Unschooling Yourself

Ever since I was about 15, I’ve made schedules constantly.  Monthly, weekly, daily.  To some degree it’s essential when you’re a self-directed learner to structure your days in order to do what you need to do.  Not everybody needs to, and certainly not everyone needs the kind of hour-by-hour structure I often set for myself; but I know that for the most part I need it to keep track of my day and how I get things done.

For as long I’ve been making these schedules, though, I have always run into one tiny frustration: there are days/times when I just don’t want to stick to the schedule.  I’ll start writing a story instead of reading about frog innards as I am supposed to do.  Or start playing the guitar instead of doing yoga.  Whatever it is, half the time I really feel like doing something else.

As I have grown older and felt more responsible, and also more aware of and sensitive to the consequences of NOT getting something done, forgoing my set schedule has felt more and more sinful.  Normal People label this practice of “doing one thing when you should be doing something else” as procrastination.  So, naturally, I’ve gotten all down on myself for being such a procrastinator.

That is, until I had some sort of epiphany a few months ago: as much as what I have scheduled to do are what I want to accomplish (as opposed to a teacher or the like), I haven’t been fully allowing myself to fully live in freedom.  The philosophy behind “unschooling” (the K-12 version of Life Without College – more info here: http://whyunschool.info/) is to let the child learn what they want to when they want to, because people learn better when they are actually interested in what they are learning and feel like pursuing that interest.  And here I have been attempting to force myself to do things, finding my enthusiasm for learning wane day by day.  The result is a Jessica who gets nothing done and feels like pig slop come bedtime.

The first step I took to remedy this spirit-crushing issue was to determine what the waverables and non-waverables were in my days/weeks/months.  Because as much of a good thing it is to let myself be free, it is an even better thing to continue being responsible.

The first non-waverables are things you are committed to do for/with other people – things like work; or if you are taking a class at the community center or a nearby college, it’s probably a good idea to do those things at the original time you allotted for them, as they simply won’t be happening at a different time.

However, who says you need to read Dante at 7:45 am, and then start work on your recording session at 9:00, break for lunch at 12, record for two more hours, go do laps at the pool at 3, make food from 4-6, eat food, and then blog about it before settling in to watch a movie at 8?

“But that was how I planned my day!!!”

But what do you want to do?

I see it as “listening to your heart”, which you can definitely accomplish without being sappy.  You know how you listen to your body to tell you what kind of food to eat?  Maybe you don’t, but it really is so good for you to get in tune with your body – I know when I need milk, dairy, citrus, eggs, meat, leafy greens, a banana, a protein drink, etc.  Even chocolate!  (And since I started listening to my body, I definitely don’t eat as much chocolate/junk food as I used to… now isn’t that something?)

So, “listen to your heart.”  Before you tell him goodbye, and every time else in between.

Perhaps this is the commentary inside your head during that day instead:

“Today,” your heart tells you, “I want to go swimming first thing.  Then I want to come back and make a big bunch of food because I’ll be HUNGRY!!  I’ll take pictures of it when I’m done, and then go ahead and record a bit.  But I don’t have the kind of attention span for doing all of it, so I’ll go read a book, maybe even go to the coffee shop and chill a bit with my peeps.  Maybe while I’m there I’ll go ahead and blog about my tremendous breakfast.  Then while I’m at the coffee shop with those peeps, I think I shall invite those peeps over to watch that movie with me.  We don’t make dinner exactly, but we do get frozen jalapeño poppers from the grocery store and those are practically just as good.  Then some of them end up staying and we have a jam session into the night, in which we don’t record what I had intended exactly, but what we did record was so awesome and inspiring for my future work that it did more good than harm.  At last we all crash in various places around the house and I don’t get quite as good of a start to the next morning, but that’s okay.”

As you can see, chances are you will still get things done if you give yourself leeway and don’t adhere 100% to your set schedule.  This doesn’t mean don’t make a schedule – I still do, or else I have no guidelines at all and end up wasting away doing not much useful.

Although, come to think of it, what is “useful”??


Learning Spanish

I am obsessed.

Just ask my family.  Every single day, practically, I am at the computer, staring at pictures and saying things like, “El gato duerme” and “Japon esta lejos de Brasil.”  (“The cat sleeps” and “Japan is far from Brazil”, respectively.)  When I am procrastinating, I do my Spanish lessons.  When I am sick, I do my Spanish lessons.  When I go somewhere, I take my audio companions (and I get grumpy when I accidentally leave them in the car that I am not driving).  I form sentences to test on the Latino guys at work, like, “Huevo sol ariba?”  (“Egg sun up?”  You know… fried egg, sunny side up…).  I scour Craigslist for ads in Spanish to read (the Personals are especially interesting).  All this thanks to working with Latino people and wanting to be able to communicate with them better.

I was not always this excited about Spanish.  In fact, it was the opposite.  I wanted to learn ANYTHING else instead: Spanish was too “common.”  Every kid in America was learning Spanish.

So I grew up trying to learn French (less common?  Apparently).  However, every program I tried only catered to one learning style and/or did not teach me anything useful.  Also, I realized a few years ago that I really had no reason to learn French at all: I had no particular overwhelming desire to travel to France, Belgium, or Canada, no French friends, no obsession with French culture, food, literature, music, or anything.  That was when I quit, too relieved to feel disappointed in myself.

At the beginning of June, though, when I started my new job in the restaurant, my disheartened attitude about language learning in general made a 180:

Spanish is the second language in this current workplace of mine.  Half the employees are Latino and they are always talking to each other in Spanish and to the rest of us in Spanglish.  Immersion has presented itself, and therefore the motivation to learn to communicate.  Sure, these guys speak some English, too, but why limit ourselves?  Especially when I see their faces light up every time I understand what they are saying or say something in their language.  It is, really, deeply flattering when someone from another country has chosen to learn your native language.

My dad bought Rosetta Stone Spanish levels one and two a couple of years ago for anybody in the family who wanted to use it.  Up until June I considered it a “might as well as a last resort” option.  But now, it’s ended up being exactly what I’ve needed.

Now I can’t stop.  I am always hungering after anything Spanish-related… poetry especially, but basically anything that has any Spanish word in it or has any associations with Spanish whatsoever (like  bags of nacho chips).  What I really want is, once I have gone through all five levels of Rosetta Stone, to take maybe 6-ish months and travel in Mexico, Central, and South America, completely immersing myself in the language and culture through a combination of WWOOFing adventures and homestays that will probably include dancing lessons.

Did you know they have majors in foreign languages?  I mean, I knew, and it kind of makes sense, but then it kind of doesn’t.  While couchsurfing a few months ago I stayed at a couple’s house where the girl was working on her master’s in French, dating an Actual French Dude From France who, as a plus, helped her with her assignments.  I mean, I guess that’s what you need if you want to teach French, which was what she was aspiring to do…

…. But really?  Wouldn’t it be super, amazingly, stupendously fun to design your own “major” around a foreign language?  I mean, just by opening myself up to learning new linguistic processes, I have acquired a thirst I would have never guessed would follow.  What if I followed through completely on these inclinations, and started studying Spanish poetry/literature, Spanish history, Spanish architecture, Spanish geology, Spanish… whatever!  There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain in Europe, Equatorial Guinea in Africa, Mexico in North America, and the other 18 in the Caribbean, Central, and South America.

Where to start??

Well, I know for one thing that I have always wanted to study Argentine Tango in Argentina, so there’s a start.

Regardless, I am SO EXCITED.  Don’t stop me now!

College Rebellion Op: DIY with Structure

Heya folks.  Sorry it’s been so long.  I’m working real hard to get back on track – been writing many entries to post over the next few months – but until then I am sure I look like the laziest person on the planet.  If you’ve written me an e-mail in the past very-long-time, I apologize so very hard for my tardiness in responding.  If “I didn’t expect to be this popular” was any kind of excuse, I’d probably use it.  But since it sounds rather cocky, I won’t, and I’ll just plead for your mercy and beseech you to have faith that I will remedy all behind-ness in a very short amount of time forthcoming.

In the meantime, I know y’all are looking for answers and solutions.  In the past I’ve provided several reasons to quit college and reasons why I’m not going anymore, etc.  Okay, you get the point.  So in the future I want to focus more on what you peeps can proactively do to give yourself your own “higher level” education.  I’ll be providing resources,  ideas, tools, encouragement and inspiration, and anything else I can think of.  Often ideas are generated from the needs I see you have through the e-mails you send me.  So even though I am kind of pathetic at writing back (just now!  I vow to change my ways!), keep writing me with your stories, questions, feedback, suggestions, etc.!  The purpose of this blog is to help you, not for me to have a place to rant incessantly.

Speaking of providing resources, I happen to be “in cahoots” to some degree with a fellow who offers trips and programs for self-directed teens and young adults.  His name is Blake Boles and he will very soonly start working out of Asheville, NC, in the beautiful mountains just a few hours west of my own home in Raleigh.  Zero Tuition College is his program aimed at young adults with the message that  you can get that widely preached “higher education” without having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to an institution that will eat away four years of your young life, stick you with tons of debt afterwards, and probably not teach you what you want to know in the way that you learn best.

Ah!  Finally, someone who understands!

What’s really awesome is he has a 4-day, 3-night program coming up in mid-October in Asheville.  It’s called “Zero Tuition College Camp” and will be an intimate, jam-packed weekend full of “ZTC-oriented workshops, discussions, and activities. You’ll leave with a detailed plan for skipping college, lots of inspiration, and a cohort of new friends and mentors.”  And it’s only $200 for accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, and all the activities and workshops.

Oh, here’s the link: http://www.unschooladventures.com/?page=trips/ztc11


I’m definitely going, and I’ll be making y’all’s dinners.  So… be there!  I want to meet you!

Zero Tuition College will also be running a 6-month co-op house in Asheville starting in January.  It will be for six self-directed learners around the college-age who still want an awesome, community-based college-like environment to pursue their own interests in.  I’d highly recommend it; Asheville is the cutest town this side of the Mississippi with tons of opportunity and resources for self-education.  And I can testify that it is 100% easier and more inspirational to conduct your self-directed studies when surrounded by a bunch of people who are just like you, going the same non-college way!

Here are the details about the co-op house: http://www.ztcollege.com/ztc-house.php


So, I hope this helps and encourages you: there are opportunities for you and other people just like you to pursue those opportunities with!  I’ll keep letting you know about more – where there’s a will, there is a way when you decide to quit college.  Keep up the good work, y’all – you’re on the right track.


“Where Did You Go?”

Barb, the designated clapper.

Last night I jumped in a minivan with seven other people I’ve known for years and we all drove to Greensboro, NC, chitter-chattering happily along the way, for the showing of our 6-minute film, Just One.

Our film was one of 43 being shown this week as part of the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project, one branch of the now world-wide competition to write, film, edit, score, and turn in a 4-7 minute-long movie in 48 hours (http://www.48hourfilm.com/). The even greater catch is each team has to incorporate an assigned character, prop, line of dialogue, and a genre/theme pulled out of a hat. The event alternatively goes by, “I Had a Way Better Weekend than You.”

Last Friday evening at 7pm, those 43 teams gathered in a long room to eat, drink, be merry, network, socialize, and at last be given their assignments so they could burst out the doors in a stampede-of-rhinoceroses-type-fashion to go complete the task before Sunday night at the same time. Plumb Line Pictures, our group, was assigned the theme of “Birthday/Anniversary.” All of the teams were given…

Character: Don or Donna Hastert, Plumber
Prop: Crayons
Line of Dialogue: “Where did you go?”

In the end, we produced a quaint bromance about a guy who is trying to forget today was his 5-year anniversary with a girl that broke up with him 3 months prior. His friend comes over to help get his mind off things, and in the end a hot plumber shows up to fix his toilet and he considers asking her out. In my completely unbiased opinion, it was one of the few really excellent films shown last night.

The other categories included:

Dark Comedy
Film de Femme
Musical or Western
Period Piece
Sci Fi

Additionally, there were Wild Card genres. These were for people who didn’t like the genre drawn from the main list of categories and wanted something new:

Adventure Serial
Coming of Age
Family Film
Silent Film
Time Travel Movie
War or Anti-War Film

Plumb Line Pictures, the film division of my improv group, the Unintentionals, has been participating in the 48 Hour Film Project for three years independently now; and three years with another team, Neon Kudzu, making it six years total. I’ve now acted in/written/photographed/crewed/lackeyed/propped/scored/etc. three of those six. They haven’t necessarily been the best of films, but in the end, that’s not the point. The point is we have all had a gigantic blast each year and learned a lot about teamwork, time management, storytelling, filmmaking, and countless other things.

And if, by chance, you were thinking the title had something to do with why I fell off the face of the earth AGAIN… you’re wrong. Basically.

On that note, do stay tuned for more frequent blogging!


The Adventure is in the Moment

What is an adventure?  Up until maybe three weeks ago, it was a word that was completely over-thought by yours truly.  There was a pattern, a track I was running along time and time again, searching for the next thing to call my adventure: whether it was something small, like learning how to pick kale, or larger, like getting lost in Nashville and meeting a man who’d walked all the way from Tampa and was now willing to help me find my way.  These things were adventures to me, and I hungered after them.  I relished them only by being so uberly conscious of the fact that they WERE adventures that I was stuck in my head the whole time.  I did it while doing everything; even if I was reading a book, I wouldn’t really be reading it so much: I would be thinking to myself, “Man, I am reading a book!  What a great book this is for me to be reading.  All of the words that I am reading and interestingly constructed sentences I am absorbing are certainly fascinating, and when I am done, I will be able to think about how I read this book!”

Bad, right?  So bad.

How did I reach such a point?  What happened?

I’m trying to think back over my two decades of life and determine an explanation.  From birth to about 12 years old, I was good.  Has anybody coined the term “Puberty is the root of all evil” yet?  If not, that is now my philosophy.  Once I became conscious that I was a human being among other human beings with whom I was in competition for everything, anything pertaining to my existence changed.  I became overly conscious of everything I did, and thought a lot about it.  I was in my head a lot more than I should have been.  I also became horribly discontent that I wasn’t doing other things that other people were doing.

Last summer, I think, was when I finally realized that I wanted to get back to my roots: back to 10-year-old Jessica who would simply exist without thinking, and lived entirely in the moment.  (Of course, I am not saying I want to extract everything “beyond 10” out of me; it would be silly to abandon the slightly more conscientious nature and advanced processing skills I have acquired with my age.)  It’s been a process and will continue to be a process; especially if I start doing lovely things like thinking about how I am being so good at living in the moment (it is a horrible temptation that I have to squash frequently).

A related matter is how often I worry about wasting my time.  I don’t know why I worry about this, since I waste a lot of time worrying about it, and consequently doing MORE things that waste my time because I get so depressed about all of the time that I am wasting.  But that is what happens.

However, I am now officially ready to relinquish all of that worry.  Among other recent circumstances, it was proven absolutely unworthy of ever being in my brain again by a certain night in New Orleans.  Last Wednesday, two other Farm Peeps and I stayed at a Former Farm Peep’s shotgun house just outside the French Quarter.  At about 10 pm, we had eaten dinner and watched a movie when the Former Farm Peep up and announced, “Who is ready to go out?”

“What?!” I exclaimed, a shriek that was almost unheard because of the “Sure!” cheered by my other two fellow guests.

“What do you mean?” Former Farm Peep looked at me queerly.

“Why would we go out?  It’s bed time!”  It is a well-known fact that I am not a nocturnal creature; and, by farm standards, it was past bedtime by a mile.

“But there’s so many jazz clubs to check out,” Former Farm Peep’s earnest persuasion started to work on me with the mention of “jazz,” but I was not as attracted to the word “club.”  Clubs were where people partied and drank and did nothing useful with their lives.  I was a useful person.  I had plans to get up at 6:30 the next morning and go write at the coffee shop up the street.  Staying out all night like a bunch of hooligans was not conducive to such refined literary pursuits.

“I don’t know……” I murmured, looking around for something to look busy doing, and finding nothing.

“Look, Jessica,” Farm Peep #1 chimed in.  “Just come along for a little bit; and if you want to come back home after a while, we’ll walk you back.”

Farm Peep #2 and Former Farm Peep nodded in affirmation.

I squirmed and realized that I officially had no more arguments that did not make me sound entirely unreasonable.

“Yaaaaay!” Farm Peep #2, a person very in-tune to body language, cheered and jumped up and down.

“She’s coming?” Farm Peep #1 and Former Farm Peep brightened.

“I guess,” I groaned.

There was more cheering, and then we all headed out the door and into the night.

(By the way, if you have been imagining me talking to three yellow Marshmallow Peeps this whole time, and not actual people, you are not the only one.  Still, I was talking to actual people…. and maybe I should choose different pronouns next time.)

Frenchman Street at night was probably a hugely toned-down version of Bourbon Street, and I was very okay with that.  There were crowds…. great masses of drunk, obnoxious crowds… but also, there were very cool people doing awesome things, like playing jazz, blues, and bluegrass music, and dancing (composedly) to it.  We went to four different clubs/bars (being me, I really don’t know the difference, so I beseech you to excuse my ignorance), and saw four very different bands.  All of them were fascinating and delightful.

I got to see a side of society I had never been exposed to first-hand, and I really loved it.  Not in the “I want to live that way all the time” kind of way, but I really truly appreciated the experience.  And it was all because:

a) Once it started happening, I dropped all “wasting time” qualms


b) I got out of the past, out of the future, and out of my head and simply lived the moment.

I can honestly say it was one of the best nights of my life.  We also met this random guy named David and played tag with him in the inner-city park (that was closed and we had to hop the fence to get into, and I really had to try hard not to worry about being arrested the whole time).  But that is probably another story.

In the words of Nike: “Just do it!”


Ask Jess: Realistic Alternatives to College?

Q: I am thinking about putting off college to follow what is currently my one true passion, and that is my love for a certain person. Would it be unwise to focus on making this work instead of going to college?

A: Thank you for the great question!  Love and higher education are two giant decisions in life.  🙂

While I keep a blog “Life Without College”, I sense that you understand that I am not anti-college in any way; I simply acknowledge that it is not the only path to success. That said, I strongly believe that forgoing college to pursue a love interest – no matter how strong – is rather rash, if college is the way in which one wishes to pursue being able to support a family.  Facts are, if you love someone, you want to set up house with them, and most people want to have kids.  And that is just not possible if you don’t have a way to make money; or, at least, enough money to support a family.

On this blog, as you probably know, I often speak of pursuing your passions in life, which college can often hinder, if misused.  And that is not to discredit love, for it is a passion in life.  Unfortunately, nobody makes a living from being in love.

There is nothing saying a person should not pursue love; however, the need to support oneself, and/or a family, becomes immediately important.  The key is being realistic. Therefore, I must say to you that if you seriously do not want to go to college, then you should plan to take steps to pursue another way of making money.

This may mean working at Chick-fil-a to fund you ability to attend entrepreneur seminars, or something similar.  You might start up an online portfolio and build a name for yourself that way through blogging about something you are interested in.  You could travel around the world farming, get you pilot license or SCUBA certification, or have an apprenticeship under a luthier and learn how to make guitars.

The possibilities for what to do with your life are endless, and that is a wonderful thing!  But they must also be acted upon, and that is what I want to stress to you, and everyone out there.  If one makes the decision to not go to college, one needs to take one’s chosen alternative route very seriously.

Here are a couple great and inspiring resources for doing just that:

Timothy Ferriss is a one-of-a-kind fellow.  An incredible entrepreneur, he has created ways to ensure that he has enough time and money to pursue whatever his current passion might be (for instance, boxing, tango, backpacking in Central America, etc.)  He has written a book called “The Four-Hour Work Week”, and he also keeps a pretty awesome blog about a lot of things.  Here’s the link to his archive for entrepreneurship-related blog posts:  http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/category/entrepreneurship

Blake Boles is another really extraordinary guy.  When he was in college, he discovered self-directed learning while reading “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto.  6 years later, he now works full-time with self-directed teens and young adults, running his company Unschool Adventures (http://www.unschooladventures.com) and, most recently, starting up his project “Zero Tuition College”, a fantastic alternative to “normal college” that fosters self-directed higher educationhttp://www.ztcollege.com

The list above will probably be turned into the “Resources” page, which will surely be added to over time.  Stay tuned!

Just Call Me Rip Van Winkle

So, dear readers, perhaps you are wondering what happened to the writer of this blog.  Did she get consumed by a man-eating tiger while on a safari in India?  Did she find El Dorado and promptly get kidnapped and put in some El Doradian dungeon?  Did she fall into a sidewalk chalk picture with Mary Poppins?  Did she get attacked by Twilight fangirls for declaring that Edward and Jacob were both ugly?

No, none of these valiant things occurred; at least, not in real life.  Instead, she was writing a novel.  Again.

Now, here is the lady herself:

Greetings, folks!  It is I, Jess.  I am alive and well.  Like my announcer said in the paragraphs above, I have simply been writing a novel.  You see, November is National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel within the thirty days.  I participated in it last year (you can refer yourself back to my Backstory), and I felt compelled, naturally, to participate this year as well.  The result at the end of four weeks?  51,720 words, 106 pages, of pure gold!  And by gold, I mean… well, not gold.

NaNoWriMo was an interesting experience for me this year, on a number of levels.  You see, last year, I had planned excessively for the novel I wrote.  As in, I had already tried writing it multiple times in the years prior (before I knew about NaNoWriMo); and then, once I signed up for the retreat in Oregon, I basically spent August, September, and October making sure my outlines and character profiles were perfect.  This resulted in me writing a despicably boring book, to me, because I knew everything that was going to happen, and all I had to do was write it out.  No room left for the spontaneity of flying by the ‘pants of my seat’, going with wherever would be exciting to write.

This year, I concluded that it was a horribly bad idea to do that to myself again.  I spent a total of maybe four or five days spread out over several weeks to come up with what I wanted in the novel, and basically left it at that.  The only extra planning I did came in little spurts of ideas that I would quickly jot down in my notebook so I could move on with life.

But as I wrote I still felt like I had planned too much.  I think this is because I felt like I had to stick with something; and that something was the little I had planned.  I ended up beginning the novel with no inciting incident other than, “It was a dark and stormy night, so I decided to go on an adventure.”  Wow, Jess.  Epic storytelling abilities for the win.

What made it harder to write the novel was the fact that during three of NaNoWriMo’s four weeks, I was travelling the country and visiting friends.  This, ladies and gentlemen, was not in the original NaNoWriMo plan; I made the decision to go a week before I peaced out of North Carolina.  And this would have been fine, but for an introvert like me, it is extremely difficult to concentrate and be creative when there is bustle all around, and people you like being with are doing funny and distracting things… and, frankly, you would actually like to visit with them since that is what you came to do in the first place.

After the rough start of the first week, I was basically able to concentrate to some degree or another; and then I finally got into the flow of writing in the third week.  This can be compared to running or swimming a long distance: the first couple of miles or first 500 yards are ridiculous and awful; and then you get in the flow, and you can just keep running or swimming forever, and it feels great.  And, after spending so many days behind on my word count (and even coming down with a killer virus over Thanksgiving weekend), I finished a day early with almost an extra 2,000 words tacked on to the end.

That is certainly not to say it is The Great American Novel.  It is more like The Great and Terrible Solid, Visual Form of Jessica’s Brain for the Month of November 2010.  It is all over the place.  It basically has no point.  It’s dramatic, hilarious, irrelevant, rambling, improbable, nonsensical, and certainly Not Like It Was Supposed to Go.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is I DID IT.

This is my second time doing NaNoWriMo; technically, my third, since I also tried to do my own NaNoWriMo challenge in June.  I did not make it to 50,000 words either of those times; in November, I made it to 47,000, and in June I made it to 43,000.   So, this is the first time I have ever made it to 50,000 words in the required time.  Needless to say, I feel extremely accomplished.  I danced around the house for the next few days… and now, looking back, I want to dance again.

So, folks, that is what I have been up to in my absence!  What about you?

And what’s next for me?  Well, getting caught up on blogging, first of all.  I have a few “Ask Jess” entries that will be popping up very soon in the future!  Then I’ll tell you about my 2011 plans… how’s that?

Happy Winter, everyone!