Just Shelley


Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I get excited at the thought of school and then the cold hard reality of what school means sets in: sitting in small seats in stuffy rooms, taking tests, writing papers, financial paperwork, and the other assorted sundry less positive aspects of academia. Such as grades. Especially grades.

Of course, this must be balanced against interesting discussions on fascinating topics with bright people, professors who inspire and challenge, and the encouragement, nay expectation, to explore the boundaries of one’s capability.

However, not all schools are the same, and if I were living in the Pacific Northwest again, there would be no difficulty in knowing where I would go to school — Evergreen State College. This college was recently listed among the 100 hidden college gems by Jay Mathews at the Washington Post, who wrote:


In keeping with the individualistic traditions of the Pacific Northwest, the 4,000 undergraduates are required to create their own course of study on this lovely campus. Dorothy Hay, a counselor at Liberty High School in Issaquah, near Seattle, said Evergreen State is famous for its refusal to give standard grade.

Years ago when I finished my first two years at the community college, I applied to and was accepted at Central Washington University, the University of Washington, and Evergreen. CWU was close to family, UW was big and had prestige, and then there was Evergreen — Washington’s experimental college.

With Evergreen, rather than sign up for courses, you sign up for a program. The programs for an undergraduate degree associated with writing might include ones as diverse as “Baseball: More than a Game” and “Image Conscious: The Emergence of Self in Early Modern Europe from Shakespeare to the Enlightenment”. For instance, after taking a simple online survey, (try it for yourself), I was presented with several possible programs that most likely would be of interest to me, including:


The Folk: Power of an Image
Nature, Nurture, Nonsense
Our Place in Nature
Recognition: The Politics of Human Exchange

To give you an idea of what a program is like, the description for Light is:


This program is a two-quarter interdisciplinary study of light. We will explore light in art, art history, science and mythology. All students will work in the art studio and study how artists have thought about and expressed light in their work. They will also explore the interaction of light with matter in the classroom as well as in the laboratory, and explore the physiology of light in the human body. This integrated program is designed for students who are willing to explore both art and science.

Our weekly schedule will include studio and science labs, specific skill workshops, lectures and seminars.

During winter, we will focus on skill building in art and lab science and on library research methods. During spring, each student will have the opportunity to design an interdisciplinary individual or group project exploring a topic related to the theme of light.

A typical week for a student will consist equally between traditional lecture, hands on lab experience, group efforts, individual research and effort, and off-campus work at other colleges and businesses or out in the field. Classes are just as likely to be held in the forest or a coffee shop, as they are within a regular, traditional classroom.

Instead of following a preset academic plan, you must work with counselors to create your own. Students are expected to take responsibility in developing their course of study, and to actively participate in all of their programs. No passive sitting in the back of the class. No once a week meeting with a disinterested counselor where you show a bit of work.

Rather than a grade system, you’re evaluated according to the standards established at the beginning of the program, and this evaluation could come from members of the community as much as teachers and fellow students. There is no ‘grading on the curve’, and no advantage to the quick reader at Evergreen. If anything, you’re judged against your own expectations and efforts.

Of course, years ago, I was heady from obtaining High Honors in my two years at the community college and the thought of attending a university without a system that awarded academic excellence gave me pause. I wanted my Dean’s List. I wanted my magna cum laude. I liked the idea of competing with my other classmates for that thin line at the end of the bell curve. I was shallow. I was typical.

Still, I visited the campus before making my decision. I was married at the time, and since my husband had a job in a library in Yakima, the plan was that I would live in a dorm while attending college, coming home on weekends and holidays. Based on this, the school assigned me a student as a guide to dorm living when I came for my walk through.

The guide was a nice young woman who was serenely friendly, helpful, and informative. The afternoon in her company was very pleasant except for one thing: she had this Mona Lisa smile planted on her face the entire time she showed me around. It didn’t waver, for a moment; not to full toothy smile, or to no smile at all.

The campus did allow some caged pets such as fish, reptiles, and birds. I asked her if this would include my snake*. Oh yes, she said. Snakes were allowed.

“It’s a rather large snake”, I said.

Not a problem, as long as I didn’t let it loose in the rest of the dorm, I could have a snake as big as I wanted.

“Really? I mean my snake is a boa constrictor, and stretches at least six feet long”, I mentioned, my eyes glued to her face, waiting and watching for the least break in her composure.

Sure. As long as its cage could fit into my room, the school didn’t care.

“I have to feed it weekly.”


“It only eats live food.”


“I feed it small bunny rabbits and large rats.”


Ultimately I retired, defeated. In the end I’m not sure if it was the lack of a traditional academic environment, or that guide’s smile that made me decide to attend CWU instead of Evergreen.

*In the interest of open disclosure, I did not have a snake. However, I once had an iguana named Horatio (after the Horatio Hornblower series), and a chameleon named Godzilla.


Or I could study linguistics

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

What better way to get to the root of humanity’s global unconsciousness than studying linguistics. Combine this with humanity’s earliest attempts at communication and one can find the true root of male and female interaction, as explored in Cave Linguistica by David Salo: “Og like Nala”, “Me deer”, “Tiger eat Og deer, me smash”, and “Nala want eat deer Og kill?”.

This pivotal work has now been published in audio book format by Aquarionics, in a style strongly reminiscent of Alistair Cooke, somewhat mixed in with Crocodile Hunter.

May we hope to see further delightful collaborations of this nature in the future.

Just Shelley

The desks are the same, but the apples are different

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

It’s not unusual nowadays for older people to return to school when faced with long periods of unemployment, profound changes in their lives, and/or redundancy in their field. In the past, many of these people have gone into the computer sciences in one form or another, probably accounting for the fact that the information technology industry is now faced with double-digit unemployment.

I’ve been exploring the possibility of returning to school myself, and not just for reasons of being unemployed; using this time as an opportunity to refocus my life, to explore new things, is a very seductive proposition. After all, I tend to think of our middle years (anything between 35 and, oh, 90) as a ‘do over’ time — a time to suddenly discover that there’s a path beaten through the forest between the road taken and the road not.

One option I’m exploring is going for a graduate degree in either psychology or the computer tech field, both of which I hold bachelor degrees in. There are so many new possibilities of study in psychology, ranging from the more traditional clinical or industrial studies, to new explorations into social behavior and neurosciences. As for the tech field, though we’ll never see the manic behavior of the dot-com era, I do believe the industry will recover eventually, and there continues to be new and fascinating exploration into uses of technology.

In particular, the possibility of someday being in a position to encourage more women to enter the technology fields is an attractive one; this is in addition to gaining a better understanding into why we’re so underrepresented in the first place. In some ways, this exploration could lead us to a new awareness of being ‘woman’ as compared to being ‘man’ that can stretch beyond just the study of technology.

However, I don’t have to focus on graduate studies in psychology or computer science — I could explore all new fields, either at the graduate or undergraduate levels.

I love to write so it seems natural that I look at the possibility of literature or journalism. There’s also my interest in history and politics, and in the last few years an increased interest in humanity’s earliest recorded history, which belongs more in the realm of archeology than history.

What I would really like to do is explore something that blurs the lines between all these fields. I would like to take a little history and the organizational and social side of politics, some information management, writing (of course), psychology, and a bit of archeology, and blend it all together. I would then use this academic soup to spend my time discovering humanity’s global unconsciousness, which manifests itself through tales and stories, rumor, legends and myths.


Bloggers unlimited

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Bloggers Unlimited — now twenty-five members strong.

Because webloggers can never have too many places to write…



The roots of the gnarly tree run deep

The roots of the gnarly tree run deep.

The untroubled tree
grows straight and smooth,
beautiful and proud
treetops vanishing into the sky,
towering over lessor beings.

The gnarly tree rests close
to the earth, and twists about
from knocks and blows;
rough skinned from exposure
and bowed with time.

The untroubled tree commands
respect as you sit hand over eyes
trying to see the upper branches.
Wrapping arms around it your
hands fail to touch and the bark
leaves no impression.

But the gnarly tree invites one
to sit beneath its shade
and nestle among its roots;
To rub your cheek against the rough
texture of the bark
and breath in the rich scent;
To lean back among the branches
letting them wrap about you
in an embrace both green and old.

Shelley Powers