when you trust your child you tend to need less rules anyway. But what about when rules are necessary? They avoid concentrating on or dealing with those instances by saying that following the radical unschooling philosophy guarantees the issue won’t arise.

Which brings me to one of my main issues with radical unschooling. The radical unschoolers I’ve met seem to think conflict between a parent and child is the most important thing to avoid, and that it causes irreparable damage to the relationship. As many stories show, including the one above, that’s just not always the case. Sometimes a parent will have to make a decision the child really doesn’t like and the child may be angry at her/him for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do or that the child won’t eventually be thankful.

Pendulum Swing

The root issue here may be where radical unschooling parents are coming from. Many radical unschooling parents come from an experience of very strict, controlling, untrusting, or harsh parenting (or “traditional parenting” as many of them call it)Either their parents were like that to them or they themselves were very strict with their children before they discovered radical unschooling. Upon discovering this other way of parenting it may have been very challenging to let go and trust in a consistent way. But once they were able to really trust their child to find their own way, they found it much better than the stricter way of parenting they knew.

They seem to think these two extremes are the only ways of parenting. Maybe there’s a fear that if they don’t do radical unschooling parenting they will automatically go to the other extreme of harsh, untrusting parenting. Maybe they’re right. But that doesn’t mean their extreme is the only option or the ideal for all parents.

Unfortunately, I’ve met radical unschooling parents that seem to think they’re better than other parents. In fact, some seem to think that if you’re not parenting their way then you’re abusing your child. To be fair, many do not promote this way of thinking. In fact, Dayna Martin, author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, gave a speech all about trying to reach out to other people even if they don’t have the same views on parenting. I don’t necessarily agree with Dayna on everything, including the title of her book, but I really appreciated that message.

Still, there are enough radical unschoolers conveying a message of intolerance that it becomes offputting, especially to people who are interested in unschooling/homeschooling. What’s sad to me is that many people could really benefit from leaving school and homeschooling with a curriculum or not (a.k.a. unschooling). But I’ve heard stories of people almost scared away from the whole idea of homeschooling because they had negative experiences with radical unschoolers. And I’ve also met radical unschoolers who insist that the only real unschooler is a radical unschooler, and that you shouldn’t bother to homeschool unless you’re going to unschool.

(Sectarian Tangent – Taking a step back, it seems so historical: like Protestants and Catholics, Sunnis and Shiites, or Orthodox Jews and Reform. “You’re not really Christian/Muslim/Jewish unless you’re our kind of Christian/Muslim/Jew.” Same in Buddhism only even more complex perhaps. Radical unschoolers will even insist they are the ones who properly interpret the words of the founder of unschooling: John Holt.)

In the past, I’ve definitely looked down on people who don’t choose unschooling. I feel sorry about that now. More and more I see that homeschooling while using some curriculum works well for some people. It doesn’t seem to cause severe damage for sure. And some people even seem to do really well in certain schools.

I still think homeschooling is something from which a lot more people could benefit. I think many people have no idea what young people (or they themselves) are capable of learning if given the freedom to (re)develop motivation. And I think radical unschoolers are right: many adults don’t give children enough freedom, trust, or respect. Sometimes people do unhealthy things simply as a rebellion against rules imposed upon them. But there are billions of other reasons why people do things that might be unhealthy.

Tools

That’s ultimately my disappointment with radical unschooling: it doesn’t give you any other tools or even acknowledge that you may need other tools, to deal with the complex challenge of being responsible for a child. Their only tool seems to be trusting and being supportive. They have some great, creative ways to use that tool. They insist if you use that tool properly you won’t have any other problems. That does not seem to be the case to me. When that tool doesn’t solve every problem radical unschooling doesn’t have anything else to offer.

I’m sure every individual parent or caretaker does in fact develop their own skills for how to deal with different problems where just trusting and supporting aren’t the answer. But again, radical unschoolers seem to avoid getting in those situations, facing them, or even talking about them in my experience.

Radical unschoolers talk about going off and having a revolution, but ultimately, many seem to really want to create their own world and find the outside, mainstream society to be inhospitable to their way of life. They say that’s why they go to conferences: to be surrounded by people who are like minded. I can understand that. They talk about the “unschooling bubble” often in very positive terms.

I guess that’s where they lose me. I’m not big on bubbles.

I’ve noticed there can be tolerance within the “unschooling bubble” for behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated outside of the community. In the name of freedom, respect, and trust the behavior isn’t addressed. But you’re doing a great disservice to someone if you allow them to develop behavior and habits that are going to close doors to them, regardless of your stated motives.

Hopes

I left school and started unschooling when I was 15 years old with high hopes for what unschooling could do for the world. I wrote, organized information nights, and gave speeches (once in front of an audience even). Then I traveled the world and didn’t concentrate on unschooling for years. In 2007, I was introduced to the national unschooling scene and radical unschooling. It was very exciting even though the direction they seemed to be going was somewhat in contrast to some of the valuable lessons I learned while traveling. I had high hopes again for unschooling.

I still do. But I realize things are a lot more complex than I thought as a teenager. (What a surprise, right? God bless teens: keep doing what you’re doing. But yes, things are often more complex than you think. It’s great.) And I don’t think radical unschooling as it’s conceived is the answer.

Actually, I think we need to look deeper to discover who we really are and what the real challenges are around us. I think it’s hard to overstate how difficult it can be to truly do that:

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. -Carl Jung

Or even more apt for unschooling:

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like…. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes, and there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving. -D.H. Lawrence

We need to go to the root of ourselves and the problems around us if we want to create real change. That’s actually what “radical” means: “to the root”. But I think radical unschooling is in some ways superficial: “Look! My child is truly free because I let him/her play video games!” So radical unschooling needs to figure out what it really is about if it wants to live up to some of its grand hopes.

At the very least, radical unschoolers could work on being more welcoming to everyone, regardless of their views, if they want to encourage people to try the wonderful world of learning and living without school. That’d be totally radical.

Messages from Occupy Wall Street Via Slogans and Chants from the October 15th March

Occupy Wall Street began one month ago and this Saturday, October 15th, 2011 there were marches in cities all over the world in solidarity with it. I went to the march in Boston and it was an amazing experience. People really want to know exactly what is the protesters’ message. I thought the chants and slogans we shouted during the march are a great place to start:

“We are the 99%!” – This movement’s most distinctive chant. This movement represents the interests of the vast majority of the population. The top 1% in the U.S. has about 50% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 80% has 20% of the wealth. The wealthiest people and corporations continue to make more money while most everyone else sees less job opportunities, higher prices, reduced wages, and increased debt.

“Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” - One of the clearest injustices of the last few years is the government bailing out the banks that contributed so much to our economic collapse. Meanwhile the average citizen has suffered the most and gotten little or no help from the government, while the banks make huge profits and raise their fees.

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” - This chant is common in many protests. Democracy is about people governing themselves. It will never only be about voting for candidates. But especially now, the point is that people are dissatisfied with how most politicians, regardless of political party, have not represented the interests of the vast majority of the population.

“How do we fix the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!” - The U.S.’s national deficit has been a big topic this year. While politicians contemplated cutting programs that help people, the 99% has other ideas: The people in this movement agree we need to end our unjust wars and stop supporting other militaries around the world. And the rich, people AND corporations, need to be taxed their fair share, instead of getting tax breaks and using tax loopholes to pay less than the average citizen, who has so much less.

“Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” – Again, we need to spend our money on educating people and creating jobs. Bombing and occupying foreign countries directly and through aid to oppressive and aggressive countries is not how we want to spend our money.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” - This one is pretty clear. This is a democracy and the country belongs to all the people, not just the top 1% who have taken control of so much of the country. Furthermore, the 99% has paid the vast majority of taxes which have been used to pay the workers, also part of the 99%, who maintain the streets.

“Off the sidewalk into the street!” - Often the marchers shouted at the onlookers on the sidewalks we passed, or even in restaurants and cars, for people to join us. Again, insisting that this is about them as well and that we need to get off the sidelines and take action.

Just to give you an idea of the sound and feel: these chants are shouted over and over again usually for a few minutes. Many slogans had a call and answer. Someone would shout (sometimes using a bullhorn in Boston where it’s apparently legal but not in New York): “How do we fix the deficit?” And the crowd around them would shout back, “End the war and tax the rich!”

There were also some slight changes to these main slogans and chants. Often people shouted “YOU are the 99%!” instead of “We are the 99%!” Other times after “We are the 99%!” people would shout: “And so are you!” pointing to onlookers around the march. Again, insisting this is about the vast majority of the population.

Democracy Now! reported an inspiring example in New York of a slight change in a chant and the fact that it’s about more than just the protesters. At one point on Saturday, there was a tense moment between protesters and the police in Times Square. But Joseph Esposito, the highest ranking uniformed police officer in the NYPD, told the other police to back off. The tension immediately dissipated. People cheered, said “I love you!” to the police, and shouted: “The police are the 99%!”

The most hostile it got in Boston was when walking down Newbury Street (the most expensive shopping street in Boston), a few, just a few, people shouted: “How do we end the deficit? End the war and EAT the rich!” as opposed to taxing them. In all modesty, I don’t think that’s a very productive or practical proposal. And is not an official stance of the Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, or global occupy movement.

But really, the demonstrations, protests, and marches around the world were all peaceful events with an exception of a few people in Rome vandalizing property (there’s a long history of Vandals in Rome; considering that it went well).

I should say, these are the chants I heard during the Boston marches. I assume the chants were similar in most English speaking cities but definitely leave a comment if I missed any good ones! I’m curious what sort of things people chanted in other countries and languages, as well.

In the end these are just chants and slogans. But I think they give a good indication of the very real, legitimate, and basic grievance upon which all the protesters agree. And I think people are listening, thinking, and talking about these issues more than ever before. There was a lot of support from the people we passed by on the street in Boston and even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and even Fox News are publishing articles that are sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street and the 99%.

Inspiration from Jewish Voice for Peace: Young, Jewish, and Proud

Tonight is the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah! This past winter I visited Israel and the West Bank/Palestine. It was an amazing experience but I had mixed feelings to say the least. I’ve had a hard time articulating this or much of anything as you can see from my lack of posts!

But I was very inspired by this website: www.youngjewishproud.org

There’s a concern among Jewish people that not enough young adults are actively involved in Judaism. And there’s also a very strong push to support Israel and not speak out against the injustices the state commits against Palestinians.

These young people declare: they are for peace and justice, they are against the injustices against Palestinians, and they remember why they are proud to be Jewish.

Here’s the video of the declaration of Jewish Voice for Peace: Young Jewish Proud:

(You can also read it on their site.)

One thing that really stuck out to me was about remembering, especially: “We remember how to build our homes, and our holiness, out of time and thin air, and so do not need other people’s land to do so.”

I wasn’t raised Jewish but I have Jewish heritage. My grandfather on my father’s side was Jewish. For whatever reason, that has always been important to me, maybe more so than anybody else in my immediate family.

While traveling in Israel and Palestine I realized what was important to me about being Jewish has to do with two main things:

1. Remembering my ancestors who have survived and thrived as strangers in strange lands and

2. Pride in all the Jewish people who have been and are today leaders in so many areas, especially in expressions of truth through social justice and art.

The obsession with nationalism and land I encountered in Israel, didn’t have meaning to me. Certainly, the taking of other people’s land, persecution, oppression, lies, denial, and fear to speak the truth doesn’t represent Judaism to me.

At the same time, I will admit, I’ve been afraid to speak some truths myself! I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing. I’ve been worried how my words will be received or if I’ll be able to say things “the right way”.

Again some inspiration from these young people: last May I watched an interview on DemocracyNow.org about a girl who interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I loved what she, Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist of Israeli descent for Jewish Voice for Peace and Code Pink, had to say when she was interviewed about it.

Again you can also read the transcript on Democracy Now.

But I wasn’t sure how I felt about her interrupting the speech by shouting like that: it seemed maybe too rude and out of line. But I also wonder if maybe sometimes you have to sound rude and be out of line to make sure the truth is heard.

It puts in perspective my fear of not quite saying the right thing about my less high stakes subject matters like: my life and unschooling!

Having said all this about Jewish people, I have to say there are so many Christians, Muslims and non-religious people who are fighting for peace and justice in Isael and Palestine. And people want peace: I was so amazed how welcoming Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, were to me and my Jewish friends. I was also impressed by the number of helpful Christian organizations in the West Bank. I just think Jewish people hold a special responsibility since the state of Israel claims to act in their name.

Anyway, I am going to try to write more this coming year about all sorts of things. I think the year will be better and sweeter for it.

To a good and sweet year for everyone and may we all speak our truth as best we can: shanah tova umetukah!

A Debunkery of the Thanksgiving Myth….

Over Thanksgiving weekend my sister Miranda and I responded to the inquiries of an English friend about the American holiday Thanksgiving. The truth we reveal (involving nationalism, consumerismconspiracies, Christmas, and delicious food that just wasn’t selling well) was too powerful and enlightening even, nay especially, for our fellow Americans, we realized it needed to be shared with the world.

Miranda wrote on her friend’s Facebook wall (that’s where all of the best scholarship is done these days, just ask Sarah Palin):

“Miranda Gerzon: HAPPY TURKEY DAY, TOMMY G!!! gobble…gobble…
(it’s thanksgiving over here in the land of the free)”

To which “Tommy G” responded:

“Thomas Michael German: USA! USA! Do you also eat Turkey at Christmas as well?
Isnt Thanksgiving about a dinner with some native American Indians?
Enlighten me Gertie!”

Oh, enlighten him we did:

“Miranda Gerzon: Well Tom…

American mythology does purport the first Thanksgiving to have taken place with the “Pilgrims” and the native inhabitants. However, like many federal holidays in the US the truth paints a much less rosy picture. So, please allow me to drop some knowledge up in heezy.

Thanksgiving is in fact a nationalistic holiday invented by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This occurred within the broader heretofore unprecedented global trend towards nationalism and national identity in the 1800s. Unbeknownst to the general public, Thanksgiving was only regionally and sporadically celebrated prior to this. Establishing it as a national holiday was intended to unify the nation around a common mythological origin of shared American identity.

In fact, the first permanent English settlement of the present day U.S. was established in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, for capitalistic purposes. The second permanent settlement, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was established in 1620 for purposes of religious freedom. It was chosen for this common origin to give further emphasis to the North during the American Civil War between the North and South.

The Pilgrims sought a land where they were free from religious persecution. In the “New World” they were free to oppress themselves and be even more uptight than the English; symbolically exemplified by the belt buckle around their hats and their generally boring clothing (please see photo).

The American Pilgrim displaying his literally uptight belt buckle hat, boring clothing, and commitment to American capitalism in the form of gluttonous consumption of turkey.

Thanksgiving also had the added benefit of promoting the distinctly American but floundering at the time, turkey and cranberry industries (the two most essential and traditional dishes of the Turkey Day feast).

As it always falls on the fourth Thursday of November, it also creates and marks the beginning of the holiday season. By celebrating the holiday at this time we are able to both spend time with our family as well as be reminded of our patriotic obligation to partake in excessive mass consumption as a means to express our undying love for our family and country. The Friday following Thanksgiving statistically generates the biggest shopping traffic of the year. Combining consumerism and competition, it is recipe for an all-out, all-American full contact carnival of capitalism.

But hey, it is a time to give thanks and the food is delicious. So there you have it.

Love,
Gertie

P.S. Eating turkey is only reserved for Thanksgiving. On Christmas we eat anything.

P.P.S. 9/11 was an inside job.”

As an aside, we must admit perhaps some of the scathing cynicism in this essay may originate from the fact that our oven, stove, and dishwasher all broke on Thanksgiving morning 2010. Nevertheless, every word is true.

Eli Gerzon leads Worldschool Travel Tours to various countries around the world (i.e. Mexico and Japan) that are as educational, fun, and mind blowing as the above essay. A high school drop out (though sometimes he says he “homeschooled” or even “unschooled”), Eli studies history for hours on end without any coercion whatsoever and claims to enjoy it.

Miranda Gerzon is on the brink of graduating from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she majors in International Development and Social Change. For the past few years she’s had to constantly write essays like the one above, only for serious.