When I tell them that I was unschooled/homeschooled, people often ask me what I did all day. They want a detailed itinerary. They want to understand how it worked. The thing is, I can’t really remember that well. Mostly because days weren’t all the same. They weren’t structured neatly. They might sometimes start off structured and end up in the park with rollerblades. Or start off lazy and end up buried under a stack of astronomy books. Pretty much everything counted as learning. The major off-limits stuff was TV, Sweet Valley High books, and talking on the phone with friends. Napping was also out. And talking on the phone with friends was actually usually OK, as long as it didn’t continue for hours and hours.
As soon as I was old enough to form a cohesive plot, I started writing. Writing always counted. I could write for seven hours straight, and that would be a full day of successful unschooling. Before I was old enough to form a cohesive plot, mom helped me write in a journal every day. She pressed me to think of more expressive adjectives than “fun,” or “bad.” She suggested I try writing longer sentences. She checked my spelling. Every week she had my little brother and I memorize two poems and recite them to each other. I’m not sure why. Maybe she just liked poetry. We could pick any poems we wanted. He picked Shel Silverstein a lot. She also read books aloud to us every day. Historical fiction, text books, and novels. So there, that’s something we did every day. Although when I was a teenager I stopped hanging out while she read and went off to do other things on my own, like write.
(I’ll mention it soon. source)
Anyway, the point is that our lives were covered in words. We were rolling around in words. We were lining them up and throwing them around and putting them into long sentences that had creative adjectives in them. We tried not to say, “It was fun.” Then we said “It was fun” just to get on my mom’s nerves.
The other point is that I should really be a better writer now, as a result.
When people ask me what was the deal with all those days I spent as an unschooler, and I start to remember all of the writing, I’m kind of shocked. I was writing a book at twelve. It was called “Grandmother’s Journey,” and I referred to it as a “chapter book.” Because I was still distinguishing picture books from novels. The plot is vivid in my memory:
A girl named Maryah (I thought that was the most beautiful name in existence) finds a staircase in the middle of the forest. She climbs up it and enters another world, where she meets a shape shifter man who changes into a buck, a pack of friendly talking wolves, and an evil wizard who wants to take over the land. The story is in her voice, as she tells her granddaughter everything that happened. The granddaughter has never met her grandfather, but she has strange yellow eyes, a lot like the shape shifter…
I think the text fills several notebooks. I don’t know where they are, but I’m positive that if I find them, I will laugh a lot.
(these things defined my world. source)
And my brother Jake was working on his sprawling epic parody of “Lord of the Rings.” He was always writing parodies. All of his stuff was funny. He wrote James Bond spoofs and Star Wars spoofs, and later screenplays with my youngest brother Gabe, based on Star Trek, 300, Snakes on a Plane, The Matrix, and plenty more.
I took myself very seriously, so I was writing “The Gray Wars,” about a half-blood demon princess who has to face both sides of her family on the battleground.
And we read everything aloud to each other. I’d try to get two chapters done by morning, so I could read them to everyone at the table. I pushed myself to write ten pages at a time.
The person who I’m explaining my unschooled days to looks at me blankly for a moment and then says, “So you wrote fantasy books? About demon princesses?”
And I pause for a long time and then say, “Um. Yeah. Basically.”
“What did that teach you?”
“It taught me…” Should I go with “everything!” or “I have no idea”?
* * *
Wild fun list: Buy yourself flowers. Split the bouquet up and put it in glasses all over the house (/dorm room/apartment/shed/whatever)