Uncertainty

This morning, as most of the school was walking to morning assembly, two 8th graders bounced up to me and said: “Ms Blythe!!!! It’s been SO long!” These two were my students when they were 6th and 7th graders, and I came to know them from when they were very small to when they were very awkward to when they were almost teenagers, and now, they are on their way to high school. It is amazing to bear witness to the growth of children, and to be a person they trust with their feelings: both fears and joys.

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Robert Indiana, first day of issue January 26, 1973

One told me about a drama about a friend, a fight, and head lice: the fare of middle school experience and friendship. As we were walking into the gym together, the other one said: “Ms Blythe? If we go to war, will it be like World War III?” I said, “Well. I need you to look at me while I say this.” She said, “ok” and looked directly at me. I put my arm around her and said, “I have absolutely no idea. But if it is, we will go through it together.”

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Ali Cat Leeds of EntangledRoots.com

It’s been ages since I wrote here, and really ages since I documented my last public school teaching experience in inner city Philadelphia. This school year is so trying: the students are dealing with so much stress, and so are the teachers. What is funny (the type of funny that is tragic, not laugh-out-loud) is that, in the public education sphere, or at least my public education sphere, no one is speaking out or with each other about the stress that the outer world is causing in our hearts and minds.

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Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886

I taught a professional development yesterday on how to teach good quality projects. At the beginning, I asked teachers to play by working 6 feet of wire into something that represented what was going on with them yesterday morning. Most jumped into the task, a few fought it at first, one point-blank refused and left. After a few minutes, it was fascinating to watch a group of 30 adults playing with wire, bending it, shaping it, talking to their friends, laughing, wondering: bemused at their own inner-workings. A few spoke about their sculptures, but most just left them on a large table, much like children do. I realized during the second session that the vast majority of my adult students were overwhelmed, tired, sad, confused, stressed-out and hollow-eyed. They didn’t know what to do in terms of developing a project. I realized at the end of the first session that we really should have canned it all and done something else, but it was too late, and there was no Plan B.

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Candles burning in a Buddhist temple: photographer unknown

When that student asked me about World War III earlier today, I almost cried then and there. Later, we had a tornado drill and I envisioned my portable being picked up and carried by a giant tornado that would drop us on our side somewhere down the road.

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Teachr, Teach Peace – his Facebook is here

I watched a video by Robert Reich the other day in which he explained that stress, feelings of trauma, dread, despair, are all common-place in our current state of affairs. I think we can see evidence of that from before this president was elected in the opioid epidemic: we are the only country in the world who is dying in huge numbers of hopelessness, sadness, and desperation, however, I will say that those feelings may be experienced currently by more people than pre-election day 2016.

America, poor America! You sick culture of racism and of classism, and of feelings of not being good enough, smart enough, rich enough. As adults, we can try to dismiss those fears or at least cloud them with exercise, working in the garden, cooking, drinking wine,  and eating too much dessert. But our children: my question is, what can they do?

My students are in 7th grade. They were born in the year 2005, four years after 9/11, and after the beginning of what is now America’s longest war. They have never known their country in peace-time. During their lives, America has increased its prison population, and the awareness of the murder of African-Americans by police has become commonplace thanks to social media. Their media life is one of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Paris bombings, Orlando and now Las Vegas shootings. Their governmental life was one of hope with President Obama, shot down by the election of Donald Trump, and colored by his rants about North Korea, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Iran.

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Unknown, brilliant Twitter cartoonist

Most of my students are immigrants or children of immigrants. Most of my children are economically classed as “poor”. Most of my children have parents who are working so hard just to give them what society demands is necessary: tiny mega-computers that broadcast this information-propaganda-fear into their pockets, into their living rooms, into their eyes, into their minds at night when they are alone. How frightening is this? How more frightening is it that we, the adults, are so scared that we do not know how to discuss it in a pro-active, assertive, and hopeful way?

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Almond botanical drawing: in the language of flowers, Almond is for Promise

Hugs do a lot, but they do not do enough. As a teacher, as a step-parent to a 7th grade child, it is up to me to shield where I can, but be willing to talk when the questions come up, because the shield that my parents had for me no longer exists. The courage lies in looking into the dark and understanding that we know very little more than we did when we were 7th graders, and the courage comes from the very thing itself: courage to believe, courage to speak, courage to love, courage to hope.

I hope to write more here. I hope to hear from you. With love, P

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Ali Cat Leeds from EntangledRoots.com

 

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No More Leaving

No More Leaving
 
At
Some point
Your relationship
With God
Will
Become like this:
 
Next time you meet Him in the forest
Or on a crowded city street
 
There won’t be anymore
 
“Leaving.”
 
That is,
 
God will climb into
Your pocket.
 
You will simply just take
 
Yourself
 
Along!
– Hafiz

 

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post and since my discovery of what had been bothering me all these years. I feel as if some dark glasses or horse blinders were torn off my eyes and thrown across the street when that discovery hit me. It is so strange to me that we can tell ourselves these stories about ourselves for so many years without actually being forced, by our minds and hearts and new experiences, to reflect upon them in an active way.

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For the last several years, I have been looking into the effects of traumatic experiences on myself and on others. I have discovered that many of us, especially as we get older, in our mid-thirties for example, have developed elaborate defense mechanisms and intimate pitfalls. So many of these are not obvious to anyone, even ourselves, until, if we are lucky enough, our eyes are opened and we can re-open the Pandora’s box of emotions to see whether what is in there is serving us, anymore.

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When I think of the delicacy of the human heart, I like to think of the Egyptian mythology of, when one dies, that one’s heart is measured against the weight of a single feather. I do think that the human heart is just that light, just that easy to shatter. But, the other side of the coin is that we, too, are remarkably resilient, like the trees that I spend so much time gazing upon. Despite the myriad fractures and sometimes breaks in the surface of the heart, we keep on keepin’ on, living from day to day, month to month, year to year. Perhaps the scarification of those fractures are what the defense mechanisms are, the fears, the caginess, the aversion to risking one’s poor, suffering heart.

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It is like crystal, like the petals of a poppy: translucent, and easy to bruise.

I think the sadness of being out of touch with one’s emotional pitfalls comes from the realization that most people are genuinely good, and want to love and care and protect and enjoy one another’s company. It’s almost as if adults live in the center of a long, winding labyrinth with doors along the way. All the doors must open, eventually, and whatever obstacle that lays beyond them must be acknowledged and explored. For if not, I would imagine, you end up rather like someone whose fears have become her/himself, and the real person inside is just lost.

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An unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

 

When Things Get Weird

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I wrote this text earlier to a friend of mine, and it was about socks. I said something to the effect of “don’t make me come over there and throw them all around to show you to appreciate what you have!”. After texting that little gem over, I realized something, which was that I needed to read that statement as much as I snarkily needed to send it.

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This post is not about socks, obviously, although I am a huge collector of socks and really, really appreciate them, especially on days when it is hovering around 0 degrees. Right now, as I write this, I am wearing two pairs of socks, thigh highs and silk tights, a wool cardigan and a wool hat that was almost snaked off my head last night by an unmentionable character. But that is another story.

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I have been thinking about winter, about things getting weird, about analogies like sharks and minnows. In short, winter is beginning and so are the deep thoughts: the thoughts that cover things like: what am I doing? How am I doing it? Am I doing it well enough? What do others think of what I am doing? What do I think of others? What is the meaning of all of it? Is it temporary or is it really a giant game of dominoes, sometimes cascading quickly and sometimes piece by piece?

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It is January 6th, 2015. On January 6th, 2010, I was living in a small house with white walls in Hyde Park in Central Austin. On January 6th, 2005, I was living in a small apartment with orange walls in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. On January 6th, 2000 I was living in a terrible but cheap apartment with tapestries on the walls in South Austin. On January 6th, 1995 I was a freshman in high school in Conroe, Texas, and was learning alot about people. I had met my first love and was tossing around the idea of having a boyfriend for the first time, not yet knowing that I had met my first love because at that time, we just shared Capri Suns and tangerines at debate tournaments.

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I was just reading another blog by a very talented flower artist, Sarah of SAIPUA, and she mentioned the self-indulgent nature of end of the year wrap-ups and instead focused on goals and hopes for the new year. I am hoping (ha!) to do the same as her: instead of focusing on what happened, because holy hell what a year, I am looking ahead knowing what is behind. She made a statement in her year-end review to the effect of hoping that she keeps doing what she is doing with love and intention, and that it doesn’t get weird, and neither does she. Her quote “…I hope I don’t get weird. Because that shit happens in the creative world, you and I both know it” really hit me, because “getting weird” is something I do think about in terms of being an artist. In myself, I know myself to be an ethically conservative, politically liberal person who looks to outside observers, probably, like a tattered bouquet or a well-traveled moth: many colors thrown together, prints, patterns, textures, all topped with wild and crazy curly dark hair and eyes that are green-blue-grey, irises ringed in dark. I am distinctly black Irish in appearance, in my face: in my clothes, I am a walking ad for loud prints that somehow complement each other most of the time.

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I am getting off topic. Things Getting Weird — whether this is with self, with space, or with vocation, it is something that I worry about. I am embarking on this life that very much evolves every day, in the sense that there is no outside structure that I am working within anymore, like I did when I was teaching in the public schools. Now I am inventing the structure, embarking on what I hope will be a huge adventure that sustains me emotionally, spiritually and financially as well as providing space and skills to others who wish to hone them. At this point, after these last two years, my contention is that artistic expression and care for yourself and others is THE answer to THE question of Why. We are here for each other, we are here to create beauty, we are here to make the world a more beautiful place, a better place.

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I know that artists, typically, see the world through a more colorful lens than other people. I only know how I see the world, being that I am only privy to my own experience. I know that I have always seen the world my way and have sought to express my feelings within it by making things for as long as I can remember. When I was five I was carving stamps out of linoleum and trying to watercolor clouds on blue sky backgrounds. Soon after, I learned to sew. Later, I learned how to bead, and then to make jewelry. Somewhere in the middle there I started making the boxes that are my favorite things to make, the assemblage sculptures as they are technically described.

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I also know that artists are regarded with a bit of chagrin from the general public: our passion and our emotions are regarded as questionable in a sense, despite the fact that the general public benefits from our ideas as they are constructed through physical objects like paintings or clothing or jewelry or sculptures. I know that our strong connection to our emotional selves can sometimes be overwhelming, although I suspect that all people, even hedge fund managers, get overwhelmed by emotions some of the time. Sometimes artists are regarded as lazy or flaky, and while our behaviors may dictate those judgements (mine definitely do), it is often that our thought processes, our spinning wheels if you will, are diving into the Weird, into the Dark, into the Heart of the matters of our lives. Without those dives, nothing we would create would have the meaning to ourselves or to those who consume our artworks. Oftentimes, I find that people find meaning in small elements, in the minutiae, and that in my creations, people will see things entirely different than what was my intention or my take away from a creation. I like the personal and the profundity of objects: our markers of our time on the Earth. Many artists, I know, fall from time to time into what I call the Deep Well: the mental cage of fragility and doubt and loneliness that can cloud and confuse our judgement of others and of ourselves.

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So, when things get weird in the creative world, as they are bound to do, how do we communicate out of those spaces so that the weird doesn’t become crippling, or that we truly distance ourselves from everyone, regardless of their merit? In other words, how do we maintain the creativity as a positive force, and not just a vomitous outpouring of emotion and insecurity? How do we maintain and function despite the delicate ins and outs of our conscious and subconscious beings? As I continue along this path that I have taken, a path to create a school and opportunities for more artistic resources in this community, I have to consistently take stock of how my own worries about how others see me is really not a part of the project as a whole. What I make is my own, what I do is my own, what others take away from it is theirs. Lately, I have been working hard on understanding that I have to have the confidence to do what I believe in, and that everyone may not like me or understand my choices along this path, but that if I am true to my heart, then that is what is most important.

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This is rather a lengthy and rambling treatise of fear of the unknown and expectations of a new year; I need to stop for a moment and remember that the fear of failure, or fear of disappointment, is illogical and also immaterial. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I do on the Earth, because for my own experience, my own self worth, is predicated by decisions that I make for myself.

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What is the takeaway here? What do I mean: what do I want to say? Little else than I am trying to look forward and spend less time in the far ago. I am going to try to be more emotionally available, finally, and this means that I am also becoming more responsible and less selfish. I am going to try to be more comfortable in my colorful skin: to connect the pieces of myself within myself and not doubt it all so much. I am going to have more fun.  I am trying to stay true to my beliefs and be okay with being a little bit odd, but not become “too weird”, because you and I both know that shit can happen. Art and the business of art is a beautiful way to live in and create a world, one for yourself and one for others.

Maybe I am the shark, and maybe I am the minnow. Maybe I am both.

{…all paintings in this post are by Egon Schiele}

Gloriousness & Wretchedness

Fear

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ” 

Pema Chodron

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Fear sat behind us on a beige couch as we ate dinner together at a short table. Fear sat and watched, and waited for us to notice its presence as we talked and laughed and touched.

Into the kitchen, it followed us as if it knew that one of us would look up and see it staring us in the face. It had been a glorious afternoon and evening. Fear stepped in and overtook a simple request, twisting it into something with a meaning it didn’t really have. Fear caused silence and a lack of joy: it caused confusion and awkwardness and a smidge of sorrow. Later, in bed, it caused us to turn away, and later still, to miss each other somehow, and to drift away.

What happens when fear drives the bus? What happens when it overtakes simple affections and communication and steers us away from each other? All too easily can this happen, and sometimes, only a couple of hours or days of clarity can help shed light on something so murky as those feelings of: Will s/he listen to me in the future? What is happening here? Is this meaningless, or meaningful?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the area of deep breaths and clear thoughts, of truly listening to the other and attempting to meet their needs even if it inconveniences our own momentary desires. There can be such anxiety in moments, as if the whole world hinges on a singular passing segment of time, when, with perspective, we of course can see and realize that we are all, after all, only living and acting out of our own beliefs and our own minds in that selfsame moment. It is so difficult not to ascribe deep meaning to things like the sweet words lovers speak to one another late on a fall afternoon, or to a feeling of uncertainty very early in the morning.

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Time, in its passing, teaches us that although we may notice the moments and feel them intensely, that perhaps instead of acting based on reactive decisions made in those moments, that we should see the experience as a whole, and take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that…the only thing to fear, is Fear itself. And keep moving: understanding that the value of the whole outweighs momentary confusion or inconvenience or uncertainty or that dirtiest of dirty words, insecurity.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

~ Pema Chodron

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