Hoberman’s Sphere

I’m pretty sure the kid in this picture is a lying bastard.  Or perhaps he’s an idiot who has just realized he’s stuck in this stupid ball, and because he’s an idiot all he can do is grin  (kids can be idiots too–I know this from experience).  If he’s not intentionally deceiving us or unfortunately dimwitted, maybe he’s just a tragic victim of the advertising agency.  He was originally posing with his super hero cape, but they photoshopped that out and stuck him for all time in this nerve tweaking, truth telling device.

No, I was not molested inside a Hoberman’s sphere as a child.  If one were molestationally minded, that would be a sloppy choice of venue.  However, a few weeks ago during a dance workshop, our instructors started taking them out of  boxes and bags like the feral, multiplying bunnies they are.  The movement principle we were working on was expand and contract.  We had started with our breathing; inhaling as arms raised across the meeting hall, exhaling as they lowered.  My attention was immediately drawn to the bottom of my rib cage, but then I thought, “Wait, when have I ever noticed my rib cage before?  Does everyone know about this?  IS THIS NORMAL OR A SIGN OF IMPENDING BURST APPENDIX??” (Okay, I didn’t worry about my appendix, but I was shocked.)  Then came the spheres, explained to us outward symbols of how our nervous system works both in optimal and less than optimal conditions.  We were supposed to stay tuned in to our bodily experience as our instructor started to manipulate the first sphere.

As she expanded and contracted the brightly colored toy, I started to cry.

First reaction?  Why the fuck am I crying about a stupid toy?  Second reaction?  God damn it, the normal (and at this point totally silent) circle is going to be all fucked up by me crying.  This of course lead to clenching and horse nostril breathing, which if I would’ve been able to pay better attention, was exactly what this exercise was trying to help us avoid.  As spheres continued to be brought out of hiding, my reaction intensified.  By the time we were broken up into groups of three to work with them together, my hands were shaking so badly I could barely get mine open.

I felt like my secrets had been exposed.  Clearly the whole nervous system was random, chaotic, and no matter how hard I tried, I would never learn to be one of those people who modulates gently.  “IT’S NOT FAIR,” I screamed internally-not giving myself any credit in the moment for how far I have come in this domain.

I stepped off the dance floor soon after the exercise was over to go sit with this great tree I’d met out in the courtyard.  It was a rainy weekend, and this naked beauty was covered with eye-flayingly green moss.  I repeated my complaint to the tree: “It’s not fair gramma.”  The tree was having none of my mopey self-indulgence.  “You know it’s not really chaotic,” she said.  “Look at my branches for a moment.”  “But…” I started to protest.  “LOOK!”  And since you don’t argue with the ancients if you know what’s good for you, I looked, and as I looked, the images of expanding and contracting multiplied across the folds of my defensive brain.  Branches, lungs, irises, flowers, tides, and last week I actually found myself quite involved in reading about sphincters.  It was rational and it was regulated.  Sigh.  I calmed down enough to go back inside.  I was worried my exposed nerves would betray me again, but I was committed to trying my best.

Fast forward a week and it wasn’t surprising when I circled back to this topic in my therapists’ office.  After expressing my frustration with how shifting back and forth is hard for me, she got THE look on her face.  This is the look I have come to know as preceding a great moment of intuitive questioning, the kind that makes my brain shiver in delight.  “You’ve described this quality that you’re calling rigidity, and for some reason I’m picturing it as a rock.  I’m wondering what would happen if you spent some time with it, dressed it up even like a pet for a while.  What does this rigidity want from you?”

Dang.  Rigidity as a teacher?  It’s definitely been around in me longer, but I didn’t know if I could wrap my mind around it.  I’ve just barely gotten to the point where flow and integration seems possible.  I started thinking about what I might want if I was a rock.  I submit to you my attempt at either a list-like poem, or a poetic list–you be the judge.

Maybe it wants

to be rigid without apology

(to be right without apology?),

to make noise like a rock in a a can–

it’s not functional,

but it’s a lot of fun to shake

a rock in a can.

 

Maybe it wants

to not be forgotten,

to not be considered boring now–

just because it’s a rock

and not the ocean.

I understand that,

but I don’t usually keep rocks around

for decoration.

 

Maybe it wants

an explanation of why you’re

saying goodbye,

or for you to learn to drive stick shift.

Or to sit closer to the

beach

where the waves change without force.

 

This is a good start of course, but I suspect that it’s only the very beginning of a very long conversation to be held between me, myself, and I.  I’m now looking at a second list in my journal entitled: “Benefits of Rigidity??”  It’s pretty blank so far, but the three things on there are not to be sneezed at.  1.  Keeps me stubbornly clinging to the belief that there is goodness in people.  2.  Kept me working with “lost” students and “lost” schools when others had abandoned giving their best and only showed up to survive.  3.  Whatever rigidity is left might be a great illuminator to all the new and delicious flow and integration.  This thought feels juicy because despite my desire to progress more quickly,  I have truly come a long way.  I changed plans at least five times this week–which I know is not a lot for those of you with kids or other chaotic things, but for me it’s a crap ton.

As I terminated my plans last night by pulling off the traffic fucked 280,  I had no idea where I’d end up.   But as I drifted down a hill I had never been on before, hugging the curves of an unknown street in the Zipcar that doesn’t belong to me, I said out loud–“What now?”  I realized that statement as good, and I grinned.

 

 

 

 

 

A letter to Dr. King

Dear Dr. King,

I imagine that on a day like today, you are closer than usual, watching with all the other ancestors.  Sometimes I’m sure you’re cheering us on, gratified that we’re actually using the positive and negative lessons you left behind.  Sometimes I’m sure we make you tired and angry, even while you hold us in the gentle compassion that spirit has for the meatbound.  I wanted to say a few things to you today in the most honest way I can.

First off, I am just confused.  I don’t understand how we continue to take loving children and young adults and turn them into defensive assholes that will kill or maim in the name of differences that are mostly made up.  Not all of them end up that way of course, you being a great case in point, but we don’t set out to do it.  No teacher I know says, “I hope I will help create people today that will root for division and strife in their adult lives….yay strife!!”  There are hidden biases and prejudices, yes, but most people I know want a kinder world.  So how are we still where we are?  I’m not ready to believe that people are evil at heart, so I don’t get it!  And I don’t know how the rules work where you are now, but if there’s a way to let us in on the answer, it would be much appreciated.  We’d probably even be cool with half an answer at this point–yes, even half an answer might save a life.

Secondly, I want to do more to fight injustice, but I also don’t want to promise things I might not be able to deliver.  I’m pretty selfish.  Sometimes that bums me out, sometimes I don’t think about it, and I celebrate the times I step out of my self interest for the greater good.  But the fact remains, I’m my first priority.  I am knocked breathless by you and all the other fighters that gave your lives to move a cause one inch forward in a scale of miles.  Maybe your faith made it possible?  Maybe you were just crazy and it worked to the benefit of the world?  It’s not me.  I’ve spent much of my 13 years in teaching ignoring a variety of injustices in order to preserve my sanity and spend my energy loving those who were in front of me.  No, I can’t promise renewed commitment to freedom fighting on your day today, but I can promise to keep moving forward on the things I can do that I think might help:

1.)  I will keep becoming me, the most authentic, visible version of me that I know at the moment.  I will not rest on my laurels and sleep at the river.  I will find work that allows and encourages this.  I will build my friends and family from people that call me on my shit when I won’t do it myself and celebrate the demolition of hiding places when I can do it myself.  The people I know that are the most like this already, love the differences in others, find in them a magical intrigue instead of a sign that you’ve betrayed the dominant paradigm.

2.) I will keep creating art and asking questions.  I have seen both acts pull people from opposite corners of the room to share stunned silence.  We may have different names or theories about transcendence, but I think most people agree that something big exists.  With continued effort I hope that my art will be ever better in helping us see ourselves and vent our demons, and that my questions will be ever more interesting and un-checklist like.

3.)  I will keep reminding myself to be here.  Not in last week or six hours from now, but right here, wherever right here is.  My hope in this is that when an injustice happens, I will actually see it if I’m present in the moment.  And if I see it, love will lead me to act.

This may not be enough, or it may be revolutionary, but either way it is my promise to you and all the ancestors today.  Thank you for giving us a different lens with which to view passion, courage, and hell, even crazy.

 

 

 

 

Maybe we like weird?

I’ve never considered myself funny.  That’s not an ‘oh-poor-me’ statement, just a boring reference card in a long, skinny library drawer of yore, or maybe yesteryear (personally I prefer yore–don’t really know what it means exactly, but I always picture myself with a horned Viking hat on when I say it).  I think I’m observant, definitely weird, in love with minutiae, both interested and terrified in the place where “boundaries” blur, but not funny.  Other people seem to think so; my students when I pull out a word like “fugly” to describe progress report grades, my friends when commenting on my Facebook posts, but I figure they’re usually humoring me because they love me.

But I picked up a book this week called Furiously Happy by the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.  She talks about naming a cat The President, her thoughts on granny panties, and her therapist’s plot to unseat her with “invisible” squirrels (which I totally believe by the way Ms. Lawson, if you ever happen to be seeing my teensy star in the blogosphere).    She also talks with balls-to-the-wall honesty and grace about what it is like to live followed by mental illness.   And while I don’t know that my style would make snot bubbles come out of someone’s nose, I re-read some of my old Facebook stuff last night and thought, “Huh, maybe I am funny.”  This of course lead me to wonder about my definition of funny.

I know there a multiple types of humor and I could take a class or read a book to study up, but the thought of that makes me want to stick my tongue out at my own brain.  As much as I love to geek out and read my way into a subject, this is not the subject for that.  So then I just let my mind wander.  Funny: the watermelon smashy guy–Gulliver, or was that Gallagher? maybe Gilligan, who knows, Lucille Ball, Chris Rock, my students when they talk about things like how you might kick one’s eye out, the board game Moods sitting on the floor with my college roommates while drinking Zima or Peppermint Patties, animals with clothes on, people who give animals voices, all things tiny (corn, carrots, silverware, salt and pepper shakers), my teacher friend Molly, and Chelsea Handler (but part of that is because we have the same name and I appreciate someone who is better at putting outfits together than I am).

I didn’t see a common thread in my list so I went back to reading.  When I got to the chapter “Pretend You’re Good at it”–sterling advice from her friend Neil Gaiman–it clicked.  Maybe my kind of humor is the mixture of relief and surprise when someone is honest, regardless of the subject they’re expressing honesty on.  Christmas Eve I was at a collage party, and we sat around snacking after creating when our hostess brought out warm pound cake from the oven.  No, you’re not listening, WARM POUND CAKE FROM THE OVEN!!  I started walking my fingers across the top of my third slice when I realized everyone was looking at me.  I looked around sheepishly,”I was just wishing I could be really tiny and walk around this pound cake.”  Everyone blarted out laughing.  “Yeah,” I continued, “that’s the kind of shit I used to not say out loud.”  But even in saying it, it felt good to say.

This of course leads me to the next rung of my monkey bars, and don’t laugh, because my mind is really blown by this thought: maybe we like “weird”, like it more than we’re willing to admit to ourselves or others.  We spend time and money on whatever will connect us to the largest group of accessible people, people that will benefit our emotional and physical health and survival.  That forms our definition of what is normal, and if we’re lucky, that group is full of the most awesome kind of weirdos so that weird is our normal.  But if we’re not that lucky from the get-go, maybe our eyes wander beyond our safety, looking for a way to make the insides and the outsides more closely match each other.  The longer I live, and the more preteens I see right before we squeeze them in the box forever, the more convinced I am that we’re all quite the collage internally.  If we didn’t have a certain secret fascination with weirdness, Ms. Lawson would’ve flopped on her face I’m afraid.  But she hasn’t…I know because I’ve been internet stalking her today.  She has 150,000 followers on Facebook alone.  I’ve been on for five years and have 132.  This is a rate of 26 a year, approximately.  That means, if I’m doing the math correctly, it would take me 5,769 years for me to have as many follower.  I’m pretty sure, although not positive, I’ll be dead before then.

What if we liked things that are weird, despite all efforts to the contrary?  If so, I am definitely, definitely funny.  Maybe I should buy a watermelon smashy hammer or a Viking hat.  Not sure yet.  Will have to let this new thought sink in a little, stir the Kool-Aid.  Stay tuned readers, all three of you, things keep getting interesting.