Monday, February 20, 2017

a theoretical particle named after a laundry detergent

photos I took of my mother, 2012

I remember sitting in classes with her as a child, that we were at the Community College. I know as an adult that my mother was probably getting her AA in either child development or ornamental horticulture. I don't know how far she got in either. I remember vaguely her being involved in my earliest education, but am not sure in what capacity. There is just a clear picture in my mind of a day spent washing all of the dolls, a group activity for a roomful of post-toddlers, and how proud she was about that activity she had come up with because she still mentions it sometimes. Later, she helped run a preschool out of a church facility, since it wasn't in use during the week, and my little brother, the youngest of us, was one of those preschoolers. I remember the smell of graham crackers and apple juice, two things I can't bring myself to eat because of how strongly I associate them with the gummy residue on faces and hands that I helped clean up. Rubbing backs during naptime and thinking about my own preschool traumas. The flow of moms at the end of the day, questions they asked us about their children's behavior and eating habits. And so much sunshine, in all of those memories.

In high school I went with her sometimes when she taught classes on child development to child care providers looking for basic certifications. Most of these women were running daycare out of their homes, in trailer park neighborhoods and stripped down forgotten about parts of town, the rambling extremities close to the prairie, far past the shadow of the university that ran most of the town. We drove forever it always felt like, past the cornfield that did haunted rides every Halloween, to be in this lonely little class of women who didn't understand why hitting children was a bad thing. I was the silent witness in the room, the brevity of my mother's countenance held in my own awareness - there was a wooden spoon we were spanked with when I was little, I remember the year before starting my period, my stepfather making me pull down my pants so he could lay the force of his hand against my flesh. I suspect the child development courses she took shifted something in her perspective that my younger siblings didn't have to experience so much, and I do think that she had a very specific understanding of where these women were coming from. I watched her face as she listened to their responses to the material, accidental confessions from the 'students' that were often deeply disconcerting, to know that people left children in their care. But in some of these poor, far flung places, what other choice did they have?

Once, when my mother got to the section on breastfeeding, one woman who was hugely pregnant defensively informed the room that her 18 year old son wasn't breastfed and he was just fine, that breastfeeding was gross, was something animals did. I never saw judgement in my mother's face, she let them confess their fears and remarks about how children were viewed and handled. She merely rolled along, describing colostrum, the thin early milk rich in antibodies for helping construct the baby's immune system, then, a week later fats and vitamins come in, calories to support their ceaseless growth... by the time she finished telling the story of how our bodies adapt to the growing, shifting needs of our young, that same woman spoke up again. 'I had no idea', she said. 'This baby will be breastfed' she told us, with her hand on the broad expanse of her ripening body.

The education system was created in the wake of child labor laws, suddenly the working class needed somewhere to put their children while they filled the factories in the urban areas that exploded during the industrial revolution. It was designed to turn out the future workers to fill a rapidly standardized assembly line structure of production. After my time in public education, I have racked up countless hours studying for standardized tests, memorizing dates and facts that were disjointed, not connected to the history or circumstances they have evolved out of, and I have witnessed and fought with teachers who have brought my classmates to tears from deep condescension whose source I cannot know, but whose boundaries were limitless in the container of those classrooms where no one is around to see how hard we fought, as teenagers, to convince anyone that we existed. All I remember from economics are graphs and formulas that I didn't bother learning, since they were so far removed from my own experience of having been raised on welfare. While I struggle getting my head around adult finances, after having been raised by adults with no idea about their personal finances, I can't believe what we learn in economics has little to no connection to our place inside of the economy, or the agency we might find within it. We learn how to have sex, the hardening of parts and the hormonal responses in our bodies in sex ed, how genes interact to give us our mother's eyes or our father's eyebrows in biology... but never what comes afterwards - not how we grew inside of someone else's body, or how specifically our bodies adapt to such a massive event - like producing its own form of nourishment. I wish we learned about Pythagoras' arrival to his theorems, alongside wrestling with its product. What is the point of a class on current events without any frame of reference for what is happening in our very local government - something that both impacts us, and that we can impact as well? What an opportunity being missed, to build not just a richer community fabric by embedding its constituents more deeply into its awareness and expression, but also give a quickly maturing demographic a sense of where we belong inside of that vast, vague, overwhelming potential of the world, of the hopeless/hopeful statement 'You can be anything'? How do we learn about our relationship to the global community if not in the place we spend so much of our childhood?

How do we take the education of our children back? Like the asbestos and other chemicals I have had to wade through while renovating schools - we send them off, with so little awareness of what they will be taking in and how it will manifest later in their lives. While these generalizations may not apply to everyone's experience, I know I am not alone in having them, and feel very strongly that I can see now the threads that got lost in forming my sense of self, as well as the threads that got strengthened around my particular circumstances.

There were heroes and saints too. My favorite teacher my senior year, Mrs. Bergeron, had a quote over her door from Dante's Inferno: 'Abandon all hope, Ye who enter here' . I believe she went to Harvard, and wore tweed suits with skirts, and talked sometimes about how hard it was to teach us important things around what was required of them to teach to fit inside of those standardized tests. She was cold and serious, but when she told you that your writing was good... it meant more than Christmas ever has.

'It is not by coincidence that archaeologists find weaving tools and weapons side by side.'

Saturday, February 18, 2017

voids in your timeline waiting for color

As we cycled weight through our feet in class, I noticed a place in my left foot that wasn't passing the weight from heel to little toe to big toe. Feeling the drop out in the pinky toe part, how quickly weight passed across my foot from heel to big toe, I paused and rolled through the place it seemed to avoid. Pressing into that quiet space triggered a response in the back of my right pelvic half, close to the sacrum and I can only describe the sensation as the minty freshness my mouth feels after brushing my teeth. I've been slightly nauseous and have felt weirdness underneath my outer ankle in that same foot since last week, when we focused on PNF patterns, and when we sat down after this particular exploration, I looked at my foot, to search for clues in its hills and valleys. As soon as my eyes landed on that pinky toe edge I remembered getting my foot stuck under the wheel of a forklift, years ago in a warehouse. Of course. The flesh sucked away from the bone, the horrible sound I made, my hand on my friend's arm to stop him, while I tried to pull my foot away but couldn't. "Did I catch the steel toe?" he asked me, his body tight with fear. 'No, but I need you to back up.' I responded through clenched teeth. I dragged myself upstairs and put ice on my foot for half an hour then slunk back down to finish pulling orders and putting away pipes. I limped for most of a month, but I didn't speak up, I was a soft skinned baby and a girl in a world of men who had mostly known labor, it was the first time I had any real source of income - that 25k a year was more than my mother had ever made in her life, and I couldn't afford for my hours to be cut or my boss' potential anger, the doctor's visit, or the probability that something might actually be wrong. But I should have known that not dealing with it then would mean I would have to deal with it at some point. One of the older men in the shop had cut a half inch off one of his fingers back when he worked as a roofer, and had to get regular surgeries where doctors would scrape out the tiny sliver of nail bed that tried its best to grow.  Just last week one of my friends from that shop told me about getting trapped under a heap of poorly stacked steel, and in his automatic response to push it away, in the hopes that it would tip in the opposite direction, on of his finger tips got caught and the flesh was ripped clean away.

I wonder if, just like ballet dancers, a certain way of being in the world (person) is drawn into the kind of professional realities that require appearing graceful and strong no matter how much pain they might be in. But there is no Art Historian's Eulogy for the laborer, there is no record of the grace or strength they may have shown in the face of dire or overwhelming circumstances. When guys show up on crews with busted knees and broken backs, they are often regarded as a problem, something that slows everyone down, someone that can't pull their weight, someone that all of us must work harder to compensate for - rather than having a flesh record of how much of themselves they have given away for some elusive 'greater good'. I've seen the evidence of these men from decades and decades past, while renovating educational institutions - places where the drawings I've been given aren't very well related to the existing architecture and I have to make a different choice than the project manager thinks should be made - and I have seen the echoes of choices made that mirror mine, and I can almost see the man that sat where I was sitting 40 years ago, with a hammer drill in their hands, considering their options.

With every footfall right now, I can feel the splinters of an experience in my feet, how my refusal to be vulnerable in that moment has turned into something more all encompassing. It travels through the body like a ghost, my knee in that left leg regularly gets painfully congested in daily walking and I usually wait for the bones of my lower leg that connect to it to pop, alleviating the build up of pressure. The whispering response around my right S.I. joint. How easy it is to ignore the things we can't see. How the buildings we live in are just like us - an architecture formed out of an idea, brought into being by the choices and reactions of a great many people and relationships. Like us they carry the weight of other's hopes and dreams, and like us, they can only be what they are in the face of our expectations. As I sit in my living room, I am embraced by a long history of other people's choices embedded in the walls, the layout of the floorboards, the furniture and trappings that have come through my roommate's lives to overlap in this space, and I wonder now if maybe the one true thing we can ever claim as ours are the choices we make.

After coming from an Alexander session last week, I picked up a drill to bore a hole in a ceramic item for my roommate, the potter. A reoccurring problem, the holes getting filled with glaze, and my steel bits kept snapping with the heat and lack of anything to grab, to disburse the pressure of its center point. Still feeling the space and width in my backbody, I felt settled in, empty of the high alert I often carry with tools that fatigues my hands so quickly. You can both hear a change in the sound of the drill and feel a subtle difference in the kind of vibrations the gun gives your hand when it is about to punch through a rapidly thinning surface, and the response to those changes - in my body, though I assume its similar for a lot of us - is a springing together of the shoulder blades to draw object and gun away from each other since the force of weight required to make the hole could send the drill suddenly somewhere dangerous or painful. But my body wasn't responding, post-Alexander, the way it should have, and when the bit snapped, the shattered bit and all of my strength punched a small hole in my left hand, the one that had been stabilizing the object. Considering the blood that wouldn't stop, that was the first time I really understood how potentially vulnerable playing around with my patterns and responses can be, especially with how I move in my professional world. I think I could actually afford to be much more vigilant about what I am giving away, as the consequences for these changes are rippling out through space and time. I have a choice in this particular renovation, one that is deeply essential that I make use of. I am the architect of my own experience.