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.
I’m licking wounds, growing stronger, settling into acceptance of who I am (a dynamic thing I must fight to keep up with and then give up on and then be visited by and then yes…this is life) and I can find few words for it. But. But the theme that keeps dogging me like a hound of Hades is this one issue – what to fight for.
I run to Thomas Moore’s Dark Eros, for whatever intuitive reason, and these are the pieces of synchronicity life speaks to me now, on this one issue:
“Life itself is both caring and hostile. We are born astride a grave, the hopeful swell of life an inevitable move toward death. Nature is lovely and vulnerable, and yet it is also cold-hearted and cruel, oblivious to human reasons for protection. To live this life with full participation in nature is to adopt its cruelty and vulnerability. Often it seems psychological problems center around this issue of participating in the Sadeian nature of reality. We back away from engaging in cruelty, but the harshness does not go away. We deny the victim our gift of power, and then we become the victims of that denied force. We cannot believe we are capable of the vulnerability a life episode asks for; we retreatk and then feel literally and utterly wounded.
If the individual human soul is torn between victimization and cruelty, the soul of culture also gets tangled in problems of power.
We have so humanized and rationalized the positive powers of life that only in pathology does the divine peek through.
..innocence split off from shadow is not innocence at all but only a posturing. Paradoxically, embracing Sade could ease conscience and guilt, and it could revivify social justice.
The shadow in human life cannot be brought home as long as we concretize it in some objectionable other. Like everything else, evil is assimilable by soul only after it has been subjected to a poetic alchemy, refined into fantasy and feeling instead of personality and emotion, and woven into the fine tapestry of imagined experience.
It’s fine to be imaginative in articulating the details of a sensitive life, but the real nub comes with the presence of aggression, vicitimization, and power. Will we ever cease reacting to victimization with increased violence? Will we ever realize that strength of heart is to be found only at the deep end of the well of vulnerability? Only the person or nation open to influence, dependent, relying, often disabled can know the deep muscle that grants effectiveness, creativity, confidence, and security. Only the allowance of failure breeds moments of success.”
I keep coming home to vulnerability. It doesn’t tell me what to fight for except those components in life that give room for vulnerability between peers and allow strength to grow and withstand the strengths of others, however lovely or not. We fight for the dynamics of power that give us room to be vulnerable with a peer without being destroyed or devoured by their shadows. We fight for the dynamics of power that give us room to grow, hopefully without destroying anyone else, without hindering their own progress. Those “dynamics of power” are simply the muscles we use to open ourselves up and be real in the moment, to push past the internal resistance, to push past a bit of the resistances in others. Those dynamics of power are the ones we utilize to retreat until a safer day, while the ones we long to be vulnerable with or open up to are still learning just how potently reactionary they are.
I had occasion to fight this week and I left it alone. And a noble fight it would have been. But I realized the message was deeper. I pulled back after much tremendously ugly and rabid frothing at the mouth with rage long tied to things I have still to redeem. It was, if you take it apart, pretty small. But not really. Not when you look at the dynamics of it. The messages. The energies. The powers. The victims. The perps.
My son’s locker was broken into at school. By. A. Teacher. But it’s their policy. But it’s not their policy to take, seize and possess personal items. But they did. He went to his locker to put his books away and the locker shelf his sister had given him was gone. He mentioned it to a friend and was overheard by a classmate. She informed him that the teachers regularly check to see if a student has left the locker on the last number of the combination (hence, unlocked). If so, they take a personal item without telling the student, put it in a closet and wait. So, he went to his teacher. She had broken it, his personal property, in the attempt to remove it. Her commentary, after volunteering to pay for the item: “I hope you see this as the lesson it is meant to be. Do not leave your locker unsecure.” [insert image of mocking, incredulous redhead saying “what kind of stupidly revealing statement is that?”]
Vulnerability is as much a right as is protection. And choice is something I find even just as valuable. If choice is something that needs to be submitted in lieu of greater gains, then hopefully that choice is submitted willfully and with full awareness of what will be gained, what will be lost, what will be required. Scenarios, environments, timing, situational “ethics” have their meaning. But when? And. What to fight for when? And how? And. When your heart is beating, head is pounding, hands are shaking and the voice is trembling, it’s time not to fight but to retreat and discern which fight you’re spoiling for at the time. Epic reactions mean epic past unfinished business. Usually. Especially. When. A. Locker. Is. Involved.
My son was not upset by it. We decided to leave it alone and keep it for later reference if the need should arise to show a trend (this does seem to happen). But I was wiped out. It hit on a deep wellspring of pain from my past, one I keep working to heal. An issue so perfectly symbolized by the locker and the teacher and. And the broken personal yes. Well, I have no recourse, no re-imbursement. Only one thing. The fight to keep myself vulnerable when it matters most. The fight to recognize that the beauty I experienced of the one involved, of the whole thing is not gone because of a betrayal. But must simply be accepted along with it. While I keep my safe distance and acknowledge my longing to do anything but that (and I don’t want to attack).
And I surf the internet, scan the news and find one is going to burn a book. In reaction. To fight for something. But he fights himself. He fights the very thing he treasures and has no idea of it. And nations toss words and it all swirls in frustration and stupidity supreme and all I can say is this: We are vulnerable. What will we make of it?
“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…
“Dionysian surrender to life includes an ego-relaxed receptivity to sexuality, a willingness to let life be shaped by desire and by sexual inclination. Yet when this Dionysian spirit is linked to the compassionate eros of Jesus, it takes an unusual form, becoming an emotional oxymoron – carnal chastity, promiscuous compassion, or, in the perfect phrase of Mary Daly, pure lust.
The Dionysian spirit is usually seen as a sexually expansive force, and so it is not obvious in some portraits of Jesus…Ruether concludes that ‘Jesus appears to be a person unperturbed by sexuality because he relates to both men and women first of all as friends.’ …
The image of Jesus suggests a way of placing limits that derives from joy and pleasure rather than fear and anxiety, limits determined by a positive choice in life. Jesus seems to suggest joyful celibacy and then to tolerate the struggles of others to establish their ways of being sexual and their ways of finding limits. …
The sexuality of Jesus consists in his openness to strangers and friends, the physicality of his healing, the sacramentality in his approach to food, the tolerance he displays in the face of sexual transgression, and his espousal of a philosophy based on love. Only a worldview mired in materialism could fail to see the sexuality in this expansive and inclusive erotic philosophy. The sexual teachings of Jesus, told best through his example, present a soul-centered eroticism in which friendship and a compassionate heart are not only included but placed at the center.
We have a strong tendency to think of sex as emanating from the sex organs or from the purely physical body, but Jesus demonstrates a quite different notion – sexuality rooted in compassion and in the capacity for friendship. It is a more broadly defined but no less sensuous sexuality, in which love and pleasure are joined integrally. There is no need to import affection to what is thought to be a plain physical expression or to justify sex with love. In the sexuality of Jesus physical lifea nd compassion are two sides of a coin. In him we find that the heart is an organ of sex, as surely and effectively as any other private part.” – Thomas Moore, The Soul of Sex
Some could consider this “sacreligious” but it resonates for me, deeply, since I’ve been examining the impact of fear-filled religious dogma on my own concept of myself as a sexual being. Marriage. Divorce. Dating. Sex. Motherhood. Academia. Writing. Art. What breathes life into any of these realities? Love. But going deeper into love, what “type” of love? Can I identify one that feeds all relationships with innocence and grace? What infuses everything? I keep landing on one: Eros. When fear melts away, when shame fizzles out in the light of the sun, when power struggles are stripped of their inferior control-frenzied gropings, eros is given the room to express and infuse itself into every layer of living as that pure lifeforce, erupting in poetic spill or artistic flow, feeding the motions of care-taking in all its forms, impassioning the goals for fitness or achievement of any form. Erotic love is not about fitting into a role as a married person or a saint or a sex symbol or a captured image of acceptable (or taboo oo oo) sexual functions. It is the infusion, the flow, the glow of surrendering to being alive with pleasure no matter your status.
Right now my status is boiling over a cauldron of change and growth and and and. I just might be late for class if I don’t kick it in. But I’m going to do it making love to life every step of the way. Jump and jive…
Coming up on the end of semester and two of the most demanding months of the year, this is all I have to “say” . . .
Where do you go when no one’s there to lift the other side of the couch, to move it? Who do you call? You tug, stumble, scramble, sweat. It’s moved. It happens alot in my world. No whining. I chose this. But the appreciation these times evoke is priceless. Appreciation for kind words, compassion, mercy. Grace.
What are these influences, these human realities we label? Grace? I could write a lifetime and not convey it. Bird song. Therein is grace. It stops on my chimney just outside and overhead and calls down a song sounding like the light at the end of the tunnel when I’m about to give up. Ah ha ha…sing. Waking me up in the morning on the tree outside my window. A lilt and my heart thrills. I hear it. It tells me: Life is here. Now and around this bend and beyond the sense of isolation. The phone rings…”Hey Ruthie!!! I needed to hear your voice!” More grace. Songs. I left Georgia 10 years ago. I don’t miss it. But my dearest friend, sisters and parents are there. And more friends and. I’m here.
Then sitting down after swallowing lumps of frustration down the throat (for some reason, ultra-sensitive lately -full moon), sighing with the protein bar, chowing down in-between classes and a kind soul walks up…are you an artist? I laugh. All I can do is laugh. Am I? I write. I dot. I study. I mother. I am. But do I feel myself qualified for a label just yet? No. Will I ever? I looked at him “Well…I do dots. Maybe that makes me an artist.” I’m longing. Longing for the feel of a paintbrush these days. On the canvas. Up there in my room in the attic. Quiet. Birds singing. But school hounds my energy, commanding and demanding a rectification of “lost” time.
Ha. No loss. I tell myself this every morning. It’s not that you’re late.
I reach into my bag. Book bag full and there. Slam. Exam next. Oh. Ho. Ho. Last night I was up to my eyeballs in being the compassion and mercy for my youngest son who had not had the help he needed up to that point on a project due the next morning. My morning of classes. And. I forgot the exam now looming, losing myself in bolstering boy writing words in their place on paper filled with Crayola clues. No study. Precious little time. I am. Labeled. A. Student. Mom. Artist? Writer? Aspiring lover. Of. Freedom.
I jump up and run, but it’s a jaunt and not really much more than a fast walk. To the library. Everything is disjoint jumble hurry hurry. Where’s my class pal? Where is he? The one with the long blonde curls and big smile. I find him in the library…”Is is true? Did I actually forget we have an exam?” Grins. Oh yeah. Study, cram, spin in circles and slam down at the desk, drumming fingers, wishing my teacher were not so graciously covering critical parts of the test for us (how kind!!! really!!! she gave me 4 answers right then and there before the test began!). But I’ll be late. I have to get my daughter to physical therapy. This is the class I was going to leave early to take her for her time of “terror” with knee strengthening rigors. Don’t get me going on the knees. And the load she bears just knowing the story of generations producing her own story. She is courage and her knees. They rat us all out. That’s how I feel. Responsible. Her knees hurt because I….? What have I not done fast enough? Damn, and if she had some terminal illness? Am I this hard on Ruth? What about my daughter? Does she feel it and take it on her own back? Does she know I love her? She does. She knows. Gulp. Lump. Throat. Push. Pencil on multiple choice (hallelujah) exam. I think I got an A, actually. Accidental grace? Somewhere way back there on the path I bought the lie that any illness in my family, in my children is my fault. Forgive me, mothers all. I’m learning to lose the worst label.
Test is over. Rush. Run. I’m late. It took longer than I expected. I’m huffing up one. two. three. four. flights of stairs and talking into my cell. Hurry, get ready. We’re going to be late. Stress. Fret.
I won’t. What if I round the bend and that’s the end? What if? I look up at the blue and I slow down. There has to be compassion awaiting. It has to start right here. In my step. With myself. This is the best I have. I can’t be all. No label fits. Life rips them, shreds them all in tatters when you stitch carefully so neatly even just one (mom). Those ideas grasp at me, begging me to keep, to hoard, to fret over how they don’t fit just yet on my chest: Artist. Writer. Student. Mom. I breathe deep, drive and strive to…rest. Then. I give up. And peace finds me. A series of stops and starts and awakening of daughter and out the door. We’re very late. First session. Not a good impression. Blah. The cell rings. “Is this Ms. Kelly?!” “Yes, I am so sorry… just turning in to the hospital now. Had a…” “Oh! It’s OKAY! No problem, really. I’ll be outside to meet your daughter. Just drop her off. No worries…” She’s mothering me. She’s mothering my daughter and I’ve seen her only once. She oozed grace even then. We get there and she’s overflowing compassion. I realized that at every turn lately that’s what I run into. Smack, slam, stomp land into…grace. I didn’t earn it. It just is.
It’s that simple. No steeple story high into the sky producing good people. Life does it. You either break or bend. You either reach out a hand of compassion or stand rigid, bracing against your own humanity and. Life. Or. You live in love. Rambling on…