A Tale of Two Projects

A  few years ago I was working on a book that took me to the west coast and parts of the Midwest to talk to people in the community resilience movement. I wrote a book proposal and shopped it around and had some mild interest from literary agents. I received a grant for research travel, and I was selected a trio of writing residencies, and I wrote a bunch of words.

P and D sawing

A photo from one of my sojourns–a Bloomington homeschooling cooperative based around permaculture principles.

I still have those words. Some of them have turned up in posts here and other places. (People seem consistently most intrigued by the Mudgirls natural building collective.) But I have yet to use them in some final-final form of Thrivalists. Every agent who loved the topic ended up declining because of my “thin platform.” They didn’t believe that I would garner enough readership, in other words, to make me worth the risk.

I began to disbelieve it myself. I added that to a bone-deep doubt that anything I could do would ever be good enough or come together coherently enough to produce a book.

I shelved the project, and began to work on another, supposedly interim, nonfiction book. It was supposed to be a six-month jaunt into something different-but-related: I would write of my own healing journey, and how it connected to the buried ruins of a 19th century women’s mental institution (“Seven Steeples”) where I was volunteering at a modern-day farm.


Last week I toured a Traverse City, MI asylum of roughly the same era as Seven Steeples.

Two and a half years later…


Still working on that one. And I received a grant this year to further the project, which feels great! but also kind of heavy and dubious, since the first grant did not (yet) result in publication.

Next month I will hand my manuscript to a professional for editing services, thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission’s generosity.

In the meantime (while still freelancing in the farm profile arena) I periodically send out pieces of each work-in-progress to see if anyone is interested in publishing them as essays. Nope nope nope. (Though I’ve had a few very nice rejection notes!)

Till this month. To meet a shorter word count and fit a theme of “Roots,” I reworked a segment of Thrivalists about the role of fungi in rootedness. I incorporated some newer, slightly woo-woo material (sort of a mashup of both projects), and sent it to Topology Magazine. They published The Gift of the Fungi, which is ostensibly about what I learned at the Radical Mycology Convergence, but is also about coming to embrace a wider sense of possibility.

I felt a curious lack of enthusiasm for the news that the site would publish it. The old “any club that would have me as a member” dilemma? A sense that I could have snagged a higher profile outlet, if I’d persisted? Some of each.

Plus a sense of : “I went to California, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Ohio and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?”

The end product is supposed to be a book, not a little online article.

Well, then a writing buddy reminded me of something Charles Eisenstein asked in a podcast : Would you write even if you had only one reader, even if you knew that that reader might take your words and change the world… but you’d never get credit for it? He wrote a piece about how this type of loyalty test first arose for him. An excellent read if you have time.

Why do we do what we do? What is our ultimate goal? If it’s about fulfilling our purpose, taking our place in the Divine scheme of things, then words like “platform” and “readership” are less important than resonating our truth.

web eagle creek park

Spiderweb photo by Barbara Jablonski, taken at Eagle Creek Park

In the world we live in, money and fame are gods. What we have to offer doesn’t count unless it brings in income or gains huge exposure. Charles and my writing buddy and I refute that story, and I suspect we’re not alone in that.

Oh and by the way, some ideas are percolating about that old project as I hit the home stretch (?) of the new one. I haven’t seen the last of the inspiring Thrivalists that shared with me. I can tell because of the way my blood hums when I think of putting their stories in a wider frame.

Maybe I just needed to expand (not my platform but my being) before I could put the work out there. We’ll see.

Learning to Learn

Third in a series on education
Recently I spent a day with a Bloomington, IN homeschooling cooperative. Two families work together on homesteading projects on each others’ land. This allows their four children, ages 8 to 12, to learn by doing—while increasing their confidence and skills.

Projects range from seed saving to bike maintenance to creation of a family almanac. They’ve gone mushroom hunting, practiced knot skills, and (on rainy days) learned knitting and mending. They’re working on a fire pit and hoping to build a treehouse.

Reading and quizzing each other from a book called Moving Heavy Things

Reading and quizzing each other from a book called Moving Heavy Things

The day I was there, the students were studying how to move a heavy sandstone block down a sloping driveway from the front yard to the back. They were to place it into a rectangular hole in the dirt, forming part of an herb garden’s perimeter. The emphasis was on problem solving, collaborative effort, and applying their study of friction and levers.

Sawing PVC pipe to roll the plywood with the block on top (note that is just a practice stone, not the super-heavy one they were charged with moving)

Sawing PVC pipe to roll the plywood with the block on top (note that is just a practice stone, not the super-heavy one they were charged with moving)

This was no small task and involved an array of tools, including something I’d never heard of called a cant hook. The mom/teachers, Stacey and Dani, encouraged them to try out every idea and see what worked best. The kids worked by experimentation, reasoning, puzzling, trying, and talking—displaying remarkable tenacity through the whole process.

Using a cant hook to move the sandstone block

Using a cant hook to move the sandstone block

There was not one temper tantrum. I could see that the communication skills these kids develop through group projects will go a long way toward smoothing their way in the world—while also contributing to the healing of that same world.

Stacey says she’s motivated by a belief that children can be the instigators of deep change. “I try to not spend a lot of time in a fear/worry place (even though it is hard sometimes), and in doing this mentor joy, hope, the power we have, and that change is possible.  When children/adults have trust in themselves, self-empowerment and understanding of the world, beautiful things happen!”

“I think they are continually seeing how they make a difference and create change.”

Picking violets for our lunch salad

Picking violets for our lunch salad

By the end of my visit, the children had moved one monstrously heavy block into place in the back yard, where it will begin the delineation of an herb spiral. There was great cheering when the block was finally nestled into place.

As results-oriented as we are these days, this may not seem like much for several hours’ work. But in the process, they learned to learn, to cooperate, and to not fear failure.

Watching them, I wondered how my life would be different if I had had these sorts of experiences in my own childhood. I might consider myself in a different light now. I might be handy, of all things. At the very least I would be braver, less fearful of being wrong.

This concludes the education series, at least for now. (I could share much more about both the KI school and these homeschoolers, but that’s where the book comes in.)