writer, listener

Love bomb

This morning, per my newish normal, I attempted eye contact with and greeted everybody I encountered. Also per normal, most people, some dogs, and one cat who thinks it’s a dog, smiled and responded in kind. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we can feel each other’s intention. I get Spanish and French (or Haitian Creole, maybe? I don’t know the dif because I’m dumb about it) as well as dog licks and an occasional leg rub from a cat who says, “looove meee” with size-defying pressure. But today in response to, “Good morning,” one human said in English, “Hey! Good morning! I love you!”

I say “I love you” more than ever, but I’ve never said it on a morning walk to somebody I don’t know yet. This person’s love bomb took me by surprise in the best way. And if they’d not been on a bike, we’d probably have hugged (I’m also a recovering non-hugger, so).  

There was a time I’d have whispered under my breath about the love bomber, “Oookay, ya freakshow.” But for the past, idk, few years, I’ve been working harder to assume the best about people and it has very literally changed my life. It’s taking me longer than it does for others, maybe, but I’m learning to trust that the vast majority of people in the world are trying their best when they can. And when it doesn’t seem so, it’s usually because they have needs that aren’t being met with the resources they have to work with. The world is fucked up for reasons that have very little to do with the people the fucked-up shows through most obviously, although they’re punished for it while the root causes go largely unchecked. (see: American for-profit prisons.)

I want to be part of normalizing love, and not just in the morning when I’m high on coffee and the prospect of a fresh try at life. That doesn’t mean accepting or burying or minimizing the fear and hate that causes so much needless pain in the world, but it does mean using different approaches against it. Fighting hate with hate hasn’t worked in any enduring way since, like, ever. And in my experience, hatefulness is often a whole lot of projection and insecurity (and so again, unmet needs) in a fucked-up world. We can unfuck it up, though. Someday, long after I’m gone, I believe there’ll be no more need for the word “radical” when referring to movements rooted in love and acceptance. Someday, undoing systems of oppression won’t seem radical at all. I’m privileged with the emotional resources to believe that for now.

Anyway, that’s a whole book that has been written many times over but never internalized by the people with the most immediate power to get uncomfortable enough to make big enough shifts. Yet. What I really just came here to say is that I love you. Very much.


Novelist Rhonda Saunders

Here I am chatting with Key West’s favorite journalist, Gwen Filosa, on her talk radio show. It was so much fun that I forgot to actually say anything relevant. Maybe next time!

Gwen Filosa

Novelist Rhonda Saunders joins me on Sept. 10, 2020.

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Cute dog pic for voter attention.

First, look at this photo of Charlii (aka Chaardvark, Charleston Chumpwax Chew, Snuggabuggabeaglebreath, and so, so many others). If you don’t think this dog is possibly the cutest thing you have ever seen, don’t bother reading the rest of this because you and I will never agree on anything.  

Snuggabuggabeaglebreath wants you to plug your nose and vote blue this time.

Second, I’m not surprised to learn that so many moderate Republicans are generally okay with the Biden-Harris ticket.

As it was four years ago when we were in a similar situation with different player names, the real work may be bringing what we’re calling the Next Left to the polls/mailbox. If you think we’ll be fine because your creepy uncle picked a Black female running mate, you may be underestimating the influence of young, smart, progressive, now-seasoned activists (see 2016 re: shaming as a strategy).

Like, ask the Next Left in Chicago what they think of their Black, female, lesbian (lesbian even!) mayor’s approach to crime (but mostly “crime”) and poverty in the predominantly minority communities who needed her to bring change the most. What I hear the Next Left saying is, “HELL YES to more demographically varied politicians, AND we demand representation and accountability in government in ways that more meaningfully bring the change we voted for.” Maybe think of them as Generation Yes, And. That’s a little dumb, but you get me.

Anyway, I’m here to say how much I love that these party-skeptical, fiercely ethical, (mostly) young people are the future. But I hope and beg that enough of them will plug their noses to vote bluish this time. Hitting rock bottom has been the wake-up call some had hoped for (but for which so many more have suffered).

And we’re starting to see that precious new growth reaching up from beneath the ashes (honk if you love mixed metaphors) because YOU are out there, still marching, still protesting, still mad asf, still three months behind on rent. I get it. God, I do, as best I can as who I am. But listen, we can’t be set back an additional 100 years by a second term with a morally bankrupt, untreated sociopath who has our nuclear codes. That’s not progressive. That’s not progress by any measure.

You’re doing all this much harder work at the (arguably more important in normal times) local and state levels. So let’s suck it up and do what our hearts know is right at every level in November, either for its own sake or in hopes the universe will look kindly on us and send us all back next time as adorable puppies who know only love.

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Dear Person at the Movies: Beware the Mom Blogger.

Hi, friend! We like going to the movies, too! But we don’t go as much as we want to because we don’t like bothering anybody. And like you, we love the Tropic Cinema! It’s so great, right? But we usually go to the Regal instead, because the theaters are bigger, so there’s less chance we’ll bother anybody. We wanted to see Ford v Ferrari, though, and it was only playing at the Tropic. A loud racing movie is perfect, I thought, because we might not bother anybody.

We chose a Wednesday, hoping it wouldn’t be very busy so we wouldn’t bother anybody. And we chose the noon showing, hoping it wouldn’t be a full house so we wouldn’t bother anybody. And we sat in the front row, knowing it is usually the last chosen because it’s hard on the neck, hoping we wouldn’t bother anybody. But you came in late, and sat right next to my son.

Before we went into the theater, we did a lot of noise-making, talking, singing, humming, tapping, and drumming. We were also active in our seats before the movie started, hoping to get a lot of it out so that we could do a decent job of masking vocal and motor tics once the show started. Sometimes this preparation helps us stave things off for a while (because we don’t want to bother anybody).

We bought snacks and drinks to keep our hands and mouths busy, hoping we wouldn’t bother anybody. We reminded each other in advance that sometimes it’s better to whisper an in-context exclamation or question during a time the movie is loud, hoping not to bother anybody at quieter times. Sometimes that works short-term and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s one of many replacement behaviors that are difficult to master, but we practice a lot so that most of the time, people just think we’re momentarily chatty or wiggly. Sometimes people don’t notice at all. And sometimes it feels better to be scoffed at for being intentionally too noisy than to be thought of as strange in a way you have no control over. It’s not a fun choice–not that it’s always even a choice.

How did you prepare for the movie today, friend?

We don’t need or want your sympathy (or anybody else’s). In fact, we sometimes feel guilty about what we call the superpowers that far outweigh the challenges. We are so grateful to be who we are and we’re so fully aware of our privilege in this world that being told we should just stay home, among other things, doesn’t bother us like you may have hoped.

He’s eleven, by the way. My son. He doesn’t fully understand, yet, how awful people can be. But he’s learning fast from people like you. And yes, we know that’s life. The world doesn’t revolve around him and he knows that. He knows I won’t always be there to put my body between him and somebody awful. And he’ll continue figuring out how to handle people whose behavior he doesn’t understand. We wish the same skill-development for you, but so far, he’s kicking your ass in the realm of thinking about how personal choices affect others.

I know you’re not evil. I know everybody has challenges and things going on in life. I know that maybe you were having a bad day, and so many other possibilities we can’t know about you. But what if instead of digging in your heels once you realized how wrong you’d gotten it today in the front row, you’d used it as an opportunity for kindness? It would have meant a lot to us right then. A LOT. Obviously, you have every right to be unkind. But would it kill you to strive toward at least as much self-awareness and self-control as a kid with Tourette?

There must be a million reasons that other human beings annoy you on the regular. Damn, that seems like a taxing way to live–so much work! So I guess, as stressful as it is to prepare and sometimes fail in our efforts not to bother anybody, it could clearly be so much worse–we could be like you.



Hot Tub Germs

In all our years of living and growing without coercive compulsory education, reactions from others have included complete support, concern, pushback, good questions, loaded questions, skeptical fascination, hasty judgments, and polite rejection. But we had never been directly accosted by a stranger about it until last night.

Our building is a mix of full-time residents and part-timers who rent their places out while they’re not here. My son loves the interaction with visitors from all over the world and has our trust and the freedom to strike up conversations without a parent by his side. He loves playing with other kids but he also loves talking to adults. Part of that is his personality and part of that comes from escaping unnatural age/grade hierarchy and teacher/adult worship culture. He’s learning that while adults generally have more experience, they really aren’t experts at life. And last night, he took an accelerated graduate seminar on the topic of adults with low self-worth who buoy themselves by bullying kids.

The vast majority of people in the world are good. I know that. The kid knows that. Things normally go very well and the risk to gain analysis usually makes it worthwhile for him. So for him to be hanging out with (or near) a group of adults in the hot tub is no biggie.

I was swimming in the pool, nearby enough to hear that the conversation had become between just one dude and my kid, and it was getting louder. But I couldn’t make out the words, so I made my way closer. The look on another woman’s face said, “If he’s yours, swim faster. This guy is a prick.” Later, I wondered why none of the other adults in the hot tub intervened. They just stayed quiet and let it play out. It’s nobody else’s responsibility, but I feel confident I wouldn’t let a person of any age be verbally assaulted in front of me without saying something.

When I got there, I thought deescalation was the best approach, so I smiled, sat down, and said, “Hi there–what’s up?”

“You his mother?”

“Yeah. Are you having trouble getting a word in? He can hold his own,” I said, still smiling, still hoping to deescalate with a safe-enough joke.

“No he can’t. He’s the one having trouble getting a word in,” he said, pointing to my kid.

“I was stuttering,” my son said, eyes locked on mine, like stuttering meant he deserved this. He sometimes pauses mid-word and experiences echolalia, especially under stress. It’s not uncommon with Tourette Syndrome (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with why we unschool–we began well before symptoms were present).

“Wow,” I said to the manbaby across the hottub, then turned to my son and said,”Let’s go.”

My son ran back to the pool. I took my time getting out because I felt dizzy.

“So is he home-educated or not?” the guy demanded of me as I was leaving.

“We’re not home much,” I said.

“Does he even know MATH?” he demanded. Math is always the sticking point for people, it seems.

“He’s self-directed. He knows  what he wants to know, like everybody else. For example, he knows when to quit, unlike many adults,” I said, glaring at him. By now it was only this guy and his partner left in the hot tub. She was stone silent but looked mortified. Later I think I heard them fighting–him on their balcony, her inside yelling out the door.

He said some other things to me that I can’t entirely remember because I was kind-of shocked and still dizzy, so I said, “We didn’t come here to be quizzed,” and went back to the pool. My son wanted to dissect the situation right then because that’s his nature. So we talked about how he doesn’t owe other people an explanation about how he learns and it’s not his job to convince them. I said I was sorry for my part in leaving him in a position to feel he had to defend himself that way. We also talked about the bystander effect, which he’s coincidentally been interested in lately. The people who said nothing served as a perfect example.

Forensically, I learned more about the way Captain Obnoxious had been grilling and belittling my son in ways that make me want to find him again and do something I’d regret (but not more than he’d regret his actions).

I want to be able to say it was no big deal and that I crushed the guy, but that would just be posturing since I’m obviously still shaken about it after a fitful night. And I didn’t crush him. He crushed me. Hurting a child is an easy and cowardly way to crush a parent.

As I was writing this, my son sat down next to me and said, “If that mean guy last night was born in the 1800s, I bet he would have fought for the Confederacy.”

I had to agree and we had a good laugh. And then we thought about all the things we discussed and learned over the past 48 hours or so (while traveling from Michigan to Key West), purely because he was curious about them. I think we both needed to take inventory and feel some comfort about it, and that’s okay. Doubt creeps in because we’re only human and live in a largely schooled society with near-constant pressure to conform. Sometimes being different is harder and takes courage. That’s life.

And because I turn everything into an unschooling commercial, here’s a sample of what he’s been curious enough to learn more about over the past couple of days, off the cuff:

What (can) happen when a leader likes power but not responsibility.

Why Confederate flags are sold alongside Trump memorabilia.

Stereotypes related to the southern states and why it can be harmful to perpetuate them.

White privilege.

White nose syndrome in bats (is killing them).

What lungs would do in space without protection.

Silicon Valley makes silicon sound synthetic but it’s an element!

How disease-resistant plants are developed and if/how that applies to animals.

The anatomy of dark humor.

The world is mostly hydrogen.

Sharing music/sound demos and beat-making.

Pixel art and animation.

Are loot boxes in gaming like gambling? (thanks, Planet Money)

How many milliseconds in one second? What about nanoseconds?


Checks and balances.

The bystander effect!

Two days ago we were inside a cave system and on the trails at Mammoth Cave National Park. Our Facebook memories showed us that at this time in past years we have been in Philadelphia visiting the Franklin Institute and seeing the Liberty Bell, building a tree house in the woods in Northwest Michigan, playing with democratic free school friends in Maryland, and tending to baby lime trees in Key West.

We feel happy, safe, curious, and challenged. Life is good and we are so very lucky. Thanks for the reminder, hot tub asshole.


Not to coattail, but what if we ban assault weapons AND stop being contemptuous assholes to children?

My heart is broken like everybody else’s. But I’m not sure we should be so entirely stunned when an angry, ostracized loser plots misguided, twisted, sickening, unjustifiable revenge against a world he could not find a way into. To meet an immediate need, gun access reform including a ban on assault weapons seems obvious. But the long game has to include a more concerted effort to understand how we set up too many people to fail.

Power dynamics as a source of abuse is totally a conversation right now, and hoorah for that. Time is so up, right? Now how can we expand it to include children in a meaningful way? I’m reminded how mainstream our general contempt for children is when I see it in the most unexpected places, like when I read Claire Dederer’s otherwise brilliant feminist piece, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” in The Paris Review. In it, she asks, “Am I a monster? I haven’t been accused by dozens of women of drugging and raping them. Am I a monster? I don’t beat my children. (YET.)” I felt so much WTF when I got to that part. It added absolutely nothing to the piece except to remind me that even the most progressive among us are still perfectly comfortable making child abuse jokes.

At what point do we fully move into popular culture the reality that the threat of violence is implicit in an adult/child relationship to a greater degree than in other relationships with power disparity? If your boss put out a memo that said “I haven’t raped any of you. (YET.)” how would that go over today?

Of all people, children are the most vulnerable. They have the least recourse, including against constant microaggressions toward them that help normalize a world that is contemptuous of them. I mean, what are they going to do about it? In feminism, we have words like, I don’t know, “misogyny” and “intersectionality” to help contextualize and validate what we know is real. What language do children have?

On a macro level, most of us pat ourselves on the back for resisting physical violence against children but continue, generation after generation, to raise them in a system that is emotionally violent toward them. By kindergarten, most children are prisoners (literally, legally) of an artificial system of winners and losers–a system dependent on plenty of losers to measure our winning children against. By the time they graduate from this system, they have a self-image that will color their entire lives. It feels so fucking Hunger Games to me.

Most of the time, we do a decent job of manipulating and coercing children into believing they have real choices. We reward them for every false choice to move toward what was predetermined for them. If they feel uneasy about all this, we make them feel crazy and ungrateful and tell them how lucky they are. If they persist in their resistance to sacrificing their childhood to our short-sighted, broken system, they are often ostracized, sometimes by their own family. They are among the loners and losers who fall through the cracks.

Speaking in vague terms about “mental health” is a way to escape our collective culpability. Addressing “mental health” could, after all, include one of our current best practices–drugging about 1/5th of children in traditional schools to help them believe they should fit there and that it’s really their best hope for a way forward in this world.

I say if we’re going to speak vaguely about societal failings of this nature, let’s at least say something cornball like “love is the answer” instead. Specifically, love each child enough to learn who they are and how they learn and what they need from this world in order to feel like it really is theirs, too. But that would take most of the time and energy and money that we currently dump near-blindly into a system that is perpetuated by its winners—the ones with the most power to change it.

Ban assault weapons, yes. And also work to depoliticize public education so we can have real conversations about our broken school systems and how to make them safer, healthier places for most children to be forced to exist in for all of childhood. I love that there’s a National School Walkout planned. But don’t demand short-term change, alone. Keep the conversation alive and demand that our public schools start making dramatic shifts in addressing how children really learn and grow. Less/no testing, grading, ranking, fewer bells and tight schedules of nonsense few care about, more age-mixing, more self-direction, more trust, more respect for them as already-people (as opposed to future-people), more freedom in the lives they already have so little control over. More love. Can we mandate more love? I don’t know. But we can decrease the pressure and see how young humans flourish when they’re not living in a constant state of duress.


Here, trying.

Here’s a little thing I wrote this morning during that short window after the coffee when everything’s going to be okay and you’re prone to adverbs. You know what I mean, writers. You know what I mean.


The perfect joy I feel about the spring blooming things along the path to my door is wholly disproportional to the effort it took to shove a few bulbs into the earth last fall when it was too glorious outside to be not-outside anyway. This ROI doesn’t seem fair in a No Pain, No Gain existence where Just Anybody isn’t qualified, hasn’t earned it–where we convolute and transpose the small stuff and the big stuff. Since it’s short and I might get only this one, maybe I’ll quit deferring so much of my life to the experts. Maybe that’s growth.

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Calling him Humpty Orange-Tufted Trumpty hurts. Us.

The President is wicked and crude. He nauseates me for a million reasons, not the least of which is his disgusting objectification and assault of women.

That’s why I’m not calling him Cheeto in Chief. I’m not making fun of his weight or his combover. At the rally in D.C. yesterday, I chose not to chant about his tiny hands. 

I’m not making ghost jokes or inaugural outfit jokes about Kellyanne Conway. And I’m not making injection jokes about the Trump women. It’s easy (and feels good for a sec) to do that. But mostly it feels counterintuitive and counterproductive to me. 

My life’s goal when I was 17, aside from having amazing hair daily, was to find the right gold sequined shoes to go with my sequined prom dress (without being too matchy-matchy). And to throw up enough to look thin in the dress. And for my boyfriend to never have to tell me again that while I was still smokin’ hot (no worries!) his friends noticed I was gaining just a leetle bit of weight. Before he dropped me off that night, I asked him to make a stop at the drugstore where I ran in to buy some laxatives.

As a memento of my vanity, the lining of my esophagus gave up (a long time ago) trying to grow back as anything but the same tissue as intestinal lining. Intestinal lining is tougher. I’m tougher now, too. I take responsibility for my choices, but I also know very well how outside pressures and expectations worked to make me sick.

I marched yesterday, in part, because I envision a world where people are judged on their actions and intentions. A world where my 17-year-old daughter doesn’t feel like she has to starve, puke, shit her guts out, or paint her hair and skin to conceal herself under the guise of enhancing natural beauty. I don’t want her feeling obligated to waste any portion of her life working hard to look like a piece of plastic in hopes it will help her to be taken more seriously. On that, I’m trying hard to walk the walk. I hope she knows. I hope I’ve done what I can to help her understand her real value.

I don’t care that he has orange skin. I’m not concerned about his hair situation. I’m concerned that the leader of the free world seems to be a terrible human being. As we’re trying to build something good out of what feels like one of our darkest hours, let’s try not to turn into him on any level.


Self-Directed Learning. At Midnight.

“Mom, 13 plus 13 is 26. I mean it just makes sense because two tens and two threes.”

“It does make sense. ‘Night, Pal.”

“And take two tens away from 56. Bam. 36.”

“Bam, indeed. Goodnight.”

“Four times four? Sixteen just because four, four times. Get it?”


I DO CARE that my son is excited about numbers as awesome tools. I love that mental math is useful and fun for him, even if those light bulbs switch on for him in the middle of the night when, child, my lights are out.

I DON’T CARE whether or not he calls it “math” and I don’t care where short-term, short-sighted measurements would rank him among traditionally schooled eight-year-olds. Standardized tests given at school provide data that have almost nothing to do with what’s good for the measured. They do not measure math resentment and its effects. They do not measure the long-term outcomes of too much, too soon. They do not measure if and how solving equations by hand, especially through coercion, hinders mental math. And they certainly don’t measure things like personal responsibility or capacity for compassion or creativity.

I like that my child is not being measured for the benefit of a system that, at its core, is not most concerned with the real development of the children it consumes to keep itself alive. While I believe some administrators and teachers very genuinely hold that as their core concern (I know many and I like to think I used to be one of those teachers), we’re fooling ourselves at the expense of our children if we believe that’s enough.

It feels like many of us, both inside and outside the school system, are increasingly on the same page. If like-minded people work from all sides, we can help bring to the mainstream an essential paradigm shift about childhood and about how humans learn. That’s the goal, from my perspective. The goal isn’t to take advantage of the great privilege of choice by opting out, only to stop giving a rat’s ass about anybody else.

If you’re even remotely intrigued by what I’m always fussing about, or just want to make sure you still hate the idea of unschooling and free schools, check out the newly formed Alliance for Self-Directed Education: Self-Directed Education.

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I’m in my third decade going hard at this parenting thing. And like many parents, I’ve contradicted myself over and back again, changing my mind about what’s optimal. I frame it all as growth to convince myself that, overall, it’s best to remain open to new possibilities. Still, I can’t remember a parenting trend that’s gotten deeper under my skin than Extreme Waldorfing, for lack of a better description. I realize this is a risky thing to put in writing (especially in an abbreviated form) while we’re in the throes of the Screen Time Bad Movement. But to me, it’s misguided to insist that nature and technology are opposing forces and that the use of technology should be staved off as long as possible.

As an unschooling parent, it was interesting to learn that the founding mind behind Waldorf education was a relatively high-tech dude from the time he was young. Reading (admittedly little) about the origin of Waldorf leaves me feeling that, at their core, Waldorf and unschooling are similar, at least in the belief that vast amounts of creative play is central to healthy child development. For me, the divergence is in the level of trust in a child’s natural ability to learn outside a narrowly contrived perimeter.

Also, to be fair, my experience with the Waldorf approach is limited mostly to interaction with parents who have pledged allegiance to it as an extreme nature-based, anti-tech lifestyle. They are visibly uneasy if their children of pure mind, heart, and creative spirit are breathing too long in the same space as kids who have regular exposure to physical objects not made of wood, copper, or sprouted chia. And purely anecdotally, they’re some of the judgiest families I’ve ever met–moreso, even, than the Extra Super Christian Homeschool set (which is really hard for me to admit).

Spoiler: Our sun will die, and with it, all life on Earth. When that happens, I hope my great, great, quadrillionty great-grandchildren aren’t huddled in Future Forest, eating dandelion greens, playing with vintage petrified Waldorf blocks as they’re wiped into extinction. Instead, I hope they’re safely on another healthy, thriving planet, taking good care of it. Is there anything more natural than survival instinct in living creatures? Survival means we need to preserve our planet for a crazy long time–long enough to figure a way off it before the sun burns out. Hey, it could happen.

Seriously though, let’s quit with the either/or nature vs. technology mentality already. Stop giving kids the idea that technology is inherently harmful–that it’s some kind of guilty pleasure that interferes with their natural development as creative and moral people. Stop feeding into the fear-based cautionary tale du jour.

In the future, the hard evidence we use to legitimize our technology fears will seem as ludicrous as the hard evidence against 19th-century children reading fiction seems to us today. To refresh, the evidence was clear that novels deteriorated the young mind and squelched the real creative abilities of children. Fiction left children with unrealistic expectations of reality and desensitized them to real life–the younger the child, the more dangerous the exposure. Children reading too much would be the end of us, it was obvious.

The greater good can be, should be, and IS served by responsible development and use of technology. Let’s focus on ethical behavior, not on shaming and demonizing our kids’ natural drive to evolve as a species. Instead of putting the brakes on technology because of our unfounded fear of change, hit the gas on the moral component of tech consumption and innovation while they master the tech tools of society through play. Highlight, inspire, and nurture healthy connections between protecting resources and the evolution of technology. Show that those who love and respect Earth most are EXACTLY the people we want highly involved in guiding technological advancement.

We need our little gamers as much as we need our little wild shroom foragers and homemade cricket flour makers. All the better if they’re one and the same (or at least grow up wanting to work together instead of thinking the other is good for nothing of real value).



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