What Would Mike Say?

A friend messaged me today out of the blue. She was in CELP when I was in Headwaters, in 2009. She said she was thinking of her next steps and asked “what would Mike do?” We exchanged a few messaged reminiscing about Mike’s mischievous ways, his smile, and sense of peace and optimism with life. It reminded her of the book Why is God Laughing? (because he gets the joke). It reminded me of the book The Music Lesson (where a music teacher, Mike, makes a journey out of the point of music). These connections to literature remind me of quote Paul pulled from Halfway Man about weaving landscape and narrative. I felt deeply moved by this brief conversation, and, naturally, it sparked a flurry of memories for me. I re-read the 2010 Pathways issue, Zocalo’s blog post from 2015, sifted through photos, only to arrive here, my own journey through writing.

I have to admit, I’ve never stopped to ask myself what a conversation with Mike might be like today. I have been so focused on finding my own mentors, carving my own journeys, and creating my own communities that I never really thought about what he’d have to say about it all. I feel like he’d probably tell me to have more fun.

“So… what’s in the news?” he’d say, with a smirk and arms outstretched, briefly, only lowered to pull one leg over the over and sit with his hands clasped. He’d wiggle his nose, blink, and then tilt his head to the side and wait for one of us to speak up.

Mike, the news right now is wild. I had to stop tuning in daily because it feels like a constant crisis. I think if you were here during this pandemic you’d be in full force to get people outside. More access to trails and rivers and trees, I’d think.

I wonder if you would have made a new trail somewhere in Arkell/Eden Mills since they are getting so busy. Perhaps maintain the popular ones. Or spend time in a tent somewhere.

I’m sure you’d have things to say about the whole stove-in-the-winter-tent issue that came up last year. Warmth, after all, was the point of a hot-tent.

You would not believe that the other day I told my friend about The Hero’s Journey. It came up naturally in conversation and I probably butchered the description. But the wild thing is that the next day she read about it in the book she’s reading. That prompted me to get the audiobook. I feel like you’d tell me to find a physical copy somewhere.

I returned home, Mike, 10 years after we embarked on our journey to The Source. But I’m still returning. I think that this is the fourth story that you told Paul hadn’t happened yet. It’s all your students returning home, in their own time. We trickle back, one by one, to visit the old places that were so sacred. Edgewood. The boathouse for ice cream. Your solo spot. Sacred places from sacred journeys.

I live by the river now, by the way. Close to the mill where we did our interview. Imagine I could interview you today?! You’d give me such fantastic prompts, challenges, and insights to wrestle with, I’m sure. You’d probably tell me to be a musician instead of a scholar. Music was important to you. I think you’d like the role of pedagogical consultant though. I get to mentor other people, hopefully. And I think you’d like what’s happening in early learning in terms of emergent curriculum, pedagogical documentation, and risky play. We would have some fascinating conversations.

I’ve learned so much wisdom from Paul, you know. He doesn’t carry your relationship lightly. He is moved, deeply, by his love for you. We all are.

“We were so in love with each other”. That rings in my ears from time to time. It’s something my friend said to me a year ago, at an Outdoor Ed conference, as we reminisced about you back then. That was the magic you created for us in your programs. It was beyond community and activism. It was poetry. It was belonging. It was transformational.

I wonder what you’d think of this blog and my writing. My songs. My presentations. My research. My work ethic. My break down a few years ago. I wonder if I would have ever attended COEO in 2020 or if it would have happened at a different time. I wonder if I would have never failed Uni Geography. I wonder if I would have gone to Queens. I wonder, if you had lived longer, when I would have returned home. I suspect it would have been so much later.

Noticing my own sense of wonder makes me proud. I feel like it would make you proud, too.

Your sense of wonder is one of the things that sustains me today. Alongside your hard work was your visionary style, compassionate leadership, and commitment to reflection and documentation. Reading your writing today demonstrates how deeply you had journeyed with your ideas. You showed us that at 17 we could get published, noticed even, if we journey to the source and offer something meaningful for our community. You showed us that we had the strength, ideas, and endurance to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems. You made us into the farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, partners, architects, teachers, nurses, and community partners we are today because, to you, were always those things.

Thank you for showing me the power of an authentic educator, father, lover, and community dweller.

Scared Journeys

“A turkey vulture!” I gushed, the bird surfing in the wind above the trees. “Uhh…that’s totally a seagull,” my friend said. “No way, it has that v-shape and a huge wingspan,” I mused in reverence with its majestic confidence. “Seagull, Kim.” said my friend, giving me the side-eye. “I love that we interrupt each other for nature.” she added with joyful grin. “Me too,” turning my attention back to her. “Anyway,” she continued, “my therapist has been discussing with me how in the dark night of the soul…”

My friend and I have been walking and talking together at least once a week for the past 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s one of my most meaningful connections I’ve had with another person. We live about 500 meters apart and we fell into a routine of calling each other up, meeting at the bridge, and walking along a path by the river.

What started out as me dragging her to the oldest and most intricate trails around has evolved, such that lately we walk a paved path, people-watch, and admire our local neighbourhoods. We started this ritual in winter months, with me reminding her to put on wool socks, to pull her hood on when she was cold, and to take her boots off in the car if her feet were wet. I would opt to hike the large wooded areas, just outside the city, with no sounds from traffic, and only the tracks of living beings and the chance to encounter a deer. These days though, it’s different. She has prompted me to tune in to urban nature. I now notice our various local bird species, the bloom of the magnolias that line our sidewalks, and when the dew sparkles in the light.

Our walks are also different because what started out as us discussing our individual journeys has become an intertwined adventure, inseparable in our shared decisions and knowledge. Together, our wisdom and experience reveals many answers to larger life questions than our mere individual perplexing puzzles. It’s a kind of intimacy that I cherish.

When she was discussing her dark night of the soul conversation with her therapist I was struck by how similar it sounded to the elements of The Hero’s Journey. This is a concept I am loosely familiar with from my time in a high school outdoor education program. I feel connected to honouring the processes of transformation, evolution, and regrowth. So I mentioned it to her in that moment. “This reminds me of the threshold to the ‘special world’ in the hero’s journey” I said. “Have you heard of if?” I wasn’t sure if this idea would land with her. It’s a bit mythical and not exactly something I imagine is aligned with a therapists’ scope of practice. I did my best to briefly explain. And then went back to listening to her describe her embrace and enter this dark and twisty part of herself. I followed along, closely, as much of what she said resonated with my experience seeing a psychiatrist 5 years ago. I knew some dark and twisty places, and felt I had returned home from them.

Today I woke up to a text from her saying that her favourite book, Sacred Contracts, discusses the hero’s journey. Ha! Of course it does. It makes perfect sense since she’s told me that it is about 7 archetypes. This was one of of the most powerful texts I’ve received from a friend. Not only had my comment landed, but how serendipitous that it was inherently tied to her own intimate reading journey.

Serendipity, I believe, is the result of deep listening: to our friends, to our mentors, and to ourselves. It’s a response that arises from listening to and following an instinct, or many instincts, that lead us to the same multi-dimensional space (theoretical or literal). I often describe how my “worlds collided” when I worked in a child care program that valued nature-based and arts-based pedagogy. Yes, a collision, in some ways, but also a decision, or rather many decisions, that brought the universe into alignment for me. The collision was within my mind/body when I realized that the world doesn’t operate in disciplines, industries, or silos in the way that we typical come to know it. Instead, I experienced a tiny explosion, a light bulb moment, a realization that all things in life are so very deeply connected. The symbiotic, interconnectedness that is the universe, ecosystems, and reciprocal relationships are all still such a mystery. But one to be trusted instead of scrutinized. What tender support comes from participating in, relying on, and contributing to this vast and expansive web of life, past, present, and future.

That text message shifted something in me this morning. I realized that for my friend and I, our inner worlds have collided too: my passion for embarking on journeys, spending time in nature, and being curious interlocked with her commitment to making authentic agreements, honouring her embodied knowledge, and avoiding poisons. Only together have we create our shared sacred journeys.

Lately I’ve been wondering if thriving in this life has to be complex as it is marketed to be. The constant self-help messaging from psychologists, mental health practitioners, education experts, neuroscientists, dieticians, economists, epidemiologists etc., make us into growth junkies. And while I spent years studying psychology, learning neuroscience and being baffled by biomedical science only to move on to social sciences, cultural studies, and humanities, I’m still not convinced the colonial structures of scientific rigour and research can capture the intersectional realities of our lives. I’ve both lost faith and moved beyond science, if that is possible, only to return to a simplified understanding, one of story and art. At the end of the day, I feel like our experiences have already been reflected back to us through stories and art (of all types), and that these modes of creation are far more complex and sophisticated than any science. Conversation, intuition, and faith in sacred journeys, are the things that move us and heal our soul wounds within our human experience.

More likely, and yet again, maybe it’s a both/and (of medical intervention and relational connection).

The Journey(s)

A few weeks ago I attended what I have been calling the 10 year acknowledgement of my family friend/teacher/beloved community member’s passing. Many people in Guelph knew Mike Elrick either through the education system, his family, or his tendency to build community and connections. I was fortunate enough to be in his last class of students prior to his illness, and I truly believe it had taken me 10 years to heal, reflect, and grow from the lessons I learned from and with Mike.

It was leading up to this 10 year event that I had an epiphany. Bare with my attempt at an explanation…

I was preparing to play some music for a small crowd at Centennial CVI where Mike used to teach, and I hadn’t really touched my guitar in the past ten years. ‘Quickly’ learning some folk songs took longer than it used to. But I got the hang of it. It was during this preparation that I started to really question why I hadn’t been keen to play my guitar since the summer I went tree planting. Where did my passion for music and song writing go? I used to scribble lyrics and chords on any scrap piece of paper, and obsess over new songs until I could play them. I owe some of this change to my mental health and my journey from clinical illness to healthy recovery. Now that I have lots of structure in my life, managed stress, and effective sleep, the thrill of song writing and mid-night jam sessions sunk lower and lower on my priority list. I didn’t get the same kind of rush as I used to. Nevertheless, I thought beyond this. There was something deeper going on with my aversion to my guitar and I wanted to know why.

Thinking back over the past 10 years, I have changed in very fundamental ways (who hasn’t?). But seriously. And I use the ‘changed’ intentionally – it was as if I evolved and morphed into different identities and sampled different lifestyles. Over time I’ve been many versions of myself. At 25, suddenly, mental illness stripped all of these identities away from me. I was a sluggish, confused, cognitively-impaired insomniac; sedated, and feeling incapable of doing more than a part-time retail job. This break in my life was the biggest blessing in disguise because it gave me access to treatment that I needed, and it also let me hit a reset button. At 25, mid-way through these 10 years, I realized that I didn’t like the path that I had ended up on. So I made the hard choice of going back to school part time, while living at home, being heavily medicated, without a car, and working part-time across the city. I walked everywhere, and I regularly cooked my own food and lugged it with me because I had no money to buy meals in between work and school. I didn’t have money for hobbies either. This meant I ate well, I moved, and I thought – a lot. It also meant all my hair grew back; long and thick, my cognitive abilities returned, my attention rekindled, my anxiety settled, and my sleep became regular. Once I was enrolled in school full-time and sought some studying-life balance, I started to pick up hobbies again. But not the way I did before where I darted from one to another with frivolous and intolerant impulsivity – but all at once and rooted in genuine desire and intent. Slowly and then suddenly I was once again singing, doing yoga, taking pictures, crafting, sewing, hiking, biking, working with children, volunteering, advocating, cooking for fun, camping… playing guitar, and even learning piano. It felt like recovery let me access and integrate all of these skills and passions so that this synthesized and expressive, relaxed, calm, assertive woman could emerge. All the past girls that I had been were all still within me, and content. And that is when I had the epiphany.

Mike had used a metaphor when designing our outdoor education course. He called it Headwaters because the course was a journey to the source of our food, water, and selves; to the intersection of living, being, and becoming while gathering and connecting with others; a journey to the peak and pinnacle of our learning and then the return journey home to bring and share this new knowledge. It was an experience, an example, and a pre-life prep trip for the journeys we would continue to take both away from and returning to home. What I realized in recalling his teachings was that maybe I was thinking about these past 10 ten years inaccurately. Rather than evolving or wandering aimlessly through these past version of me, tainted with mental illness, what if, instead, I had responded to every opportunity that beckoned me…what if I had gone on 10 years worth of journeys and had finally returned home with all of my new knowledge, experience, and skills integrated? What if I was the same person, but with rich travel stories and life lessons after participating in every call to adventure that I could manage? What if, instead of describing my past with different patterns, cycles of (un)health, personality evolution, and linear growth spurts, I could reimagine my story as a re-birth; a Phoenix-like return and re-emergence after fundamentally exhaustive, reflective, and challenging experiences? I like that better. And I know Mike would too.

I was lucky, and I am extremely privileged. My experience with mental illness could have led me to a different place in life, or could have held me hostage in one of those previous ‘versions’ of myself. Instead (and after 10+ years of self-advocating), I am the woman I always knew I always was but was not quite ready to ‘be’.

The advantage of this new perspective on my past is that it gives me permission to think about my future in a similar way: rather than being afraid of more changes, or returning symptoms, or of re-awakening either manic pixie dream girl or stressed, depressed smoker, what if I could instead prepare for my next possible journey? Restoring hope in my ability to move through more self-development and growth with the intention of returning ‘home’ is one that keeps me grounded and optimistic. On a painting I made on 2012 my younger self wrote ‘trust the journey’. Little did I (consciously) know how necessary this trust was to my growth and recovery after that dark time. Never did I imagine a journey taking 10 years, or that it would take so long for the self-reflection process to occur; nevertheless, this realization solidifies my faith that the metaphor of a journey of learning/growth can be quite literal for many young adults.

Why a blog?

I have hosted several blogs in my lifetime already, and yet none of them fully encompassed or integrated my passions and musings. As a multifaceted, deeply-reflective woman, I wanted a place to share and synthesize these reflections. Some past blog topics have included: personal mental health and chronic health-related disclosure and advocacy, my journey as a mature (undergraduate) student, reflections from my practice as an early childhood educator in training, and eco-friendly lifestyle tips. Emerging on my third decade, however, I realized that many of my thoughts and hobbies were related, and sharing them together might make sense. As I evolve and self-reflect I wanted a place to share my experience. Further, as an aspiring researcher, having a one-stop shop for my work seemed wise. Enjoy!

Follow my journey…

My insights, critical conclusions, and frustrations with early childhood education and care in Canada.

Our task is to help children communicate with the world using all their potential, strengths, and languages, and to overcome the obstacle presented by our culture.

— Loris Malaguzzi

I just wanted to introduce myself to anyone who is reading this – and say thank you! My name is Kim (she/her) and I am Registered Early Childhood Educator, Masters of Science student at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, and passionate sister, friend, daughter, skier, and cat-parent. I am known to occasionally do a back-country canoe trip or two as well. I completed a BSc in Psychology, and two years later, chose to complete a BASc in Child, Youth, and Family in order to register as an ECE. Prior to this, I have worked as a respite provider, inclusion counsellor, day camp director, emergency supply teacher, research assistant, tutor, outdoor education facilitator, and administrative assistant. I have volunteered in a speech and language pathology clinic, childcare and learning centre, classrooms, as an experiential learner in research, and as a graphic designer. I travelled in my teens and early 20s to Kenya, Australia, Europe, and the UK, but Guelph has been my steady home for my whole life. As a researcher I am investigating Ontario educator’s well-being, and as an educator I am learning how to instruct and give feedback at the post-secondary education level.

I created this blog because I have begun to engage in multiple reflective practices, and I wanted to start to share some of my insights regarding ECEC in Canada. Learning and growing with children has given me a deep sense of purpose and meaning in my life. Learning about what is meaningful for child development, various pedagogical approaches, and how to be a co-learner is something I am deeply curious about. As I learn the best practices for working with young children and how the administration of programs for children, social policies, and political climate affects children, I wanted to document my most valuable insights surrounding early childhood care and education. This blog started in the fall of 2019 for my course FRHD*4210 . I occasionally document my insights and attempt to pose interesting questions, ideas, or considerations for any readers. This blog is how I plan to contribute to advocacy for and the professional recognition of the ECEC sector, as well as keep a pulse on the ways in which my thinking and practice has been transformed as I engage in my lifelong learning processes.