Last summer at this time, I was in Peru. This summer, I am home. What I decided to do was to name this summer “The Make Sacred the Ordinary Summer.”
So let me tell you about some of the ordinary things:
I attended a wedding in Boston and danced with my husband, daughter and friends until my feet hurt.
I walked and played with my dog more.
I visited museums.
(Chihuly Exhibit, MFA Boston)
I took a course. It was an intensive Photoshop Lab, every day for a week. The first day the teacher spoke for 41/2 hours while he did photoshop and we watched. Did I mention he was also gulping Red Bull, going off on tangents of the personal nature? He was annoyed with and quite frankly mean to anyone who questioned him. There was not a minute of the class when he was not talking.
By day two, the class went from thirteen to eight (“I am not going to pay to be abused”, the photo editor sitting next to me said, she did not return.)
I walked in on the second day and said to the teacher “___________, let me share how I learn with you. Yesterday, watching you do photoshop for 4 ½ hours did not work for me. In fact, I retained very little. Today, I brought my laptop and will be using it while you talk.”
I continued to advocate for myself and do what I needed to do to be successful. I also asked my son and sister to explain a few concepts so I could better understand the process. Here are some of my creations from the week.
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, 2011”
(“Ojos de Dios”, 2011)
While I was successful, the class was not comfortable or conducive to learning. If I was not an adult, in an adult class, I would not had the power to direct my own learning. This experience reinforced my belief in hands on learning, facilitating learning and creating the space for both exploration and silence while learning.
This summer I also returned to my childhood hometown of Rochester NY for my 30th High School reunion. My family left in the 1980’s, so it had been a long time since I had been there. Besides the joy of reconnecting with old friends, I was interested in what memories came back. My best friend’s home, where her Dad still lives made me cry.
The kitchen, especially that blue green color of the counters, the smell of coffee, remembering her cat, and songs, and tiny nooks and crannies, a painting, the African violets, the swinging chair on the porch…so very rich.
(That’s my dear friend Tina in front of her childhood home, and with her sister Dee in the wonderful kitchen of some of my fondest memories.)
A sense of place holds so many fragments of sound, smell, touch, sight. These sensory fragments or memories make up the stories of life.
In my studio/atelier at SWS, kids often return as teenagers and college students. They also remember the small things that make a space more than a room. It is the reason that the Reggio belief exists that the environment is the third teacher. I was reminded of the importance of small touches.
I spent a lot of time with my college age son.
Yes, some of it was guiding him through the (often) frustrating necessities of organizing and functioning as an adult, but it also was filled with baking at 10pm because we craved something sweet.
Or sometimes it was watching old sitcoms off the computer on the sofa until I fell asleep. It wasn’t exciting, but I recognize that there’s a good chance we won’t have a whole summer of hanging out in nothingness again. I think for the first time in a long time, there really was a feeling of being present. And it felt good.
(small place in my garden)
As I return to the frenzy of school, I hope I am able to sustain great moments of being in the present, as a gift to my students and myself.
I returned to a center for incarcerated youth, to teach two more art workshops. What did I learn? Notice? Feel?
Children will go to great lengths to be seen and be heard, even if it is in horrible ways. Undiagnosed and ignored silent disabilities and family crisis create failure. Survival is a complex thing. In a group of 12, the boys had a pack mentality that was both predictable and sad. The girl’s group of seven showed amazing compassion for each other in between the stories of bravado (often inappropriate and tragic) born out of despair and bad choices.
Surprises…there was some beauty created out of clay. Whenever I offered help or some extra attention with the project, it was welcomed and appreciated. While language and topic was often out of control, I was always spoken to with politeness and care.
Facilities are a desperate and depressing environment for adolescents. It is essential to recognize children and families in crisis when they are very young, and support interventions and adaptations as much as possible so places like this do not have a population to fill it up. I can only hope that some of these youth find a way out of the path they are on.
The boy who would not touch the clay, but asked for pictures of wings to keep (a few weeks ago), ended up in my first group. He immediately came up to me and said, “Thank you for those drawings you gave me last time.”
Sometimes all you have is a wing and a prayer.
(detail, Wing and a Prayer, 2010)
I still have a few more weeks of ordinary. An Uncle’s 80th birthday party in NY, a cousin’s 30th. Lunch and shopping with my Mom. Full days creating in my own studio,
(in process, Blue Bottle Saints-Syncretism, 2011)
and moving my two children to two different cities. Marching in a rally to Save Our Schools. Keeping the flowers from dying on 100 degree days
and clocking in 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night.
(“Exit Peru”, 2011)
It might not be Machu Pichu, but it sure feels sacred.