Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Epilogue: 3 Months Later

Today is Yom Kippur: a day to slow down, reflect, atone. After services last night, we drove up to the yurt for a day away from school and work, back to our home away from home.

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write with some of the perspective gained from our re-entry. Understandably, the most common question I get regarding our time away is: “what is it like to be back?” In short, it feels good. We’ve established and cultivated our roots for the past 16+ years in San Rafael for many reasons! We have deep family ties, meaningful work, a wonderful community, a sweet home, access to great culture, geography, history, weather. While I miss the freedoms of last year, it has not been hard to come home.

Of course, last year has had an impact. While I can’t speak for all of us, it is my observation that we are all changed from our experience last year. I believe the kids have a heightened appreciation for time and place. Having been away for a year, they seem to actively appreciate school, their friends, and their free time in a more complete way than before. A challenge is remembering to appreciate the family and home, too—not just take it for granted having been so easily present with each other all of last year.

Juliana may be taking the transition hardest as she craves more of the literal and figurative space we had. It can be hard to carve that out in busy lives and on small pieces of suburban land. But it can be done. We’ve transformed most of our San Rafael yard to garden and we continue to be regular visitors to the yurt and its surrounds.

I am happy to be home. I get to see my people so much more (with the exception of my immediate family). I can ride my bike from place to place, the kids can be more independent, there is more opportunity to play ultimate. The transition back to work has been mostly painless so far. I enjoy my colleagues and students and I am passionate about what I teach.

Nevertheless, I do feel somewhat different at work: more relaxed, I suppose. I have steadily been moving that direction over my career as I have amassed a growing arsenal of experience and become more and more fluent with my craft. But returning this year I have felt a subtle, though noticeable shift. I attribute it to a new perspective gained as a homeschool teacher. As homeschoolers, we learned all the time—even without a specific regimen. The challenge was simply being open to it where we were.

In the school setting, learning can feel different. The routine is so defined and there are so many learners that there isn’t the same freedom to be independent and open to learning as it comes. The focus often shifts to the nuts and bolts of the process. Students and teachers alike get caught up in the routines more than the end goal: filling out the worksheet instead of learning the concepts, for example. While completing worksheets can be important, it is not ultimately the goal. I’ve known this a long time and have always held to the educational philosophy: “make learning REAL.” I design my curriculum with that in mind. But his year I notice a slight shift. Instead of “making learning real”, my focus has become: “learn”.   It is a subtle, hardly noticeable change, but it feels important. I hope it will stay with me. I think it makes me a better teacher.

In addition to the wonderful memories, one of the lasting gifts of the past year has been the opportunity to look at our lives from a different vantage point. That perspective is so incredibly meaningful. It gives freedom, too. When I am surrounded by a busy Saturday of soccer games, a stack of laboratory reports to grade, or other craziness, I am pausing to recognize to moment; to see this is where I have chosen to be. I am striving to be brave enough to make changes if it is not where I want to be.

Having had more literal freedom last year, I feel as though I have a recalibrated barometer with which to assess and remind myself how I am. I hope it stays with me. When its clarity fades, I will continue to seek opportunities to reexamine my living; to stop to smell the roses. I hope you will find ways to do that as well. The roses smell good!

Over the summer I wrote a new song which I am happy to play live on request. It was written and is sung in the flavor of Flight of the Conchords.

Livin’ in a Yurt

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may wonder what I do there.
I’ll tell you ‘cause I like to share.

We usually eat
Something fermented for dinner.
Out in the chicken coop
We’re looking for a winner.
Everyone is knitting
Right where they’re sitting.
Out in the garden
The weeding is starting,
But use only your hands.
‘Cause at the yurt, all’s organic lands.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a tent?”
I tell them: “No it isn’t.”

Compost my trash,
Subsist on heirloom,
To minimize our footprint,
The children share a room.
Crap in a bucket,
Cloth on a loom,
Get a mycologist,
To find and gather a mushroom.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a teepee?”
I tell them: “No, I can’t take it with me.”

Dry clothes sustainably,
Odor my pits with patchouli,
Commune with a duck,
Drive a big ol’ truck,
But to minimize the irony,
I do it only periodically.

I found myself livin’in a yurt.
I eat goat milk ice cream for dessert.
It’s a round house, yeah.
It’s not canvas, no. (Why do you keep asking that?)
It’s a wood cabin, man!
Why so obstinate, damn?

I drive the streets in a Prius:
Rural town, no subway or bus.
Maybe I’ll dig a sweat lodge,
Built a barn with lumber hodge-podge.
Kids in 4H,
Sewin’ a skirt.
That’s just me,
Livin’ in a yurt.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may have wondered what I do there.
I’ll told you ‘cause I like to share.
Well-fed, crafty, alert,
Livin’ in a yurt.

from the Stewyurt on Yom Kippur, September 26, 2012


  1. I am thankful for the update, Joe. As I have told Julianna, the bravery and forethought you all showed in your year "away" really inspired me. We have been in Portland for five weeks and while I am struggling to accept the harder moments of this transition, I truly feel like our bravery leaving that rat race of Los Angeles is bearing great fruit, with a slower life and a chance at a saner pace for our kids. Much love to all, give that beautiful wife a kiss for me.

    XOXO Jane

    1. Good to hear from you (and know someone is checking in on the blog). Congratulations on your move. May it bring healing and may the struggles diminish. We have some very good friends there--let me know if you'd like to be in touch.

  2. It may be a sign of age, but now, when I suddenly feel a bit of panic about what I should be doing vs. what I am doing, I just stop and this what I want to be doing with in this moment. If the answer is yes, I let my worry about other things go; if the answer is no, i drop what I'm dong and move on. Sometimes what I'm doing is sitting in the sun on a cool day, reading in the middle of the afternoon (still rare but working on that). It took me a lot longer to learn the lessons you talk about; I'm happy that you have such a start on understand that this time is very special and we should try and be aware of how we're spending it.
    Enjoy your posts.

  3. I love that, Mary, Thank you.