Assembly-line puppet-making educational factory manufacturing “minds” … those were the words I used in my protest of my youngest son’s treatment last year at a school that’s not all bad. I’ve apparently not managed to completely dilute my passion when dealing with the flaws of the system. And life isn’t making it any easier. Sometimes the color leaks into my on-the-spot advocacy. Sometimes the sense of being a hypocrite while standing up for what matters when it matters while still sending my kids into an impossible set-up WHILE telling them to “be yourself,” that sense of hypocrisy is…huge.
My daughter’s a sophomore in high school this year. She’s all done. Finished. Had enough. What’s the point? She can’t see the value. This is not unusual but it’s sad. Her articulation of the lack of meaningful, inspiring challenge, the overload of tedious work, the pointlessness of some of the lessons, the immaturity of some teachers, the inaccuracy of others is, all of it, overwhelming. What do you do, as a parent, about the contradictions, the good/bad, indifferent/inspiring? How do you honor the truth your child expresses (Yes! That teacher was, in fact, very immature to…) and maintain credibility as one insisting she continue to put up with the very things I encourage her to avoid BECOMING later on in life? Is it really possible? To maintain credibility? It seems to be working thus far only because I don’t hesitate to affirm whatever I can affirm of my children’s insights, most especially those insights exposing the murder (my daughter’s word) of learning and of inspiration, of creativity (again, my daughter’s choice of words). It’s doable. I’m doing it. But I’m wondering when the revolution? When the shift? When will this batch-producing education system be dismantled because the prototype is useless?
(Sir) Ken Robinson kindly and truthfully acknowledges that teachers are not to blame (some of them, forgive me, thoroughly enjoy the position of taskMASTER and slaveDRIVER and would keep the monster well fed for the next 2 centuries if you let them…revolution? what? just CONFORM NOW.), that the problem itself is hardwired into the system. He’s right. In fact, he says it beautifully here:
There is no cultural identity without loss of soul in this system and that is why my daughter calls it “murderous.” It boils down to seeing it for what it is, using what can be used in order to get the diploma to get the degree that might or might not facilitate a viable economic resourcefulness while making a friend or two along the way. Usually, for those who are aware, a friend or two who sees it all for what it is but continues to plod along is as “cultural” as it gets. How do you tell your child “Life is conspiring to bless you” when you’re asking them to tolerate bull for the hopes of a maybe payoff? It’s a wicked difficult sell requiring a few timely “illness” days and a heck of a lot of compassion without loss of backbone.
At this point, my sell consists of potent acknowledgement of the sham set-up and how our best bet is to use it for best possible outcomes while refusing to give up on what matters most. It doesn’t completely work. My children are required to lose touch with their bodies, with their originality, with divergent thinking. It does put me in the position of Court Jester and Queen Defiant with a touch of good old-fashioned trouble-maker who occasionally reminds them the appearance of conformity can really pay off. And let’s not forget the teachers who really truly care and make a huge difference within the monstrous mechanism. Hypocrite? I’ll take the label if that’s what is required to embody a revolution without actually sweeping in on them and rescuing them from oppression. I prefer to see myself as the facilitator of defection (in place) until the world makes for them a friendlier space (or until they create their own revolutions…). For a few years the ongoing welcome home wagon dialogue with my middle guy, my oldest son when he got in the car after school ran along the lines of: “Did you get in trouble today?” “No…” “WHAT?! Why NOT?! You’re a KID! Bend the rules! Don’t be good just to appear good. Be yourself.” (Not that my children are encouraged to be disrespectful or rude…but the system asks they lose the very soul of what it is to be human. I make it my task to keep them in remembrance and in practice.)
In the meantime, the cops haven’t confiscated my couch to prove that unlocked doors can make theft MUCH easier on the thieves (previous post re: lockers in middle school) and my kids have not lost their edge or their ability to see, feel, create and paint outside the lines. I suppose this is the best we can make of life’s outdated institutions. For now.
Mis hijos son hermosos espíritus y muy importante a mí. Estoy contenta con mi vida.
I’m preparing my 5th and final final. It is in Spanish. I must speak for five minutes in Spanish, without reading.
Me gusta hablar en español. Mientras tanto, I have been unable to blog or comment on comments or visit my friends here. I look forward to the summer “break” and to hopefully posting/commenting more steadily. We shall see what life unfolds.
“Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
“…a man is considered active if he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of an activity. Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a “passivity” because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the ‘actor.’ On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be ‘passive,’ because he is not ‘doing’ anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence…
In the exercise of an active affect, man is free, he is the master of his affect; in the exercise of a passive affect, man is driven, the object of motivations of which he himself is not aware…
love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion…
Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a ‘standing in,’ not a ‘falling for.’ In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.”
All from The Art of Loving
These expressions resonate deeply here. My world is too busy to suit me. I want to give more than the constraints of demand allow and I ask myself why that is, besides the obvious. And I wonder what I can do to bring the kind of balance that puts me back in a position of giving from a place of overflowing aliveness. Non-stop demand can make compulsive automatons of us all. Part of the problem here is the merely temporary shoving end-of-semester study scramble. But it all adds up. How can my life, with all the roles I fulfill, sufficiently give where it matters most to myself, to my children and beyond, recognizing there are limits on what one person can give, recognizing that those three fields include row upon row of truly valid requirement? Myself – all that I require to maintain balance and be a resource. My children – all that they require. Beyond…
I may have to cut down to two classes a semester. I may have to cut it out completely in search of a job while wondering if I’m shooting my future earning capacity in the foot in order to secure myself as a more viable resource NOW. School. Work. Parenting. Long-term relationship with ______. It is quite a conundrum. But the truth is, it is impossible to fathom every possible outcome. It’s sometimes better to choose rather than stall in analysis. That’s why school has been a full-time (for my world!) affair and a great restorative experience for me thus far in some respects. But the crashing halt of so much else is daunting. For someone who wants to see everything running smoothly so I can give as much as possible to all that matters to me (including to myself!), it’s also highly restrictive. And sometimes you run into one professor who makes you wonder how it is “education” has such a grandly elevated status on the totem pole of life. I have to submit to this narrow intelligence and lack of perspective?! And take a bad grade from someone whose attention is hijacked by insecurity-driven agendas? Every indignant thread of me has managed to stay put and not march out of my developmental psychology class this semester, muttering “my time, my energy is precious…you have GOT to be kidding me, such rich material and wow…”
This is when I start to snarl… freedom, where is it? I resent the constraint. So, the cultivation of a vision of what “freedom” works itself out to be in this particular phase of life is essential. If I did not have long sit-still sessions of total silence I would be a complete wreck. And moonlight helps.
This is when I appreciate Maslow where he says “self-actualization is a matter of degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair.” Self-actualization includes the realization (not merely the mental realization but the whole-person realization as an experiential fulfillment) of the capacity to love as that active giving from a place of freedom. The snarling commences…how to preserve that freedom? It seems like the answer lies in choosing a path that is not reacting in fear of the possible future lack or in fear of current lack but holds a realistic vision, adopting a wise course of action that respects both present and future concerns while maintaining a faith in life’s vast opportunities for love to grow. No small feat. Sometimes I can only manage to snarl.
In the meantime, Fromm keeps me reminded of the wonder of aliveness, of the life lived outside the gate, past the dutiful piecemeal fragmented meals stewed in soulless compliance to rote “right” and beyond to resilience thriving in awareness of the power of love as an active affect of vibrance overflowing both spontaneously and in calculting efficiency. Sometimes a life of such love requires concentrated downtime, rest. Other times it requires meticulous planning and implementation while maintaining a sensitivity to the moment, to the value of changing course in a blink of “accidental” intuitive brilliance. Other times it shoves you into leaping first, asking questions later (and snarling at the obstacles). But always…
stillness required. And for now, study essential. On with it…
Coming up on the end of semester and two of the most demanding months of the year, this is all I have to “say” . . .
My house is a mess. I’m shaky from not feeling well and not eating enough today and. I’m supposed to be writing my final essay for Critical Thinking and. And I’m supposed to be studying for my World Lit. final. And. And I’m floundering. The question of the essay: “How do you understand who you are?” Wow, I’ve asked that one for over three decades now. It has shaped my life. This should be a breeze! But answering the question in an essay that also asks me to articulate my plans for the future with a timeline…argh. It’s doable but I feel caged by it. There are so many possible twists in the road of my life, so many restrictions too. I have choices and yet their consequences, gulp. So, I’m wallowing in the first part of it ‘though it’s the easiest bit for me. How do I understand who I am? Love is how I understand who I am.
Attachment issues and damnation stories wrap up their ribbons of love and hint only at the capacity, the untapped depths of immeasurable wealth waiting the conjuring of hope. Hope beyond the History and Shitory. Did you know that if you accidentally type too fast, you get “shitory” when trying to type about your personal history? It puts the howl in serious reflection. It caricatures the somber perspective and turns the world upside down. I love it. It is the divine enlightened nonsense of whimsical devotion turning dedicated plan-making into a derisive jaunt down memory lane. It is the contradiction to what is truly historically serious and precious but would not be known as deeply without the satire of yes…shit. Shitory. Yes, I typed “shitory” today for history. Oddly, there are no definitions for this word. I’m considering creating one. In the meantime, I see it all as a work of growth, of life speaking to me and molding something within me, from the typos to the final essay to the dishes in the sink. But how? How do I understand who I am? Love.
This brings me to Fromm and reminds me of leg-clenching quandaries and blessings, the use of “objects” and the soil of character itself:
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty. In fact, they even believe that it is a proof of the intensity of their love when they do not love anybody except the “loved” person…Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object–and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it. If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, ‘I love you,’ I must be able to say, ‘I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.'” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving
Fromm goes on to distinguish that we do channel our love towards specific individuals for specific purposes (eros,
brotherly, etc.). I can’t read this and not go on to say that this is a process, that we are opened up to love ourselves, to love life and all of humanity by opening up sometimes more exclusively to one person or group and then it expands. And the whole world is open, alive in our hearts. We can still grab our “object” and find greater resonance with one as opposed to another because the capacity to love between two unique people may surpass the capacity elsewhere, than with a different combination. So many possibilities, so many potential “object” fixations but love is beyond even this, is the “power of the soul.” I love this definition. It is action. It is the stuff that feeds faith and puts one foot in front of the other. (To write an essay when everything in me is screaming “Do NOT make me write this.” Get to work, woman.)
I feel my life changing. That is why I shy away from writing about it. I feel 2010 as a big leap out of some moldy cocoons. And I should be excited, right? What if my wings fail me? What if…what if…what if I get slammed back down again? WHY(?!) did that happen to me? What if…
love happens. It’s happening now and somewhere past the crash of reflection on history. I can make a plan and adjust as I need to. I don’t know why I had to write this except that it feels like a layer coming off of me, a work of acceptance of the risks and resilience of love beyond any object distortions, “objective” history or…even the shitory. I can plan again. And again.
It’s all good.
Lately my days have been spent trekking through the cold mud of literary landscapes and:
“Gross hailstones, water gray with filth and snow streaking down across shadowed air…” (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy – Dante’s Inferno)
Dante’s description of the third circle of hell is anything but hot and yet I love the contradictions heralding the layers of perceptions of hell. We have fire. We have ice. Dante’s world is cold, the worst state of the heart. But his passion for “righteousness” (or was it POLITICS?! methinks that’s the fire.) burned through his creativity, piercing centuries of religion with the worst of damnation’s offerings. I can only shake my head in awe and wonder. Such tenacity and brilliance and so much energy expended in reaction. Part of me wonders where we’d be today if this work had not burned through centuries of the devout, hopeful of God’s approval.
Where do you land after you’ve read Dante’s Inferno? Do you run back to the fiery realms of the more popular infernal damnation? It’s pretty mild compared to Dante’s ripping, shredding, devouring, icy, dismembering annals of recrimination…
It’s been mind-numbing. But while wading through the slush, compiling dissections for literary criticism of the third circle of Dante’s vision, my kids took the time to inundate me with chocolate cake, gifts and cards. Now there’s a bit of salvation: chocolate and cards and laughter.
My youngest didn’t realize how perfectly timed his card to me, shown above. I let out a howl. For one thing, the card has the word “hell” in it and this is a BIG DEAL for my son. He doesn’t much like cussing. But he’s heard me let a few slip. Especially the one I just don’t think of as a curse word. I mean, really. HELL. This card is his way of embracing the more impulsive, human parts of his mom. I thought it mighty big of him and more loving than any gruesomely conjured divine “love” freezing us all out of compassion and hope in the name of “redemption.” Oiy, but I DON’T have a problem with some of religion’s layers. It’s NOT like any of it has oppressed whole centuries of lives or shackled minds in fear. [sarcasm alert]
Is it? Or is it that we’ve just not had the appetite for anything but the burning cold shut-out? How much has religion influenced and how much has it facilitated what has been the inevitably harsh boil of self-hatred? Where does it start?
I don’t know. I just know I need cats and kids with bigger hearts than the pseudo-god (as opposed to the very real Divine flow loving) and delicious fire burning us all into acceptance of every layer of what it is to be human, every “circle” of the “hell” we can make the most of, in spite of centuries of condemnation. And comic relief from the son whose sense of humor runs deep, drawing inspiration from veins of precious wicked refusal of shame:
Is it any wonder my favorite Psalm includes these words:
“If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me…Even the darkness is not dark to Thee…darkness and light are alike to Thee…” (excerpts from Psalm 139)
Somewhere between the daunting realms of Dante and the Psalms of David, we run into the truth. These beds we make in hell, we make ourselves – even if it’s all we were taught to do up to that point. The heights we climb, we choose them. And somewhere past the worst distortion of love and around the damnation bend we find the real thing. The only solid salvation. It will likely lick your toes and meow. It will beg your brain to melt and cease the endless dismembering of self in thoughts of good and evil. It will definitely inundate you with a rich acceptance chuckling in the love of children. It will likely ask you to bend a few rules and cook up something steamy delicious behind closed doors.
Praise God and pass the firewood. I’m ready to forget Dante!
The rains flood my world this week, washing the brightness, floating leaves yellow all around. I walk under dripping canopies, trees sending waves of shine through wet air, a pale golden hue whispers stillness as the leaves paint their way to the ground. It’s been surreal, beautiful and real. A rainstorm of compassion on my world in the form of many kind gestures. Some from myself, some from instructors and sisters and dearest friends. It’s a week of deeper commitment to a layer of growth not found in the halls of education but it has certainly been provoked by it.
At some point this past Sunday I faced the truth I’d been running from for 3 weeks: Statistics had to go. 4 classes after 22 years of absence from formal education is a hell of a lot to ask of someone with 3 kids and concerns for maintaining a level of health I’ve fought hard to attain and it’s not perfection by any stretch. I had not taken any other math courses since the age of 19. That’s a long time. The truth is, I had a B average in that class but the past 3 weeks left me stumped. It wasn’t sinking in and I didn’t have time to get help. I could cram and spend every spare second beating my brain around the subject but it would hurt my 3 other classes. Since I could still drop without it reflecting badly on my GPA, I took the leap. But what a painful leap. I loved that class. Oddly enough.
Sounds like no big deal, just life, lah tee dah. But it’s a big deal for me. All of this time is a big deal. And it’s been frought with tinges of frenzy to compensate for a sense of lost time. But what a black hole that idea becomes. “Hurry up Ruth! You’ve been losing time parenting and crawling out of generational wreckage and obsessing over what to do next and LOOK AT YOU! MOVE IT.” I can be ruthless. Lost time? When I’ve been giving my energy and time to things immeasurably precious? You can’t squeeze the equivalent of two lifetimes into one. But I have a tendency to want to do that very thing. And then I feel like a freak when I can’t pull it off, sure that everyone else is far more “together” than I am.
Then I ran into my very Italian Lit. instructor. Scorpio wonder supreme. She became part of the shower of compassion this week. I’d not done well (in my estimation anyway. it really wasn’t that bad, actually) on the last test and wanted to understand how my essay had gone so wrong. The timing of our meeting to discuss the essay was perfect. It turned out to be a rich flow of sharing life situations and encapsulated therapy. And encouragement and support in my choice to cut back. “Ruth, when I was your age and had one child it was too much! I took TWO classes.” This one 30 minute slice of pragmatic and generous aid was healing. Just watching her in class, waving her arms around and speaking her New York Italian accent is a wealth…and she’s another refugee of the worst of religion. Great simpatico sustenance in her presence.
So, a reality check via respect for limitations and a love of self’s trails and trials leading up to now has been the order of this week (including a birthday that initially started out loathesomely blah). I love to use Roots of Asia tarot and for weeks and weeks I kept getting the 10 of wands. H-e-a-v-y burdens. “you are over-doing it.” Duh, I do that! But, I usually let it crush me before I actually change things. Not this time.
And the rains keep falling all over this world. Everything drips wet, pregnant with promise, a promise of deeper resilience in the moment whose guarantee is only of life’s transience. And immeasurable value.
On with it…(lighter load!!!)
(good luck Kristy!!!)
“…anger wants to flow through your system, from your first awareness of injustice to your final syllable of complaint. That feeling of becoming angry may be nothing more or less than the pulse of life asking for expression. The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote:
Don’t use your anger to conceal
a radiance that should not be hidden.
Anger is your spirit flashing out of you. It is your presence on earth insisting upon itself. It can be overdone, of course, be expressed in the wrong ways, and be confused with many other things. But it is still the force of your life, your precious daimon letting itself be known.”
Thomas Moore – Dark Nights of The Soul
I kept seeing one of my sons twirling a workbook quietly in his hands out in front of him as he listened to the teacher. Twirling and listening, twirling. And then I saw the contrast of his frame, his head bowed over a book as punishment (!!!!) for having twirled the workbook while listening. These images flashed onto the screen of my mind when I felt self-doubt crashing in on my efforts to get him moved to a different teacher. There were other scenes I could’ve played on the screen, scenes of reported abortions of love and education but this one, this one of his twirling a workbook did it for me. Combined with his fading enthusiasm for learning, I couldn’t just sit on my anger. It had to find some fairly potent expression. And it did. Within 3 days he was moved to the teacher of choice. Anger, when doing the work of love, is awesome great stuff. And I worked out the uglies privately, the brutal rage had to boil over a bit first in order to get to the most effective slice. It was a balm to read this bit of Moore in retrospect.
It’s not like she warned him. She just bypassed all sense of respect and slammed him into the shame zone. And it was not the first time with my son, or others. I asked him, when trying to find all the layers of the situation, if he could tell me what she had been teaching at that moment. He spewed verbatim the subject matter and then some. Some kids learn best when they move or make noise while learning. Where do we put them in an education system that eats kids for lunch everyday? I don’t know. I have to tell myself I’m not a hypocrite to even have my children in this system. I tell myself I’m teaching them how to maintain their authenticity without shooting themselves in the foot, how to deal with the fallibility of systems and adults who think they’ve arrived while maintaining a measure of respect for both the system and the adult while dealing with a sometimes total lack of respect for the personhood of the child. It seems insanity. You have your gains and your losses. Right now the gains outweigh the losses and this is true because the disparity was turned around by anger as love in action.
The report after day one with the “new” teacher (she taught my older son beautifully 2 years ago): “Mom! It was AWESOME! I held a SNAKE!” and “One kid started singing and didn’t get in trouble!” and two other kids were bantering back and forth while learning and the teachers only commented on their talk. And. And. And. His body language said plenty without the words but what a treasure, his reports. That these should be announced with delight is both sad and glad proof of what’s wrong with our system of education. It should not be a rare thing to be “allowed” to be who you are. It can work and be managed beautifully without the control-based fear-driven “approach” to taking care of children.
The morning of his first day with this teacher I made sure to walk him into class. I was greeted not by one but by two hugs. The teacher and the aide put their arms around me and said “We love your son! We’re so glad he’s here! He’s going to do great in here Mama…” The last hug was the biggest surprise and came not as a quick pass of fleeting affection but prolonged holding encouragement. They were thrilled, the administration showed compassion and my son got to hold a snake.
Anger…it protects what’s precious when it’s utilized strategically, transmuted in the cauldron of love.
And soon the keyboard will be humming with the clickety clack of words piling up for homework, projects and essays. And study. I study by writing notes, then typing them and reading them out loud. Then there’s visualizing what I’m learning. Imagining it. If I can somehow connect it to something of meaning in my daily life, then I know it even more. And I don’t have to do as much writing.
It’s amazing what you learn about flying by the seat of your pants when you’re mothering three children and focusing on studies. Whatever else I had been clinging to for some semblance of order is . . . gone. I grab and orchestrate on the fly as much as possible and sometimes it works out. Usually, in fact, it works out. But “works out” includes dishes left in the sink (no dishwasher!), laundry brought to the chair in the living room and…left there to be sorted and folded on the fly and mail piling up high. Oddly enough, it’s teaching me that I, too, can just let things roll without planning out every nth degree. It’s not all up to me. And I manage to get it done, regardless.
It works. I’ve marvelled at how easily I’m releasing things, rolling with the punches and somehow managing to land on my feet (withOUT falling down the stairs!). More of my stinky rotten pride is melting too. People come into my dirty home and I smile. I hug. I don’t cringe and apologize and burn up inside. Big big sigh. This is something I wanted to master. It turns out that life has mastered me a bit and instead of my having to try to overcome this particularly vain streak, it has been smashed. Some things just take a bit of brutal bashing by life’s more relentless tides. And something about unconditionally loving yourself amidst the dust bunnies and dirty laundry helps too.
But wow. To relax with family and friends, to laugh a ton and get extra hugs . . . a welcome reprieve from the whirlwind.
And it begins . . .