All posts by badgaladriel

About badgaladriel

Founder of The Grey Havens Group in Longmont, Colorado.

Why We Re-read

The Grey Havens Group

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote that anyone who loves to read must also love to re-read. He also gave a definition of myth that included the fact that the outcome of a myth feels inevitable. Pleasure in reading it does not depend on suspense. It carries the weight of the self-evident. It breathes extra life into truths that would not feel as vital if expressed as axioms.

In “Story of Your Life,” the story on which the film Arrival was based, Ted Chiang depicts a mother who is also a linguist reading “The Three Bears” to her young daughter. The mother asks why her daughter wants her to read the story exactly as written if the daughter already knows the ending. “Because I want to hear it” is the answer.

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Later this same mother and linguist explains that some statements, such as “You’re under arrest,””I christen this…

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What Is Geek Philosophy? Part 3: Wholeness

The Grey Havens Group

After our last post on the principle of Slow Reading-Close Reading, we promised you a post on the Geek Philosophy principle of Wholeness. It turned out that it was easier to promise the post than produce it. Wholeness is a principle that, as you might have guessed, encompasses all our other principles. It is also the hardest to explain.
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There are two kinds of wholes. One is the collection, like a basket full of stuff. It’s an artificial whole that someone put together. If you want to really know what is in the basket, you have to take the collection apart and examine each piece. The other kind of whole is an organic whole or unity, a whole that just came that way, like a tree or a person. You can try to understand a tree or person by examining their parts but you won’t really…

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Harry Potter’s Back (and more)!

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Art by Kazu Kibuishi

For more than a year, muggles, witches, and wizards alike have been asking us when we would bring back our Harry Potter discussion groups for 8-17 year-olds. We are thrilled to announce that Prefects and Junior Prefects are back at Carbon Valley Regional Library in Firestone and Erie Community Library. Both libraries are part of High Plains Library District where they know all about the magic of reading!

All of our discussion groups are conducted according to our Geek Philosophy method that encourages young people to speak and listen to each other in a spirit of wholehearted inquiry. We can’t think of a better way to approach the thought-provoking works of J.K. Rowling. 

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Send us an owl: What are the most important lessons you have learned from Harry Potter?

There is one catch to all this, however. Junior Prefects and Prefects in the High Plains Library District are being run as pilot projects. In order to continue the discussions past February, we need to show that young witches and wizards are excited to gather once a month or more to talk about magic! Please sign up and tell your friends!

Carbon Valley meetings will take place on the first Tuesdays of the month, beginning December 6. Junior Prefects meet 4:30-5:30 p.m. Prefects meet 6:30-7:30 p.m.

8-11 year-olds: Register for Junior Prefects here.

12-17 year-olds: Register for Prefects here.

Erie Community Library meetings will take place on the second Tuesdays of the month, beginning December 13. Junior Prefects meet 4:30-5:30 p.m. Prefects meet 6:30-7:30 p.m.

8-11 year-olds: Register for Junior Prefects here.

12-17 year-olds: Register for Prefects here.

Are you a Jedi as well as a wizard? Register for Fandoms Unite: A Star Wars Story to share your excitement about Rogue One and all things Star Wars with fans your own age! The story begins on December 1 at 4 p.m. Register here. May the Force be with you!

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Be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for event updates. From time to time, events open up for an expanded age group or new spaces are added. Don’t miss out on the magic! 

You can get more information and register for any High Plains Library District programs by calling 1-888-861-7323. 

What Is Geek Philosophy? Part 2: Slow Reading-Close Reading

The Grey Havens Group

As part of our ongoing series on the practice of Geek Philosophy, we are taking a look at our principle of Slow Reading-Close Reading.

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Geek Philosophy is inspired in part by the philosophy of Wolfgang Johann von Goethe. He believed that it is possible to get to know the world like you know a friend, through the development of intimacy over time. Let’s say that I have a friend named Luna. When Luna does something particularly characteristic of her unique self, I might say, “That’s SO Luna.” This suggests that, because I know Luna well, I can communicate a lot about who she is by pointing to one particularly telling moment in her life. Goethe called this the pregnant or poignant instance.

Goethe believed that we could find poignant instances in the lives of plants, animals, rivers, and rocks in the same way…

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“Where your treasure is…”

Imagine that you are tidying a room after a meeting and you find that what was left behind is actually treasure placed there for you to discover. Imagine that you hold another meeting, and another, and another, a meeting almost every week for four years and, every single time, new treasure is left behind. There is so much treasure that, when you spread it out across your living room floor, it is three layers thick. There is so much treasure that it would take almost another four years to sort through it all but you never do sort through it all because there is always a new piece that catches your eye and makes you go back to savor all the pieces you looked at before. Imagine that each piece is priceless and the pieces just keep coming.

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This is what life is like for Grey Havens YA facilitators because, every week during our book discussions, we give our participants markers, pencils, pens, and paper then let them go. They use the materials to illustrate discussion points, to express their wry humor and poignant dreams, to confidently create. From clever scribbles to detailed drawings that take more than one meeting to complete, they have left behind treasure in the form of small glimpses into their intricate minds. Creative and critical thinking, that’s what we’re all about. Astonishing ideas emerge during every Grey Havens YA book discussion. Not all of them are spoken.

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Send Us an Owl: Our photos don’t do justice to either the quality or abundance of art we receive from our YA members. Send us your own photos or, if you are a YA member, tell us about your favorite work of art from a Grey Havens YA meeting!

A Week in the Life of Grey Havens Group (and a tasty way to help)

This week, Grey Havens Group, Inc. has been very busy preparing for a fantastic fall that will include multiple book discussion groups for ages 8+, Star Wars programming, and more Harry Potter-style magic! We also taught facilitators to use a holistic, Socratic method to promote creative and critical thinking through the discussion of literature and popular culture. Tomorrow, we begin the new program year for Grey Havens YA by welcoming new members and including family members in a demonstration of the fun and enriching experience of our Fandoms Unite program. These are only some examples of the kinds of things we do every single week.

Please stop by Menchie’s Main Street Marketplace in Longmont tomorrow, August 27, between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., buy some frozen yogurt, and present this flyer so that Grey Havens will receive 20% of the price of your purchase. Something as simple as treating your family to froyo can help us to keep doing all that we do. Thank you!

Send Us an Owl:  While you’re at Menchie’s, create a froyo sculpture, take a photo, then tweet us or leave a comment in the Facebook announcement, and we’ll let the likes judge the winners! Thanks again, everyone and enjoy! 

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(Nerdy) Bags for Change!

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At Grey Havens YA, we provide each of our young adult members with a free copy of the books we discuss, a copy that they can underline, dog-ear, or keep in pristine condition. However they choose to keep it, it is theirs forever!

martian chronicles booksWhy do we do this? Because, as enriching as they are, our book discussions are not the last word on the story. For the rest of their lives, we want our members to go back to the stories we talk about, engaging with them as they would with a living thing. We want them to experience and re-experience the stories, themselves, rather than replacing those experiences with the things we have said about them.

The problem is that, sometimes, when we finish discussing a book, we don’t know where the money for the next set of books will come from. This, and all of the other expenses that come with running a nonprofit that serves hundreds of individuals and families, is why we depend on our supporters. Every donation helps and, this spring, even a wooden dime can make a difference!

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Thanks to votes from members of our community (thank you!), Lucky’s Market Longmont has selected us as one of the spring recipients of their Bags for Change program. Shoppers who bring in reusable bags will receive a wooden dime representing a bag credit that they can choose to donate to Grey Havens YA through They Grey Havens Group. Those wooden dimes really add up, especially since Lucky’s Market matches every single one of them with a donation of their own!

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But wait–there’s more! We wouldn’t be Grey Havens YA if we didn’t find a way to put a nerdy twist on this exciting fundraising opportunity. We asked our members and supporters, not just to bring their reusable bags to Lucky’s Market, but to shop with the nerdiest reusable bags they can find! Use #SustainableNerds to share photos of your nerdy, geeky shopping bags on social media. We would also love to see photos in the comments!

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If enough people load up enough nerdy bags with bargains, we will know where a whole year of books is coming from–from YOU! Thank you to all the #SustainableNerds out there and keep an eye on our blog for more information about another exciting fundraising event coming up in the next few weeks!

Watch this video to learn more about how Bags for Change is changing local lives:

Psst! If you love Grey Havens YA but aren’t local, please feel free to check out our Support page for other ways to keep the magic going. We hope you’ll also participate in the #SustainableNerds challenge! Thank you.

Send us an owl: Show us your nerdy bags, of course! Also, what do you like to buy most at Lucky’s Market?

What Is Geek Philosophy?

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Grey Havens YA is many things. We are geeks and nerds. We are readers, writers, and artists. We are philosophers. Our group takes its name from a harbor in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a place where ships depart to the Undying Lands, a place that connects the everyday to the extraordinary. The idea is that we are learning to live our lives with one foot in this world and one foot beyond it so that we can look upon ourselves with philosophical distance, seeing what we might not notice until we step back from it, understanding what we might not understand until we look at it with both logic and imagination. This is how we become philosophers or lovers of wisdom (philo-love, sophia-wisdom).

At Grey Havens YA, philosophy is part of everything we do, whether it is our weekly book discussions, Fandoms Unite, Hogwarts Preparatory Academy, or our recent Multigenerational Philosophy Discussion at the Longmont Senior Center. We approach all our endeavors with a spirit and method of inquiry that we call Geek Philosophy.

These are the principles that make Geek Philosophy work.

Philosophy is for everyone. Geek Philosophy is based in a rich tradition that is probably as old as humankind but that, in the West, can easily be traced back to the classical and Hellenistic philosophers.  Pierre Hadot said of these philosophers that they practiced “philosophy as a way of life.” The first principle of Geek Philosophy is that it is not an ivory tower pursuit for professionals, not something just for academic journals or for the big decisions made by governments or corporations; it is for everyone, all the time.  Everyone has a philosophy, a system of propositions according to which they live. Sometimes, these propositions are confused and contradictory. Often, they are unconsciously held. Geek Philosophy helps us to identify our beliefs, hold them up to the light, and change them when they do not stand up to examination. It helps us to live rich, examined lives.

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We are all natural philosophers. In the 1960s, philosopher Matthew Lipman developed a program called Philosophy for Children or P4C that has been replicated successfully many times since. The idea central to P4C is that all humans, even small children, are natural philosophers but it takes years to master the technical jargon that allows us to play the “word games” of professional philosophers. P4C uses literature as a launching pad for jargon-free discussions of the questions that occupy us all: Who am I? Why am I here? Why am I me instead of someone else? What is the good life? What is truth? Beauty? Justice? This leads us to our third principle.

Stories are philosophy without discourse. This includes the stories told by movies, TV shows, video games, music and other visual and performing arts. Behind every story, there is a set of propositions about the world. In story, these propositions are communicated to us in a way that transcends words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote of the pregnant or poignant instance, an instance that contains all other instances. There is something that can be understood about flowers by watching a single flower grow that can never be understood by consuming all the world’s texts on flowers.

Nature acts through soil, seed, sun, and water to grow the flower. J.R.R. Tolkien believed that stories grow in the human imagination in a similar way. He called this subcreation. A good story contains even more than the author intended. It is more than a construct; it is an expression of the same reality that expresses itself in the growing flower. Goethe wrote that the phenomenon, such as the flower or the story, is the theory. He believed that all of the things people have said about a phenomenon can crowd our minds and keep us from really knowing the thing itself. Know the flower (or the story), he urged, not the abstract idea of it.

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Stories provide us with poignant expressions of love, truth, beauty, justice without abstracting these phenomena. To grasp what a story is communicating is the practice of philosophy because philosophy is about understanding more than it is about explaining. Discourse, or a set of spoken or written propositions, is one result of the practice of philosophy, not the practice itself. That is why we begin each Geek Philosophy gathering by experiencing a story.

In this scene from Doctor Who, the great artist Vincent Van Gogh has traveled through time and space to visit the Musee D’Orsay where a retrospective of his work is being held. To use discourse to communicate everything that this scene communicates about life and art would require volumes and would likely yield less understanding.

This does not mean that we do not value or practice discourse. At every gathering, we benefit from making explicit our implicit understanding of a story. We benefit from visiting each other’s perspectives on the same story but we try not to let our interpretations stand as the last words on the subject. We strive to avoid using discourse to strip the story of its richness, just as discourse should not strip life of its richness. What we feel, what we apprehend through the experience of the story is a more direct experience of philosophy than anything we can say about the story. When we can connect this to our actual lives and create an emotional and intellectual touchstone that we can access when we need to understand something, we have succeeded as philosophers.

Philosophy depends on the imagination. Our discussions do not begin with just any stories but with the imaginative tales of fantasy and science fiction. Memory sees, or purports to see, what we have already seen. Imagination sees things differently. The practice of philosophy demands that we cultivate different perspectives, that we look beyond our day-to-day concerns. Seeking philosophical distance helps us to extend our minds to perceive a problem as it might appear through the eyes of another or even across time and space. The problem is that we tend to get stuck in our own experiences, expectations, and desires, including seeing the theory rather than the thing.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that human beings usually experience the world through “appropriation.” We approach the world with our minds already made up about it because we see it as existing for us, rather than for itself. He believed that we free ourselves from the habit of appropriation through the practice of Recovery.

Recovery, or the ability to perceive without prejudice, can begin when we see ordinary things in an extraordinary setting. Tolkien wrote that we should not weary of painting because we see only the colors we know. Instead, we should make paintings that help us see those colors anew. This kind of thing happens when we see a strange wizard smoking an ordinary pipe or when we see an ordinary blue box surviving the vibrant tumult of the time vortex. What Tolkien called the “arresting strangeness” of the fantastic story wakes us up so that we pay renewed attention even to the story’s familiar elements, like pipes and blue boxes. Fiction that engages the imagination wakes us from the slumber of appropriation.

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A 2009 study by Proulx and Heine suggests that encountering what first seems to be a nonsense scenario, a blue box in the time vortex or a lamppost in a snowy wood, causes us to try to make a deeper sense by looking harder for meaning and coherence. If we are so entrenched in our appropriated world that we cannot imagine anything but only recall what we are used to seeing, we will not get very far in this process. Fantasy primes us perfectly for philosophy because, once our imagination is engaged, we can use it to conjure up all kinds of new possibilities. Geeks are great at this because we are drawn to otherness and entranced by the unknown. We are not afraid of the strange so it doesn’t frighten us to see the strangeness in the everyday.

Have you ever wondered if there is a place where breathing oxygen and walking about on two legs would seem preposterous? If you haven’t, it is because you have gotten used to these things. Probably, it has never occurred to you to do anything but take them for granted. Being used to something or taking it for granted is not the same as understanding it. Until we look at our own two legs with as much amazement as we would look at the wings of dragons, our ability to understand will be circumscribed. Geek philosophy begins with the alien out there and ends with the alien in our own hearts. That is not as frightening as it might sound, not to us, because, in our story, an alien is the one who shows us how amazing the universe really is.

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“Think you’ve seen it all? Think again. Outside those doors, we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me… nothing will ever be the same again!” -The Doctor

Now it’s your turn. Let’s start a Geek Philosophy discussion about the clips below. Send us an owl (comment) with your thoughts and try to look at the world anew.

What is true?

What is beautiful?

What is just?

When Trivia Isn’t Trivial: One Reason to Love “Fandoms Unite”

On December 4, Grey Havens YA hosted Star Wars: The Fandom Awakens at Lafayette Public Library, part of our Fandoms Unite outreach program. As we were leaving, I called out, “Live long and prosper.” One of the teens replied, “Namárië.” Fandoms Unite, indeed!

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Eager to answer!

Fandoms Unite, our monthly program of trivia, captions contests, singing, dancing, acting, improv and general fandom craziness is always a ton of fun but it might not seem like a very important thing to offer young adults. What significant good could possibly come from teens getting together once a month to celebrate popular culture? Why would we even encourage such a thing? Isn’t popular culture, well, trivial?

The answer, we strongly believe, is no. Everyone engages in some way with popular culture. It gives many of us a significant part of the language with which we understand and speak about our world. (How many of you would know what I meant if I said that someone can be as logical as a Vulcan but as passionate as Anakin Skywalker?) It is how we engage with it that matters most.

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Star Wars Yoga: Han frozen in carbonite!

Fandoms Unite is not just an experience of popular culture; it is consciously imitative of the internet experience, the home turf of much of the growing fandom subset of popular culture. We sing and shout along to clips and GIFs. Our captions contests are practically exercises in meme-making, and our non-competitive trivia is a lot like one of those “how-much-do you know-about…” quizzes most of us have taken online. The difference between an online community and a Fandoms Unite community (and we believe both can have value) is that Fandoms Unite takes place in a room in which teens are interacting with each other in person. They see first-hand that there are other teens and even adults who take their interests seriously. We reflect the things that make them laugh and the things that spark their imaginations back to them and they, in turn, share the light of their enthusiasm and creativity with us.

Singing, "Let it Flow," a Star Wars parody of the famous Frozen song
Singing, “Let it Flow,” a Star Wars parody of the famous Frozen song

When teens experience other teens and adults celebrating the fandoms they love, they feel seen, heard and valued. When people feel seen, heard and valued, they are more confident and willing to take risks. Learning always involves taking risks. The first time you rode a bike, you had to have the confidence to risk falling. The first time you learned to read, you had to have the confidence to risk failing. Learning to think critically and independently requires the confidence to risk forming and expressing your own thoughts, based in your deep experiences of reason and feeling, even when others are telling you that you are wrong. Learning to say “no” to high-risk behaviors when everyone else is jumping off the bridge, requires the confidence to stand strong against persuasive peers and the need to feel accepted at all costs. Sometimes, that confidence can be nurtured in a meeting room at a library answering what may appear to be trivial questions about Star Wars. The intrinsic worth of confident risk-taking is one reason we say…

May the Force be with you. Live long and prosper. Namárië. Fandoms Unite!received_966898340064948.jpeg    received_966898646731584.jpeg

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Send us an owl: This post describes just one of the many reasons we believe in our Fandoms Unite programming. Have you attended one of our events? What was it like for you? 

If you love what we do and want to help us bring Fandoms Unite to as many young adults as possible, check out this fun and easy way to support us this December. Hanon le (and many thanks).

High-Five a Librarian!

Today is High-Five a Librarian Day. Where would Grey Havens YA be without libraries and librarians? Where would the world be without libraries and librarians? For our partners at Carbon Valley Regional Library, Lafayette Public Library, Longmont Public Library, all the librarians in the Saint Vrain Valley School District and all the hard-working librarians everywhere, this is our version of the high-five. It is even better than a traditional high-five; it’s a sci-five! Live long and prosper.

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In December, Grey Havens YA begins reading The Martian Chronicles by the great Ray Bradbury. Here is what Bradbury had to say about how very much we need libraries. This quote was included in a beautiful post by Grey Havens YA director, Robyn Bosica, on banned and challenged books. Read the whole post here.

“Let’s imagine there’s an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization.”

Send us on owl: What is the best thing a librarian has ever done for you? After you answer that question, head on over to the library and give the hardworking librarians and staff a high-five. They deserve it!