Posts By shannon

Kindergarten for Grownups

I had a great public school education, starting with the gifted and talented program in Louisiana, where in grades four and five I got to leave my regular classroom one day a week and go to another school for "enrichment day." (I'm convinced my regular teacher nominated me for the program to get my precocious, disruptive little self out of her classroom, but thanks anyhow!) Enrichment day was awesome: we learned the Chisanbop counting system, we competed with college engineering students in an egg drop contest, we wrote computer programs on our TRS-80 computers with their black screens and green type, we built mousetrap cars to learn about potential and kinetic energy. It was great. It was what every child should have had, every day.

I was fortunate in high school too, attending Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, a public, legislature-funded boarding school for grades 11 and 12. We were taught by PhDs on a college schedule, and for middle-class families like mine, it was a way of affording a private-school caliber of education at a public-school price and a way of getting noticed by good colleges.

For college I went to Oberlin, a very good small liberal arts college in Ohio. Oberlin has a long history of being rigorous, progressive, and, well, funky; I fit right in. Grad school was pretty good too: I got my MFA in poetry at New School University, where I learned from great teachers like David Lehman, David Trinidad, Susan Wheeler, and Laurie Sheck, and where I discovered my hero Joe Brainard.

But for all that, I'm convinced that the best educational experience, for me, was my kindergarten. In fact, I think it was so great that this year I'm taking myself back there, symbolically anyway, to try to recreate for myself what worked so well about that model and to try a do-over on some of the basics I lost since then.

I went to kindergarten in 1976 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was enrolled in an experimental program structured much like what I imagine Montessori to be. In any event, what it was was a big room full of different stations. There was cooking, carpentry, drawing, art, blocks, lots of things, and the key was: you could choose exactly what you wanted to do and for how long. It was all right there, and it was all my size. No two days had to be the same, and I truly believe that it's the flexibility and the humanism of this approach that has ruined me for the 9 to 5, 40-hour work model. Who could trade that big room of concrete possibility for a tiny beige cube of unrelenting hype?

So to break it down, so far we've got:

*a flexible schedule, where the learner sets the topic and the pace of instruction

*the space and tools to pursue those interests, right at hand and customized to fit the learner

What else?

There was the teacher, I think her name was Mrs. Paul. The best thing about her was that she knew how to stay out of the way, but whenever I needed help, say to hammer a very large block peg into its hole, she was right there to gently suggest that maybe the round peg wasn't meant to fit into the square hole, and to encourage me to think of an alternative approach. Oh Mrs. Paul, how I've missed you.

So to break that down we've got:

*a non-didactic, experiential instruction model

*teacher as coach, not lecturer

*a learning context where it was safe to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes

*an emphasis on application rather than memorization of facts

Who wouldn't want an education like that, and how could those same principles be applied just as well to the 40-year-old as to the 5-year-old?

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Art Show Opening

I have a few collages in a four-person show with three of my favorite people in the world: Erica Harris, Henrietta Mantooth, and Areta Buk.  The show’s up through February so if you can’t make it to the opening, stop by another time to the wonderful Brooklyn Creative League.

New Messages
An Exhibit of Four Artists:
Areta Buk, Henrietta Mantooth
Erica Harris, and Shannon Holman

Opening Saturday, Oct. 1st from 6-8pm
At The Brooklyn Creative League
540 President St. 3rd fl. btw. 3rd & 4th Ave


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What is Steve Jobs’ most profound quotation?

What is Steve Jobs' most profound quotation? 7 answers on Quora

What is Steve Jobs' most profound quotation?


photo by erica harris

photo by erica harris


The argument stretched and rolled like yarn
In the paws of G-d.  The problem of evil was toyed with,
the problem of hiddenness, the one of what I want to do
I do not do, but what I hate I do
: Why did we always give ourselves away
With a squeak, when He was safely distracted by that fucking yarn?
We never knew what was in the mind of G-d
When His tail flicked like that.
Excitement?—When the boy got lost,
We beseeched Him and posted flyers.  When the body was found,
We listened to the rabbis: G-d wanted it.
—Or possibly it was boredom with this tired yarn
That always ends the same way.
Whatever was made was made
Out of green acrylic.

The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”

Chris Guillebeau gets it right again:

In a group project, a person who freaks out about being busy will stall, defer, and generally keep everyone else waiting on them. They use busyness as an excuse for poor performance. Sometimes it’s faster to put this person in a room by themselves and let them whine while you do their job for them.

A person in control of being busy will keep the project moving forward at all costs. They like deadlines, direct communication, and tough assignments. That’s the kind of person you want on your team. If you’re serving on someone else’s team, that’s the kind of person you should be.

via The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”.

In a meditation class once I learned about how the word in Buddhist texts often translated as “laziness” doesn’t have the same connotations in the original as it does to our ears.  According to the teacher, there are really three kinds of laziness: laziness of laziness, which is the kind we think of when we think of laziness; laziness of discouragement, which is the kind where we “don’t bother because it will never work anyway”; and laziness of busyness, which is the kind where we just can’t get to the real work because this email and this conversation and this phone call and this blog post just won’t wait.

In my experience, it can be helpful to take an attitude of casual interest in my laziness.  Sometimes I can approach it close enough to see which species it is, and then I have more information to work with.  “Oh, I see I am not doing this task.  What’s it like to not want to do this task?”

“I just don’t feel like it.” (laziness, an aversion often related to the fear of not getting what I want)

“Oh, there’s no point in doing this anyway.” (discouragement, often related to the fear of failure)

“Oh, I just haven’t gotten to this yet.” (busyness, often related to the fear of losing control)

It’s more often that I just head straight over to or start griping with a co-worker or get deeply involved in redesigning my Outlook taxonomy without even registering my avoidance as avoidance, but when I can pause, recognize my laziness, and sidle up to it, sometimes I gain useful information.

Hero: Eriko Yamaguchi of Motherhouse

I don’t care about common sense or precedent. I usually take those with a grain of salt. If you want to discover your or someone’s potential, you need to abandon your limited view.

via Big Generators #1 Eriko Yamaguchi & Motherhouse Part1.

Yes Virginia, You CAN Be an Entrepreneur

My new year’s resolution is to be more unreasonable, so I’ve been spending time over at the Unreasonable Institute to see how it’s done.  (Based in Boulder, CO, the Unreasonable Institute finds young people with compelling social venture start-up ideas, attracts investors who will sponsor those teams to attend a ten-week intensive incubator, and offers a marketplace for the resulting ventures.)

Teju Ravilochan, one of the group’s principals, has a recent post that’s a good counterweight to all those facile “Do YOU have what It Takes To Be an Entrepreneur?” lists.  We’ve all heard a thousand times that it takes chutzpah and cojones to found a start-up.  No duh. But Teju points out that an equally important but often overlooked element of the “entrepreneurial mindset” is humility, because that’s the attribute that helps folks to learn from others, abandon sacred cows, and learn from failure.

In the US, we like to craft a creation myth that foregrounds the wild frontier and downplays the bankrolling barons. We like to talk about garage ventures, ignoring the million-dollar homes attached to those garages.  Behind the myth, our stereotypical entrepreneur is almost always a young male, usually white or Asian, often Ivy League educated, and surrounded by a pretty plush safety net.  By repeating these stories, we make it easier for successive generations of young men like this to believe that they can found start-ups, and we subtly discourage folks who don’t fit that mold from venturing out on their own.

But when we look a little deeper and a little further afield, we find that over time more businesses are successfully sustained by communities of humble women rather than by brash young men singly or in pairs.  When we set men up with unreasonable expectations of being able to singlehandedly blaze the trail or break open the market, they are often battered by unexpected failures and are unable to rebound to close the distance between their out-sized self-image and the face of setback.  On the other hand, at a global level we still allow—or force—women to work in stealth mode.  Though fettered by lack of confidence and lack of access to resources, women are also freed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep trying, because no one is there to laugh at our failures or crush us under the weight of their disappointment.  Our legacy is resilience, our lot humility, and it just so happens that those attributes are just as important as chutzpah and cojones.

On Tigers

Pamela Slim says that everyone has an ‘inner tiger,’  a ‘strong, creative spirit that wants to jump, dance, learn, and grow.’  Your life as directed by Ang Lee.

But tigers are smelly, ill-mannered, and generally inappropriate, so we put up the bars and pull the choke-chains, and pretty soon we end up like those poor white tigers of Chongqing Wild Animal Park, afraid of the chickens we are supposed to eat.

On Work

We are all forces of nature: coyote, whitetail, white ash, hunter, farmer. Different traditions, different niches, different powers and weaknesses, all in tentative shifting balance on one small spot on a planet where most everywhere else humans have the upper hand.

It won’t be the coyotes, deer or trees that will destroy our houses, though, if we don’t look after them. It will be the snow and wind and rain.

That’s the real force of nature around here that we all must contend with. I don’t say do battle, because I don’t like the analogy much. I don’t fight it. It’s not a war.

I just get up in the morning and scratch my head and go out to my shop and get some tools and do some carpentry, some painting, some firewood cutting.

It’s just a job of work. Ho hum. Eight hours and then a nap, and admire what you did the next day. I am glad that I have a vocation that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and for which there is something to see when you are done.

And nothing to spin. Either done well or not. Or not done at all.

—Mick Wormersley, A Great Farm Diary: Womerlippi Homestead Annals

All I Want To Be

Great ambition:


think-make-think by Clifton Burt based on a haiku by John Maeda.  Via 20×200.