Passions and Wonder after Goddard: A Conversation with IMA alum Kelly Johnson (‘12)

Kelly Johnson doing some nature journaling

Kelly Johnson doing some nature journaling

I met Kelly Johnson on my first day at Goddard in February 2012. It was her last semester in the Individualized MA program and we were in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s advising group together. We immediately became friends after figuring out that we both came from DIY punk backgrounds and even shared some mutual friends. Kelly graduated that August after simultaneously writing a masters thesis and publishing a book called Wings, Worms, and Wonder: A Guide for Creatively Integrating Gardening and Outdoor Learning. Since Goddard, Kelly quit her day job and has transformed Wings, Worms, and Wonder into an independent business fusing education, nature, art, and gardening through a number of exciting projects. As a more recent Goddard grad struggling to figure out what I’m doing with my life now, I thought it would be interesting to talk with Kelly about the challenges and joys of going this autonomous route; of truly following her passions and trying to make the world a better place in the process.  —  Matthew Dineen, IMA ’14

Matthew Dineen: Hi Kelly, can you talk about your post-Goddard journey? How have your experiences pursuing this independent project over the past couple years compared to your original vision of life after grad school? Tell me about the challenges and rewards you’ve encountered along the way.

Kelly Johnson: When I began the IMA Environmental Studies program, I honestly had no vision of what life after grad school would be like. I knew I wanted to write a book on gardening with children, but at the start I didn’t know I wouldn’t want to go back to classroom teaching full time. Like I do most things, I jumped into grad school head first with no idea what it would entail. I didn’t even know you had to write papers! I went to art school for undergrad and we never wrote papers. As long as you could talk about your work and give presentations you were set. So the whole paper writing thing threw me for a loop at that first residency–which seems so funny to me now that I have written a thesis, 4 books, bunches of articles, and countless blog posts.

Post-Goddard has been a fantastic and challenging (in a good way) journey. I was so incredibly prepared for my first year out as far as the launch, tour, and speaking events for my book Wings, Worms, and Wonder because, as an appendix to my thesis, I was advised to create a clear plan of what I was going to do with the book. In true Deweian fashion I was asked something to the effect of: “Anyone can write a book, but how is it going to help the world?”

In between teaching workshops, prepping for speaking events and tours, writing articles, and learning how to run a website and blog, over the past two years I’ve spent a large amount of time learning about running a creative business and marketing my talents. That endeavor has been both fun and frustrating because it is so far from my knowledge base. Goddard’s independent learning style gave me a perfect understanding of how to take on this new field of study! I reflected on the models set up by my friends who run indie record labels and art businesses and read books on “right brained business” and modified my approach from those models.

At the risk of boasting, when I think about all that I have achieved in the past two years it blows my mind and it never would have happened without Goddard. I went from being a Montessori elementary teacher in a tiny town to sustainably publishing my own book and winning a national book award! I have spoken at multiple international conferences; been on book tours; had articles published in international print and online magazines and journals; got a publisher for my children’s books; got distributors for Wings; taught university courses; developed, facilitated, and consulted on multiple children’s garden programs around the country. I own and run a socially and environmentally responsible business, and even had dinner with Richard Louv where he chatted me up about my book and self publishing experience. Crazy!

I am confident that being guided by my thesis advisor to create a clear year one action plan, combined with not really knowing what I was doing which prompted me to take unknown risks, following a punk rock DIY ethic, and drawing help from my community of creative friends is how I actualized these successes. BUT…capitalistic conditioning dies hard. There is still a nagging little problem that casts a sometimes subtle and sometimes dark shadow over all these amazing achievements: Financial success.

As incredibly rewarding as all these achievements are, I have not reached a level of financial success that allows me to simply meet my needs. I have learned that just because you work seven days a week and pour every ounce of creative soul into a project, it may not bring home the tofu and you may not be able to pinpoint why. When the bills pile up and your savings account is empty the day comes when you have to make the decision of how, or if, you can keep going. This day is now, and I was not prepared for it.

I pretty much ignored the financial health of my business for two years and only focused on the less tangible more glamorous successes, which made me feel great, until I was hungry and couldn’t pay my mortgage. I have had to take a careful look at my relationship with money and providing services. Money isn’t inherently evil as often touted. Charging enough for your work so that you make enough to buy food and pay your bills isn’t being greedy. The theme of creatives and radicals struggling with money relationships is so common it’s cliche, but it continues to happen. If you can’t meet your needs, you can’t do the work. Learn to embrace a healthy relationship with money and never devalue the work you are doing by feeling like you aren’t worth the price. You are and the work we Goddard grads do is important. This is the lesson I am currently working on learning.

So I’m getting creative, tuning out the business advice, tightening my belt, and drawing inspiration from my DIY community. I’m planting seeds in broader venues and trusting the process. I’m not giving up because in every workshop, consultation, and thank you from a book buyer, I see how my work helps and inspires people to build strong relationships with nature, grow fresh foods, and keep their senses of wonder sparked. It’s tough to survive while trailblazing, but in my experience that’s often where Goddard grads are found – making the world a better place for people and planet!

MD: Well, this great work you have dedicated yourself to over the past two years has

Matthew Dineen

Matthew Dineen

definitely been an inspiration to me. But yeah, I know the realities of capitalist society complicate how sustainable it can be. In my thesis I studied the challenges that artists and activists face in balancing meaningful work and livelihood, of actualizing our dreams and affecting change. My conclusion argues that it is important to get together with others and work collectively–or at least remain connected to communities like the ones you mentioned–in order to make it happen. But now that I have graduated and am struggling to figure out what my next plan is, I’m still oriented toward traditional, solitary “job-hunting” to solve those personal financial issues you describe. I still want to do my own thing though, to enjoy the independence and creative control that you have been able to practice. Do you think you will be able to sustain your current path? Or do you see yourself returning to teaching, or other work, eventually?

KJ: It is so hard to not feel alone when it comes to “job-hunting” and money. I feel a guilt if I even talk about money issues with others, like that is my problem to deal with silently. Rugged individualism conditioning residue dies hard. It’s tough for sure to shake it. I agree with you that it is so important to get together and work collectively. It is an ideal situation when the group gels. I have lived and served in both established highly successful and disorganized communal/collective settings, They were great and I hope to again in the future. I have found in each instance, though, there came a time when individual money was necessary for something or other. In my experiences that is why people move on and get outside jobs. It really just depends on how the collective is set up. Aligned structure and foresight to future needs, and non-judgement are important lessons I learned for communal living.

I’ve been doing a bit of traditional “job hunting” myself this past week, looking to make some quick cash as a seasonal worker and it is weird. I haven’t done this in a decade. They drug test you before you know if you are hired. You fill out ridiculously long and silly employability tests. I never had to do this before. I think that it will be hilarious if I don’t pass the math on the tests. Smart enough for a master’s degree, but entirely not hireable! It might be a compliment! I may or may not be qualified to sell you poinsettias this holiday season, but I can teach your children and run my own business. We’ll see.

As far as the long term and a return to teaching, I love teaching and at times miss it, so maybe. It would have to be the right situation though – like to move out of the states. I don’t think I’d go back to full time teaching in my current location. I would however, definitely consider a position as a nature-study teacher or full-time school garden educator if that type of position was to become recognized, validated, and created down here. I have continued to substitute,  have some ideas for creative tutoring, and there is always painting murals I could fall back on – all of which allow me the time to continue the work I am doing now. I am even starting to look into PhD programs so I’m interested to see how this will all pan out myself! I just keep working, keep putting myself out there, and keep being the best I can be and serve the work of connecting humans to their natural world through the arts and gardening. If it’s meant to be I will know. Revolutions aren’t started on full stomachs!

MD: That’s true! I recently started researching PhD programs too, which was fun to fantasize about and to just take a break from researching job openings. When people ask me what kind of job I’m looking for I don’t know how to honestly respond. But sometimes, if I’m feeling sassy, I’ll say: I’m looking for a world without jobs. I want a world where everyone has access to meaningful and empowering work. And also, yes, a world where we are not alienated from each other because of money. People also have asked me if I want to teach. I don’t have any formal teaching experience, but I think that is something I would like to do eventually. Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything coming up with Wings, Worms, and Wonder that you’d like to share?

KJ: So true! Researching and fantasizing going deeper into the field you study and love is really fun and a nice break from researching where the next chunk of cash will come from. In the commencement speech Mumia said, “Your job isn’t how to get a job, it’s to make a difference…take what you know and apply it to the real world.” I love that validation. It goes perfectly with how I feel about purposeful work and what you sassily say about everyone having access to meaningful and empowering work. Maria Montessori also stresses the importance of this idea as well, and how through developmentally appropriate purposeful work at all stages of life we discover our roles in our world and we find fulfillment. That is the essence of it for me. I want to live a life of hard work that makes you happy, healthy, tired, and at the end of the day you leave the world and its inhabitants a little better than you found it that morning. How that is accomplished and the roles we discover may change everyday, and some days may not turn out the way we plan. But I will keep “trusting the process” and not giving in to a system that sets us up for financial failure if we want to follow our passions or compromise if we don’t.

Yes, there are some exciting things coming up with Wings, Worms, and Wonder! I have 2 non-fiction children’s books coming out through Star Bright Books, a few more garden education resource digital products on the horizon, and a self-paced course called “Let’s Build a Garden” where through videos and PDF Action Plans I walk you through every step and stage of building a 4×8 garden bed that I plan to release in January 2015. I’m about to release new themed teacher education workshops where I teach teachers how use a school garden to meet every K-12 writing standard and a couple new books for adults have been brewing in the back of my mind that I hope to get out this year. I’ve also been venturing into the world of art journaling by bringing nature journaling into that world through blog contributions and a few workshops, so I am excited to see how that sprouts. And of course there are my regular children’s garden workshops that are always the best!

Still the decision of when/if to go back to school is in the forefront of my mind for many reasons. It sure would be easy if Goddard opened up a PhD program, then we could go back together. You would be a great teacher! The best ones don’t have formal experience. Maria Montessori preferred her teachers not have teaching experience or traditional education degrees because she would have to untrain them!

Learn more about all of Kelly’s projects at: http://www.wingswormsandwonder.com/

Matthew Dineen is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, and a proud Goddard graduate. Contact him at: matthew.dineen [at] goddard.edu

Posted in Cultural & Cross-Cultural Studies, Environmental, Sustainability & Place Studies, Progressive Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Journey To and Beyond Goddard with Mumia Abu-Jamal

Visit Goddard’s Plainfield campus and listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal talk about the value of progressive education, social change, and being the change you advocate in the world. This slideshow was produced by director and filmmaker Stephen Vittoria, whose documentary “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal” was released in 2012, in collaboration with Dustin Byerly, Associate Director of Advancement & Alumni Affairs at Goddard College. The prerecorded speech by Mumia Abu-Jamal (BA ’96) was played alongside this slideshow for the Undergradaute Program’s commencement on October 5, 2014 at the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College.

Posted in Activism, African-American Studies, Economics, Identity, Progressive Education, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Susan Sakash: Cultivating a Solidarity Economy Within the New Orleans Local Food Systems

9636672209_d5b859de9f_zI came to Goddard knowing that I wanted to study alternative economies. After a decade working in non-profit fund development, I wanted to figure out how to shift these skills and tools towards developing democratic strategies for building community wealth that challenge, rather than reinforce, the inequities of a capitalist system. Though my studies have taken many paths, the overarching drive behind my Goddard studies is to step up my commitment to doing whatever I can, on a individual and community level, to put pressure on the fissures opening within the decaying system of neo-liberal capitalism by lifting up and making visible post-capitalist relationships and exchanges that are happening everywhere, in both highly visible and less noticed ways. A tall order for sure, but one which Goddard has encouraged, challenged and helped me focus!

This semester I am diving deep into new territories even as I also round out some of the alternative economies research I started in G2. Specifically this semester I have been immersing myself in the writings of popular educators, critical pedagogues, and participatory action researchers to understand how these liberatory practices have spurred and activated social change and community self-determination particularly within marginalized communities in the U.S. South.  By tracing the ways that the roots of institutionalized racism are intertwined with inequity in our schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces, these practices empower people to create community-based solutions and advocate for change.

The tools and strategies of critical pedagogy and popular education models speak to me as a kind of community-envisioned and enacted social innovation and one which I believe can be employed to move forward developments within what is being called the solidarity economy, particularly as it plays out in the local food system here in New Orleans. Inclusivity and attention to race and class-based inequity are essential to creating a truly just and sustainable local food system in this city AND to ensuring that the new New Orleans is one that all New Orleans has had a hand in making.

Towards that end, I am particularly interested in the role of youth, and particularly young people of color, in defining what the solidarity economy looks like here in New Orleans. Do young people resonate with the language that has been developed by proponents of the solidarity economy framework as it currently exists in the U.S.?  If not, what are the words, phrases and images they would use to describe the kind of economic future they envision as workers and leaders?  What does meaningful work look like here in New Orleans and how does the local food sector (and the New Orleans food and culture tourist economy as a whole) need to shift to ensure young people have a place at the table?

Towards that end, part of my thesis will be a toolkit of workshop modules and strategies 7938512512_cd14f3909a_zfor young people and their mentors to use as they develop their economic identities within, and visions for, a local food system reoriented towards principles and practices that value people and our planet over profit.  This semester I am collaborating with the Grow Dat Youth Farm, a four-year old organization that nurtures young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food on a four acre urban farm in New Orleans’ City Park (www.growdatyouthfarm.org). Part of our collaboration entails the creation and facilitation of a series of workshops for their leadership program and staff professional development.  And as important, these workshops will advance the organization’s goals of deepening young peoples’ knowledge of personal financial literacy, the history of cooperativism and mutual aid as a form of community resistance and self-determination in the South, and access to employment and leadership opportunities in the growing local food movement in New Orleans.

As a newcomer to New Orleans, I am continually blown away by the long and rich legacy of community efforts to build and rebuild the parts of this city that are broken thanks to the equally long legacy of institutionalized racism.  Every day I read or hear of how people have come together through story circles, street performance, alternative economic exchange, and creative protest to share knowledge, resist oppression, and offer scaled solutions.  Every day I feel motivated to seek out these moments and instances of hope and add my efforts to the mix to counter the steady stream of social entrepreneurial (yet ultimately still capitalist) rhetoric and urban redevelopment planning papers that threaten to widen the gap of haves and havenots all in the name of progress and rebuilding. These simultaneous, contradictory messages are maddening as much as they are motivating; I can’t help but use these on-the- ground, daily lessons to inform my perspectives on social innovation and sustainability.

susan2008Being in the inaugural class of the MA Social Innovation and Sustainability program gives me the opportunity to help shape the framework and definitions that will define the kinds of students and studies in years to come. At the same time, being in residency with folks from Health Arts and Sciences, Transformative language Arts and Consciousness Studies, allows my thinking to be pushed even further as I strive to incorporate embodiment and performance studies, as well as community trauma recovery, into my understanding of economics and system change. For every moment that I wish I was being given more outside direction, there is a companion moment in which I deeply appreciate the freedom I have been given to explore the totality of the pressing issues that we face as a society.

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Elizabeth Minnich and the Academic Rigor of Creating Your Own Program

Elizabeth Minnich, author of Transforming Knowledge, one of the most important and influential books about knowledge, ethics, politics and power, recently served as the external reviewer for the Individualized MA program. Minnich is Core Professor at the Graduate College for Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, The Union Institute and University, and she has spoken and consulted with colleges and universities worldwide on developing more inclusive curricula. Here’s what she had to say about Goddard’s IMA program:

Elizabeth MinnichI believe the IMA faculty and the students together honor the idea of “academic rigor” intelligently and may more often exceed than slight requirements because, creating their own programs, they know more about them than those in prescribed programs whose guidelines, etc., can simply be followed… I heard telling descriptions from students of work above and beyond any most faculty would dream of assigning.

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Transformative Language Arts in Action: A New Book, a New Partnership, a New Journal, and an Annual Conference

Ruth and Caryn at Goddard

Ruth and Caryn at Goddard

In 2000, Goddard College launched the only MA program in Transformative Language Arts (TLA) in the country, and as the program hits its teenage years, TLA is spreading its wings through a new partnership, book, journal, and new growth in its annual conference.

Transformative Language-1cTransformative Language Arts in Action, being published by Littlefield and Rowan at the end of 2014, is edited by GGI Program Director Ruth Farmer and TLA founder and coordinator Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. The anthology features essays on TLA by Goddard faculty, students, alumni, and others outside of the college who resonate with TLA, including Jim Sparrell (faculty), Mirriam-Goldberg (faculty), Farmer (program director), Ezra Nepon Berkley (alumni), Brian W. Sunset (alumni), Yvette Hyater-Adams (alumni), Callid Keefe-Perry, and Juliana Borrero (alumni), plus “snapshots” of people making a living and a life from TLA.

Goddard College has also signed a formal partnership with the not-for-profit TLA Network, which will provide scholarship assistance to all starting Goddard students, in any program the college offers, who have completed the new TLA Certification offered by the TLA Network. The certification would benefit prospective or current students, and alumni ready for more community and livelihood opportunities and direction.

UntitledThe  TLA Network just launched the first professional/artistic/practitioner journal, Chrysalis: A Journal of Transformative Language Arts, which is now available in colleges, universities, and libraries around the world. The journal features articles on TLA scholarship, creative TLA work, and narratives on TLA in the community. The new journal is edited by MA-TLA graduate, writer and mother Amber Ellis.

Closing Circle at the conference

Closing Circle at the conference

Finally, the college was well-represented at the 11th annual Power of Words conference, a project of the TLA Network that started at Goddard College in 2003. Ruth Farmer, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and a host of TLA students and alumni were part of the over 100 people who gathered Sept. 19-21 in Kansas City. The college sponsored a Discover Goddard reception at the event that brought together storytellers, spoken word artists, activists, writers, playwrights and performers, drama therapists and poetry therapists, singers and songwriters, community leaders and educators, and health professionals. The 2015 conference — featuring writer Jimmy Santiago Baca, playwright Darren Canady, spoken word artists Sha Cage and E.G. Bailey, and poet and activist Xanath Caraza — will be held Sept. 18-20, 2015 at Unity Village in Kansas City, MO.

Posted in journal-Writing, Memoir, Life Writing & Autobiography, Music, Mythology & the Oral Tradition, Narrative Medicine, Narrative Therapy, Poetry, Poetry Therapy, Power of Words Conference, Theater, Drama & Playwriting, Transformative Language Arts, Transforming Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lindiwe Priscilla Krasin: An Idealogy of the Flesh, Art History, and the Middle East

Lindiwe KrasinMy name is Lindiwe Priscilla Krasin.  I am in the Individualized MA program.  I am a woman of color. I am an ex-sexworker and I belong ideologically to the revolutionary left.  I was born in Gaborone, Botswana in 1976 into a mixed race household.  I was educated in the Sudan, Kenya, Lesotho and the United States.  I have two children at home who may be seen on campus running around with their big afros during residency.  The three of us are Team Krasin.  I also have a son who lives in Massachusetts with his papa.  He is a man now.  His name is Mujaheed which means holy warrior in Arabic.  He was born after my first year of college.  I have been a mother for a long time.  That is why I came to Goddard, because I can be a mom and still go to school.  Now that I have done Goddard I really wish that my son would apply to the BA program.  It would change his life and give him wings.  Wings?  Yes, that is correct.  I said WINGS.  Goddard is a place where human beings build them, sometimes from scratch if need be.

My academic discoveries at Goddard have been beyond fun.  Ecstatic is a better word.  Learning at Goddard has been an amazing experience.  GODDARD IS FREEDOM.  You can study whatever you want.  If all you care about is 16th century Italian shoes they will help you to find a way to specialize in just that, adding other stuff in along the way as is appropriate for attaining a college degree. I did my first semester on the art history of the modern and contemporary Middle East.  I covered the history of art in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and a little bit on Saudi Arabia, namely learning about public art in Jeddah. In my second semester I studied human rights and Palestinian art.   I studied depictions of prostitutes, GLTBQ and nudes in modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art.  As I result I also had to study gender and sexual constructs from the region and Arab modernist theories/treatments of sex and sexuality.  I am doing my thesis on the concepts of the center and the margins in relation to depictions of prostitutes, GLTBQ and nudes in modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art.

While at Goddard I have developed what I call An Ideology of the Flesh.  I have taken all of my life knowledge and studies and applied them to both life itself and aesthetics.  My Ideology of the Flesh posits the sexual aesthetic as being one of the most important life giving things a person can do to keep their everyday life full of both adventure and joy.  I see sex appeal/the sex appeal aesthetic as something that is capable of healing a person and society.  I believe that people who are sexy on purpose by ideology and action–like myself—improve the world and channel the energy of all creation into the human body/soul recreating the very big-bang of the universe creating itself in the self every single day.  I really believe this stuff.  I live by it, I teach it when asked and it is what I plan on standing by until that day that I leave this earth.

So, what is the Goddard work/paradigm useful for in life?  The answer is EVERYTHING, everything, every single thing.  Goddard does not just educate students, it changes lives.  I used the holistic Goddard philosophy of creating a degree that incorporates who each of us is and what we study to create a business that is a direct offshoot of my life, my studies and my passions. My business is called Sex & Safari.  I use the sex appeal aesthetic to sell art, culture, style, human rights and nature conservation.  Sex & Safari’s first event is a public photograph exhibit called The Sexiest Women in Maine in Biddeford in January 2015.  You can learn more about it at www.sexandsafari.com.

Posted in Activism, Embodiment Studies & Body Image, Sexuality & Erotic Studies, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Willa Conway: Cross-Class Giving Circles Bring Greater Justice to Philanthropy

photoI came to Goddard with a loose idea of what I was interested in: racial justice, philanthropy, healing, radical love, and James Baldwin. It makes me smile looking at those disparate ideas now, as those ideas continue to be strong elements in my developing project and vision for my work, they are just a bit more refines. My time at Goddard has helped me develop me ideas into a specific project investigating the intersection of racial violence and wealth accumulation and the ways that philanthropic giving can be used as a way to heal the generational wounds that create and perpetuate inequality.

I live in New Orleans, and my project brings a particular eye to place in terms of history, race, and class nationally and in the South particularly. At the beginning of next year, I will be launching a cross-class giving circle in New Orleans, which gives people of different economic means a chance to pool financial resources and make decisions as a collective about where resources should go. Cross-class giving circles are emerging across the country as a way to address the inequity in wealth, and thus philanthropic dollars. Giving away money collectively is part of a year-long process which begins with political education and community building which centers around self-examination so that we can learn together how unequal access to wealth has effected people on all sides of the economic spectrum.

My studies help build the methodology of the project and consider creative exercises that can be used in groups to explore difficult topics of race and class with an eye on collective liberation. I feel lucky to be part of a community that is challenging this paradigm and working for more democratic ways of being in relationship to wealth and giving. My organizing work is profoundly strengthened by the time I’ve carved out for reading, writing, and thinking, and I know I am able to explore in a way that brings more meat to all that I do.

I honestly don’t think that I would be studying and working towards what I am without Goddard as an institution that allows me to cast my net both wide and deep. Because I am able to bring my self—my experiences, my emotions, my own unique weaving of disciplines—into my studies, my work is able to come from a more authentic and powerful place. I feel more confident in my ability to work in community and own the parts of myself that were formerly aspects I felt I needed to hide.

“The personal is political” has become a more embodied phrase and reality that continues to give me fire to work harder, discover more, have difficult conversations with the people I love and ultimately live in the world in a way that feels in more alignment with my values. Goddard is one of a kind, and the space lets me be that too, and for that I am forever grateful.

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