Personal storytelling as play.
← Back to all case studies

These imaginary vignettes are written by Jenny Liu Zhang and continue to be a work in-progress. Beginning as a creative exercise while researching co-creative and anti-oppressive education in summer 2021, these stories are meant to embody patterns in education structures that promote wellbeing and self-motivated learning. This case study is written from Jenny's point of view.

As an on-going creation, this page will be updated sporadically with new vignettes.

Last edited January 8, 2022.

Jump to...

  1. Enchanted Loom University, Part 1
  2. The Gorgeous Motley Bazaar

Enchanted Loom University, Part 1

Every Saturday at 8:40am, Enchanted Loom University opens their doors to the public for a tradition called “Saturday Surprise Seminars.” The university offers a handful of unique morning workshops, interactive skits, and talks, attracting learners from all over the city. However, the “surprise” is that the seminars are not announced until the morning of, so you have to show up to see which seminars will be available. This morning, you arrived later than usual—and even though it’s early and chilly outside, the line is already wrapped down the promenade half an hour before. You stop by the corner cafe to pick up some hot tea, then wait at the end of the line for your friends Hal and Sofia.

As you sip your tea, you watch a whole family pass on their way to get in line. Subject facilitators come from near and far to lead the 2-hour seminars in large studio spaces to engage participants of all ages. After they end, the facilitators and learners are invited to mingle and explore the rest of the university courtyard, including the libraries and gathering rooms. A light breakfast is provided before the seminars begin, and lunch coupons to some featured restaurants on the promenade are shared afterward. Though you’re not a regular student at Enchanted Loom, you do find attending the surprise seminars once a week has been an exciting routine in your life. You’ve even made some friends, like Hal and Sofia, along the way. A minute later, Hal shows up.

"Whoa, the line’s long today. I’m glad I found you! I think Sofia’s just getting off the tram and will be here any second." Hal is wearing his staple linen jacket, which has a wide pocket on the front for carrying his tablet. He smiles at you through his speckled glasses.

"Great! I see you’re wearing your tablet jacket," you smile back. "Any predictions for the topics today?"

“My inside source says this week is very science-themed,” he laughs. Hal is a student currently trying to join a climate team at Enchanted Loom University. He’s doing an assistantship with one of their environmental scientists and writing a proposal about marine life for his team application. “Obviously the past couple months I’ve been very interested in ocean biology. I hope one of the seminars will be relevant. If not, I’ll probably just listen to a podcast in the courtyard and journal.”

“Morning!” Sofia rolls up next to you and Hal. She is older than you both and uses a wheelchair to move around. Her hair is up today and she is bundled up in a purple sweater. “Sorry, I took a later tram than usual this morning,” she says. “Oh, the doors are opening!”

The line moves quickly forward until you, Hal, and Sofia are at the entrance. After you scan your Enchanted Loom card, you enter the university’s main space, which is a large open courtyard with trees, stair seats, and scattered tables to sit and study at. Surrounding the courtyard are hallways to the libraries and gathering rooms, as well as doors of the studio spaces in which the seminars are hosted.

An event organizer hands you a small folded brochure. The cover shows today’s date and a list of five seminars and a short description of the topic.

Create Your Own Population Simulation. Studio 1. Find out what factors can affect population growth, and how to code them into a digital model. This is an installment in our recurring Simulation series. Facilitator requests: “Late entries are welcome, but limited computers. Please no drinks because these computers are expensive.”

The Physics of Juggling. Studio 2. Let’s talk parabolas, speed, velocity, and air resistance. For future space engineers, aircraft designers, and anyone curious about gravity. Facilitator requests: “Late entries and early exits are welcome. There will be juggling balls.”

Speculative Fiction Primers: The Dispossessed and Parable of the Sower. Studio 3. Get to know the rules of the fictional societies created by Le Guin and Butler. In what ways do we live by the same rules? No prior knowledge required to dive in. Facilitator requests: “Please stay to the end as we’ll be performing skits!”

Living in the Sunshine: Practical Planning for Growing Food. Studio 4. An overview of concepts in agricultural science. What would it take for everyone to grow their own food in an environmentally efficient way? Facilitator requests: “Limited quantity of seed packets, so please commit to staying the whole seminar!"

The Art of the One-Page Website. Studio 5. Design and code your personal splash page. This seminar provides free work time with accessible mentors, and a small group training for those learning the basics. Facilitator requests: “Late entries are welcome, but no food or drink please. Limited computers.”

The inside of the brochure is titled “Surprise Seminar Feedback” with blank space for writing or drawing. Every seminar has a feedback box where learners can leave their brochures with questions and comments. This is how the university and the facilitators get feedback for their next steps. A facilitator may get learners who request to further study a topic with them, so these public seminars often lead to interesting assistantships, intensives, and collaborations—all starting points for getting more involved with the main university.

You look around the courtyard. There are probably around 120 people, standing in groups or huddled around the tables where the warm pastries are. Everyone is munching, chatting, and looking at their brochures, trying to decide which seminars to attend in a few minutes.

“Oh, nice. I’ve been helping my niece make a website to share her paintings online. I could use some advice from those website mentors,” Sofia says, scanning the brochure. “What do y’all think?”

“I wish I could go to all of them,” Hal admits. “But I’ll probably go to the simulation seminar because I should learn how that works for marine populations.”

“Yes! I attended a simulation seminar during their regular schedule a couple days ago,” Sofia exclaims. “It’s really fun.” After retiring from her last job as a voice actress, Sofia has been a regular student at Enchanted Loom, attending the scheduled seminars that the university holds during the week.

“Okay, I’ll do that,” Hal declares. “And I’ll reach out to the agriculture facilitator later, just because I’m also curious about that.” Hal turns to you and asks, “What about you?”

You notice that the courtyard is emptying as people trickle into their seminar rooms. Reflecting on the options, you decide to go with Sofia to the website design seminar. You want to finish setting up the blog you started for yourself, and this would be a great opportunity.

You both say bye to Hal as he hurries away. Sofia rolls into Studio 4 and you follow, with your brochure and cup of tea in hand. The space looks like a casual computer lab today, with laptops and monitors set up on several round tables.

The seminar facilitator calls at you from across the room, smiling. “Hey! No drinks around the computer equipment today. Not even tea!”


The chilly morning has turned into a bright and sunny day now, and the courtyard is buzzing as people talk and walk around. Sofia is still happily chatting with a group from your seminar, so you leave her to it. Standing outside your studio room, you spot Hal in the courtyard from a distance. You can tell he has learned something new: he’s sitting on the stair seats near the entrance, scribbling eagerly onto his tablet. You decide to join him for a bit—while you were building your blog, you had some ideas for a blog post so you wanted to do some writing, too. You work independently in each other’s company, enjoying the afternoon light in the courtyard.

The Gorgeous Motley Bazaar

You arrive at the address written on the flyer that your daughter mailed you. She is supposed to meet you by the entrance with Willa, her daughter and your granddaughter. Today is overcast, but it’s still a warm summer day.

This is your first time here. From the outside, the building looks like a nondescript warehouse. Several groups of people stand outside chatting. Some are dressed in soft and airy silhouettes, while others wear bold and stark colors. People drift in and out of the warehouse entrance, which is covered by some light curtains. It sounds festive inside. Just before noon, your daughter walks up to you with Willa in a toddler carrier on her back. You all embrace and then pay the entrance fee to head in.

As you walk through the sheer curtains, the breeze from the indoor fans brushes your face and arms. You enter a huge and bustling space. Though it feels like a stockroom in size, every square foot is busy with people and colorful items. Umbrellas, lanterns, and lavish garments float on hanging strings high above you. People young and old trot between tapestries covered in jewelry, long tables of fabrics, and small stages with racks of clothing facing every direction. As you all walk through the vivid textures and noise, you realize that the space is organized into stations. The long tables of fabric are actually sewing stations. The clothing racks are full of handmade or hand-modified outfits that people are selling. There are at least 400 people in this warehouse, either stitching and chatting at the tables, or walking around and browsing. This is a flourishing marketplace, open every day. They call it “The Gorgeous Motley Bazaar.”

Cheery conversations echo around the warehouse, and the air is cool and fragrant. As you keep walking, your daughter points toward the center of the warehouse at a large stage. On the stage sits a very tall and wide heap of clothes, and there are about 30 people pacing around the pile, picking pieces to examine and take with them.

This is how The Gorgeous Motley Bazaar works. Visitors come to make their own clothes, recycle donated or thrifted garments, or buy the creations of others. You can gather fabrics and pieces from the pile at the center of the warehouse, then learn techniques to customize and style them at the many sewing stations. Run by various boutiques, design experts, and fashion creators, each station focuses on a unique style of sewing and making. You recall the quirky names from the stations you passed on your way in. People spread and cut polka dot fabrics at a table called *The Retro Style Depot*. Those at a station called *prismShape* dressed mannequins and busts of diverse sizes. There were even several stations dedicated to painting beads and making jewelry. Though many visitors make clothes for themselves, many others sell or exchange their creations. Anyone can tag their finished pieces with their name and price, then place them on the racks or the hanging clotheslines to sell.

Today, you choose to make a simple dress for Willa to wear. After sifting through the pile for usable fabrics, you all walk to a nearby sewing station. You sit next to your daughter and Willa at a round table with a handful of people, chattering enthusiastically as they craft. Everyone introduces themselves, and as the merrymaking begins again, you ask for one of the designers to help you as this is your first time. They happily agree. They assure you that making clothes for kids is both very easy and very fun.


From Willa’s point of view

You are a toddler. First it was morning, then you took a nap in the car, and now you are inside a noisy and colorful place. There are many strangers wearing unfamiliar textures. The ceiling is very high up. Mostly, you are glad to be with your family.

As the round racks of clothes around you spin, you listen to the wooden hangers clank against each other. Hot pink stands out, as do splotches of green, yellow, and purple. People laugh and buzz as they walk around you. As Mama leans into a giant mass of colorful fabrics, she hands you different pieces to feel with your fingers. Some are furry and soft, others feel scratchy and rigid, and some feel gritty to rub.

Your family leaves the big pile and heads to a table shaped like a circle. Mama sits down next to a beautiful young woman in a long, orange dress. Her skin is radiant and clear. You watch her as you sit on Mama’s back.

She and Mama are sewing with very small needles. The woman’s fingers are slender and nimble, and the gold bangles on her wrist jangle as she rhythmically swivels her hands. You look up at her arms, then her neck, then her face. Then you are surprised! Painted on her face is a shiny orange leaf. It begins near the bottom of her nose and extends out and up across her cheekbone. The stem of the leaf is deep red, but the leaf itself is filled with a glistening sunset color. Little sequins sit on top of the makeup, following the edge of the design.

She catches you staring, so she puts down her work to smile back at you. For a few moments you watch each other. Her smile is very bright, and her face is very even. The paint of the leaf shimmers as she gently turns her head. You give her a big grin back, and she laughs. After a couple seconds, she resumes sewing again, smiling at her needlework.

This woman’s smile and her bright orange leaf is one of your earliest memories.