Wednesday Wisdom

Wednesday Wisdom: Education

My husband and I just had a conversation about education. Coincidentally, I just spent the past three days driving my daughter back to Spokane, WA where she attends Gonzaga University. Besides the terrible snow on the interstate which caused me to spend one extra night in a hotel, education has been on my mind lately and also a large theme in our family life.

I have a Master in Education and a B.A. in French. For the past five years, I have taken many online writing classes, and as often as possible, local memoir writing classes. Right now, I’m taking an online writing class through Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat on Whidbey Island, Washington. The focus of the class is writing with vulnerability which requires shaking off every inhibition or negative portrayals, especially of the self. Of course, we aren’t supposed to say unkind things about others, but writing employs different rules. As long as the narrator is the most honest person on the page about her own shortcomings, she can say whatever truth she needs to dissect. Memoir is an investigative form that requires tough introspection. It is not a genre that most would find easy.

The world of education has changed. Growing up, my mother travelled three hours to Missoula for six weeks at a time, leaving on Sunday evenings and driving home on Friday nights, to attend summer school for her Education certification. It was not easy. Childcare was pushed to the back burner, and during those weekdays while our father was working, my older sister, thirteen at the time, was in charge.

There was a week when my father couldn’t come home from work. I don’t remember the details, except that it turned into a Lord of the Flies situation. My two sisters and I were left to fend for ourselves for the week. The message I received internally was that nobody cared about me. I was eleven years old. My older sister was violent. The story I held onto from that week was that I didn’t deserve to feel safe because my parents didn’t deem me important enough to protect. My brain, seeped into the emotional context, created its own meaning, one I carried for decades before dissecting it into pieces. In those pieces, I found struggles: family struggle, financial struggle, empathy struggle, parenting inadequacy, a mother who needed an education to support the family, sibling cruelty, bad choices, childhood fear, desperation. We were a family who learned through and lived by bad examples of support. In fact, we had none.

Supporting education is an important topic for me. Mothers, especially, need access to online learning opportunities to avoid having to choose between childcare or education. In Montana, a newish program has developed for Native Americans living on the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, a very rural area. There, adults working as school support staff can attend four years of online classes through the University of Montana, the same university where my mother travelled (here in Missoula), and earn their elementary certification to teach without having to leave town. As a daughter who experienced firsthand the lack of such services, I applaud the effort and emphasis toward family-friendly and culturally sensitive education.

There is a huge link between trauma healing and education. Where the link is broken, one remains stuck in trauma, passing it onto the next generation. The link remains broken through more than missed educational opportunities, but also through ideology, denial, stoicism, superiority mindset, racism, religious prejudice. In other words, the ideologies that fear hides behind, often the beliefs a child learns in the home. Where the link to education is strong and impactful, one can emerge from trauma as an empathic being, helping others on the journey. Through writing classes, I have crossed the threshold of fearing my own sense of worthlessness to cultivating curiosity about its meaning. It no longer holds weight in reality, but in the message that it was only a truth I ascribed to during a time of fear.

Let me know what you think. I’m curious how others have transformed their lives. Has education had a strong influence you? Good or bad? Let me know.

Happy New Year, Weirdos!

The idea of making resolutions has a different meaning for me as I age. The implementation of life style choices are now often replaced with goals to achieve deeper meaning in the life I want for myself, requiring contemplation and self-knowledge, and better challenges the potential for the growth that I hope to realize.

Every year, my resolutions become more silent, more individualized to the person I am in the moment, in other words, they accommodate my weirdness. The notion that we are a constant identity is a falsehood, proven with the passing of time through the moods and cycles of life. Work, family, and society influence our thinking and demand our presence. We constantly absorb the fluctuations of emotion from the people around us, pulling us out of ourselves and into a larger sphere where sometimes we’d rather not be. Discomfort is unsettling, but maybe that is exactly where we need to go to discover a deeper understanding of ourselves.

I think of the word resolution as a fallacy. To resolve something means to put an end to a conflict, but the most significant and meaningful conflicts have no end. Women’s equality, violence, trauma, aging, mortality. There is a casualness associated with resolutions but they bring no cessation to the conditions that scar us.

This is why I go inward. Self-examination allows me to connect more deeply to the minutiae I can control. Small changes can alleviate pressure put on me by the world which in turn creates a positive impact to those around me. Self-talk can be compassionate instead of critical. Expectations can be softened. I can control a bit more of my time. I can allow myself to be creative. I can be vulnerable.

When I think of what brings the most meaning in my life, I illuminate my priorities. Am I bravely practicing my own values despite opposition? What sustains me? Who? Does my time reflect this? The answers shift with each passing year. Things happen. Life evolves. Central to all of it is the person inside. Whose life would I be living if I didn’t possess my own contribution as my fullest, truest self?

Life is more fun, more courageous, when we’re weird. Dare to be different. Expose vulnerabilities. These are my goals. Wherever your life finds you right now, whoever you want to be, I wish you the freedom and the courage to declare it. Happy new year!

On Christmas

I took this photo of snow falling beneath the light of a street lamp during a nighttime walk. I absolutely love the silence in the city after a winter snow. Thank you for being a blessing in my life.

Wednesday Wisdom: Writerly Catch-Up

OK, I know I don’t divulge too much about my writing project(s). The reason is: The status changes every day, every minute, every time a new idea seems like a good idea. (Seemingly too often, the good ideas aren’t as amazing as I imagined they were at 3:00 a.m.)

The craft of writing is a whorl that can only flow one direction. Fight it, and the resistance takes you down. Go with it, and you will inevitably end up somewhere unexpected but the ride was free. The process hates control freaks. It takes a very open-minded soul to trust their own subconscious mind to create the story.

I’ve been honing the skill of letting go. I’ve let go of how many versions? 47? Hundreds? Who knows? Keeping score is not a good idea. It only serves to stress the emotional freedom that is the sacred space of creativity.

I’ll take a tangent here. Currently, I’m reading a book called ‘A Girl With No Name’. It’s the true story of a five-year old girl kidnapped and dropped off in the jungle of Colombia. For five years, she survived the terror of the jungle by observing, then adapting, into a troop of capuchin monkeys. The monkeys treated her as one of their own. The girl learned to communicate through their categories of screeches, laughter, warnings, and plain old hijynx. When a monkey died, they grieved together. When the girl ate poisonous tamarind, Grandpa monkey shoved her into a pool of filthy water which she forcefully swallowed, then vomited. The old monkey saved her life.

The story chapters are organized through the girl’s discoveries. One example of this was after two or so years in the jungle, she had found a shard of mirror. Her reflection scared her, as she hadn’t known she didn’t resemble the monkeys. With the mirror, her entire sense of identity was shattered. The prior experience had become so absolute in her mind, and her body so adapted to the patterns of the monkeys, that she had no concept, no language, for what she was. And yet, she harnessed the emotional apex that the monkeys had accepted and took care of her anyway.

This story has so much significance. Creatively, emotionally, we can easily be lost in a terrifying world. But when we pause and observe the productivity surrounding us, when we recognize the break-down of skill and experience and care that sustain us, we can arrive at the apex of the human condition to feel heard and be seen. Nature is slow. So, too, must we create.

Wednesday Wisdom: Photos

Next to me is a photo album open to a page with a large black and white photo of four women at the beach at Catalina Island outside of Los Angeles. The ‘swimsuits’ are long black dresses. The date of the photograph is documented as the late 1890’s.

My husband is deep in a project of scanning his family history so that these precious and fragile inheritances can remain intact and accessible through online media. The job is tedious but rewarding. Yesterday, we had discussed how each photo reveals a story, but that the viewer is only privy to a filtered version of the story based on our own interpretations.

These women at the beach would be unable to vote for 30 more years. There is no doubt that their story of the ‘beach day’ would reveal many differences from our own experiences. We can imagine how hard life was for them, but without documentation through stories, we are stuck within the limitations of imagination.

Often, we think of imagination as a broad forest of possibility. For children, imagination is crucial to development and establishing an identity in a world much larger than them. We pride them for conceiving wonderful ideas and expressing their perspective in ways parents would never think to do. Imagination comes naturally for children, as they rely on the security of feeling that there is a place in the world that appreciates and values them.

But imagination stifles with age. We erase the potential of things and become cemented in convenience. We find a niche where patterns have emerged, filling a space that has adapted to our comfort and expectations. We forget that this place is a story, based on interpretations and filters meant to hold us there for the sake of maintaining homeostasis, the brain’s constant pull to an unchallenged status of existence.

Often, our heart and brain are in conflict during change, which is a good thing when it comes to agitating the waters of self-fulfillment. We fear hurting others. We fear failure. We fear success. Every excuse in the book can be found under the Fear heading because when we learned to silence our imagination there had to be a category for our stories. Freedom doesn’t arrive without struggle, because fear will always reside along resistance to an identity defined by others. Breaking free of limitations, of stories, requires a new perspective which challenges the status quo and pushes against the default structure. Fears can be overcome. Otherwise, nothing would change.

Catalina Island, Late 1890’s