Meaning in everything. I turn over a rock and find bugs. They are showing me how to work. I watch the scurry and feel bad that I have wreaked momentary havoc on their doings. I put the rock down and look up at the blue, green, grey and white. A bird passes quickly and I get back to it.
The smell of the dirt calms my nerves and keeps me in my boots, big rubber things that keep out everything except what happens to fall in. I am not really living anywhere in particular so the feeling of presence and purpose holds me, reminds me what I am building.
It is repetitive, what I do during the day, pulling, pruning, sweeping, hauling, and digging. The rhythm of each chore is a different kind of comfort than I have ever known in a job and I look forward every morning to putting on my bulky overalls and heading out the door to work in the dirt.
For the first time in forever, I have a job that feeds me. I do not feel drained at the end of the day but physically, and I have this pulse in my muscles, almost every day, that feels like good use. I am working way below my education level and I am happy enough that tears come as I pull the stubborn and foolish grass out of the narrow cracks in the sidewalk.
I focus on the intake and the output of my lungs, lucky things breathing in lavender, rose, cut grass and lemon verbena. At the end of the day I smell it all on me and I don't want to wash. I do, and when I take off my clothes all manner of crawly and leafy things fall at my feet in a circle of gratitude.
I wonder how I ever did anything else. Why did I not think that this might be a nice way to go? How could I have considered sitting at a desk, inputting numbers and creating documents, processes, and programs? How, knowing who I am, did I think that would turn out? Looking back it seems predictable.
But it is easier to know myself in retrospect. I am crystal clear as an azure sky in summer as I float in and out of days that feel like liberation.
Less sure than I have ever been about my future, and more confident that I will be okay. The days stretch out into okay, into love.
The other day I saw four toads hopping out from under a tarp I had to move. They were all quite small, so small the thought crossed my mind that I might have already stepped on one and not known it. Still, the toads were beautiful, and I thought a good omen.
It is a lucky day when you find yourself in the company of toads.
I love being a gardener.
Inevitably, my pain hits me in the face and I am left with the bloody memories of my childhood. Normally. It used to be that every time I taught a class of preteens, I would feel my pain in every step I took across the classroom, in every question asked, in every piece created.
But with the shift, this is no longer my experience. This is the first time in twenty years of teaching I have not felt the pain of a child as my own.
They take a class called "Drawing," and we go through exercises which provide the practice, but also, the opportunity to use their voices, their eyes, and their hearts. I give them an opening to express what is important to them.
Courage is not often taught in schools. Normally, conformity, homogeny, and regurgitation are the models to follow. Kids are taught to blend in on a daily basis through humiliation, manipulation and other scare tactics that work just below the surface, so that they are angry at the end of each day, but they don't know why.
I try to provide opportunities within the exercise of drawing to open wide and sing, to stand tall, to laugh loud and walk strong. I don't miss a chance to let them know that they are more than they have been led to believe. I take every interaction and turn it into a giving. I turn engagement into a magic trick. I turn pencil, paper and eraser into a vehicle for justice. It is a subversion I am happy to create with them. After all, some of them still believe in Santa.
I only have one half of five days with each kid, but when they leave that class on Friday with a paper bag full of art, they also leave with a belly of hope, feet of courage, and the eyes of an optimist. It is my dream that some day, they will get the opportunity to change the world with a single act. That act might be art, but it might not.
That is why drawing is the vehicle for courageous education. It takes a special kind of courage to draw, and within that, another kind of courage to draw what matters, to draw what you truly care about, to draw something that might someday show a bit of the world that has never before been seen.
I ask each one of them to risk. I ask them to work through the fear of failure and ugliness. I ask them to trust that even if they make something bad, there will still be love on the other side.
I do this because when I look into the eyes of one of these kids, I can't help but see myself at that age, too scared to try, too paralyzed with emotional turnoil to even smile, and looking outward for the confirmation that I would be okay. I am trying to give them what I never got, but desperately needed. I am trying to teach them to pass this on, cheer it on, and keep it on.
I am teaching under the radar because I know that this behavior, what I am hoping to engender, is dangerous. I know that speaking out is becoming more of a risk. But I also know that the pain that results from denying yourself and blending in is too great, and what the world loses every time an individual gives up the fight cannot possibly be measured.
Now, we need kids with courage. We need kids who will go where we didn't. We need kids who will risk, even in the face of great failure. We need kids who will have the courage to be themselves.
When I am free of the pain of my childhood, I am free to risk with them. I am free to take a chance on each child, if that child can meet me half way. What a gift I have earned for myself, this freedom. I can only hope that my example will be enough to encourage risk. I can only hope that they will surpass me in everything I do.
Isn't that what we all hope for as teachers?
Is your kid in camp? They didn't have these when I was a kid but I wish they did. One week of nothing but art would have been wonderful. ANYWAY. I am building a tiny house and I am looking for funding. If you can and want to help me out, just follow the link in the upper right hand area of this blog. Even $5 will help! I am trying to move out of my crawl space and build a 10 x 10 tiny house to call my very own. Thanks for anything you can give!
Today I woke up free. The smile on my face rippled and spread into the corners of the room as the ceiling smiled back.
The day before I had let go. Released my desire to be loved by people who couldn't. I finally saw my part in trying to get people who are incapable of caring for themselves, to care for me. In that, all of the pain I felt around my childhood evaporated.
An inadvertant realization at the hands of another deeply damaged person. At the turning point, a flash of pain, then the vision. Eons of waiting to be loved, to be cared for, to be nurtured were a thing of the past, forgiven and forgotten.
I saw all the people in my life who I wait on to care for me, and all the people who wouldn't dream of making me wait. All the people who I would never expect to get what they could not give, and all the people I had done that to.
I am not free of these people, but of my need to get them to love me. I am free of the work I would do to get them to care. I am free of settling for less. I am free of making do with the small amount I am allowed. I am free of the lump in my throat that forms every time I am taken for granted, rambled over, or otherwise minimized.
And now I have more. More more more more more. I don't have to set people up to not love me. I don't have to walk into the habituated pattern I see forming before I enter the room. I don't have to engage in conversations created to belittle me. I don't have to sit and wait to be noticed.
The old ways of being are gone.
The culture of lack is dead.
Today I woke up free.
I am building a house!!! Wanna donate to the cause? I will be using almost ALL salvaged building supplies and building as green as possible. It is happening. I am building myself a home. Wanna help fund it? Go to the picture of the house and heart in the upper right. Click on the pic and donate. It's just that easy. AND you will get to watch my progress. Today my progress was finding out that I can go to the dump and fill my truck up with as much building material as I need for five dollars a load. FIVE DOLLARS A LOAD. See how much difference a mere five dollars can make?
Was it in high school? Was it the girl in my ceramics class? The one dating the miscreant? The gymnast? She had muscular hands and strong arms and she was lovely in every way I wanted to be; clear skin, small nose, and a strong upper body. Her posture communicated strength, and I wanted that.
The girls with broad shoulders and narrow hips, the ones who walked with confidence, bubbling laughter, and grace, those were the ones I noticed.
I walked ugly. Acne, too skinny some times, too big others, oily hair, in pain, too timid to look at my own body and excruciatingly shy about everything. I never felt strong. Always trying to shrink away from my skin. Running away from everything the world was telling me I was supposed to be. I was At The Mercy Of.
After high school, I forgot for a while, unconscious until I found rock climbing. Climbing woke me up. I did it all the time, until my forearms burned, and I ran, biked and swam. My body changed. I started to look strong. I started to feel strong, physically. I noticed that the better my posture was, the more confident I felt, so I worked. I wanted to feel like that girl in high school looked. Powerful.
But how can you feel like someone else looks?
My forearms. They became larger, vein-y and a bit more hairy. I loved them. I loved my biceps. I am so proud of how my body developed because it is the body I wanted. The best thing about my arms, my strong shoulders, my muscular legs, is that I know these are not where I find strength. After attaining the body I wanted, I found myself because it was then I had to defend myself from people who would tell me I looked like a man, or that in actuality, I was a lesbian, I just didn't know it yet.
I had made a choice about my body based on my values and I had the confidence to defend it because I loved that. My conscious would not allow me to let other people tell me how to look or behave. It wasn't that my strong body made me strong, it was that I became a target, and I was put in a position where I would have to stand up for myself. And I stood.
My spine is alert, awake with the consciousness of choice. This is a happiness I hope to have the good fortune to reside in until I take my last breath.
When people comment on my vein-streaked arms now, I say thank you, even when they act disgusted, because I know it is not me they are reacting to, it is them. It is their weakness that cannot allow me to be different.
That's the problem with girls in high school. The pain you feel about yourself often leads you to believe they are better off than, happier than, more comfortable than. But that is never the case.
My pain has always been my pain, and it has never had anything to do with how strong anyone else has looked, or how graceful or beautiful they seemed to be.
That is the other thing about the veins in my arms. They transport the pain from my gut to my fingertips. It is a specific kind of injury that my body deals with by trying to send it out of my body through my fingers. The veins in my arms are fat with these memories. They remind me that everything about my body can be used to grow, just like every part of a chicken can be used to make soup.
My pain is the source of my strength, my beauty, my grace. I would never have come to this place of confidence if I had not resided in my pain.
My veins will some day wither to weakness, my arms will eventually return to dust. I will be nothing as I once was. This is the truth of life, that while I am living I am also dying, but in life, or in death, I will be as much of me as I can be.
Even if that is within my pain. Even if it is not.
I will never again fool myself into believing that I can feel like someone else looks.
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