How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

Continued from April 22, 2014 post, How to Be, Part II: Holy Saturday

How do I get unstuck?

How do I get out of my own way?

I don’t think I knew what was missing for me those months I drove back and forth to Santa Fe to teach. I thought that if I just had more time, if I were writing more, if I could just figure out how to balance parenting and paid work and writing (and turn more of my writing into paid work!) and relationship, then I could bring my best self to those fifth graders. I could channel M’s sarcasm into an autobiographical comic strip or transform J’s indifference into curiosity or finally develop a hands-on project that was so engaging L would want to stay in his seat. And if I couldn’t do any of those things, then I could at least draw on reserves of compassion and patience to combat the tendency of my shadow side to personalize normal fifth grade boy behavior, buying into the belief that M makes snide remarks and J doesn’t care and L wanders the room because they hate me, and they must hate me because I’m boring and I suck.

Part of me was right, not about being boring or sucking, but about the other stuff. I did need to be writing more. (I always need to be writing more.) I did need more balance in my life. But my frame for correcting the problem was askew. It wasn’t about figuring things out, cracking the code to that age-old work/life balance question. I didn’t need to think my way through this. I needed to do something.

The simple answer to those questions I asked Ana Castillo is this: you just do. You get unstuck by moving. You get out of the way by getting.

So I filled a jar.

Chrissie Orr is the creative genius behind El Otro Lado. As a little girl in Scotland, she would help her mother make jam. There was no recipe. Her mother knew just when to pick the berries, how much sugar to add, how long to stir the pot, when to pour the goo into the jars. She shared these stories at the closing of El Otro Lado for the 2013-2014 school year. She talked about who we are as artists and teachers and teaching artists, how each of us has a need for reflection, how each of us intuitively knows what supports us in our reflective process, the ingredients, so to speak. She gave each of us a jar and asked us to fill it with words or natural materials (or a mix) that symbolize what supports us in our reflective practice. Then she set us loose at The Academy for the Love of Learning. My role with El Otro Lado has changed. Last year I stepped aside as a teaching artist and came on as part of the facilitation team for teacher/teaching artist gatherings. It takes a lot for me to step out of my facilitator role and enter into an art experience. Even if the art experience is really cool—working with vellum, writing an ode—I tend to stand back and watch the room, hold the space. Part of it lies in being present to the participants, holding space so they can move freely within it. But part of it is fear. What if I enter this experience and nothing comes? But this time I picked up a jar and asked Chrissie, “Can we do this too?”

I walked the arroyo at the northern edge of the Academy’s property. I scooped a handful of rocky sand into the jar. I found a flat rock shaped like a heart. Not a Valentine heart, but the actual muscle that pumps blood through my body. I broke a dry sprig of chamisa from its branch. I followed a vine of gourds, some perfectly intact, hardened, a hint of green or yellow at the ombligo connecting the gourd to the vine. Some had a jagged window cracked into them, and I imagined the sparrow that might have tapped in search of food. I picked a dried flower, the petals like parchment. And then I found my gourd. It was broken open as though from within. It was an egg, a nest, a cocoon, a hatch. It was shelter.

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Published in: on June 26, 2014 at 8:11 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You inspire me, Beautiful One. Being in motion is the key. We get “unstuck by doing.” Thank you for the reminder.


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