17 Oct

It is play not properness that is the central artery, the core, the brainstem of creative life. The impulse to play is an instinct . No play, no creative life. Be good, no creative life. Sit still, no creative life. Speak, think, act only demurely, little creative juice. Any group, society, institution, or organization that encourages women to revile the eccentric; to be suspicious of the new and unusual; to avoid the fervent, the vital, the innovative; to impersonalize the personal, is asking for a culture of dead women. — Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For the last few weeks, I have curled inward, cocooned around a softened space that holds more than can be seen or completely felt. I have trod a deep wave, and begun to swim downward.

I cannot sleep in my own bed any longer. It’s too big, too vast and cold. Clarence and I curl into a pile under my Donegal wool blanket on the couch, a virtual aquarium from a well worn DVD of Finding Nemo endlessly repeating its digital undulations in the blue black dark.

I sleep deeply now, so deeply that I have begun nightly technicolor travels into memory and the unconscious world. I dream effortlessly … visually for the first time in years. A food borne malaise settled over us both mid week and there was nothing to do but sweat the fever out in this softened pile of couch and cotton pillow and read for class. In Women Who Run with the Wolves, I found an acceptance, an acknowledgement for my essence, my way of being. Suddenly, a maternal voice spoke from its pages, a voice which said…Yes, this is what we do. Already swimming in the deep dark blue, each wave from the page sent me deeper.

 It is safe to go here, it said. You are on the right path.

While reading I knew, a critique would be inappropriate. Analysis essay?No way. Academia needed setting aside in the light of it’s subject matter: the reclaiming of the creative feminine self. And I must attempt something I had not faced since beginning this journey. Painting. Art was ready to be resurrected from the cave. My professor’s enthusiastic permission sent me on a tour of video about wild wolves, listening to wolf howl recordings. Suddenly I understood the dogs in my neighborhood who howl so intensely at sirens. I wanted to howl with them. At once, Clarence became a more of a spiritual companion. His physical closeness in our pile on the couch induced night dreaming, his spirit more significantly connected with mine.

Unfortunately, last week also culminated in the end of the marking period, and serious conflict arose: professional obligation versus the creative artistic urge. After spending two days at home cocooned on the couch, healing physically and spiritually, the real world of school and daily life became difficult to manage. My spirit was entirely on the creative plain and I wanted nothing to do with rules, routine, bells and sleepy children shaped by mindless multiple choice.

Friday, I was angry, cranky, frustrated and in wolf terms . . .bitchy. I ranted inwardly about how my students couldn’t read a simple set of instructions and follow them. Thinking for themselves seemed such a foreign concept. I longed to be home with my pastels and paints, creating. I had been given permission to be wild, to indulge what my soul most needed. My inner artist had been starved for too long in the grief of being abandoned.

The summer before I began this journey, I had become quite a good water colorist. My talent had been surprising, and I had begun to pursue it passionately. But then one evening, I returned from painting class to find I didn’t have a relationship any longer. Its no surprise to me that the last painting I accomplished was one of Clarence. I packed my brushes away along with all things “frivolous” and began to simply survive.

So during my sixth period class, my most playful, boisterous and challenging group, I held the lid on the boiling pot and spun plates as usual. We transitioned at the end into a “Code Red” lockdown drill, which practices a shooter in the building. It is serious. During the drill, we are to keep quiet and hidden. We are to protect the students. As the code was called and I locked the door as required, I turned to my gaggle of giggling 17 year olds and said,

“Shhhhhh.!!!!! Okay people!!! This is serious business!!!!” And flipped off the lights.

They paused. Three seconds maybe. Then erupted in the most joyously loud laughter. Seriously? Are you kidding me? But their laughter infected me. I began to feel the irony of the situation as they swept me into  a wave of pure innocence. I stepped up on top of my desk chair and began to read to them from the laminated Code Red lockdown sheet. What the code meant.Why they we supposed to take this practice, five minutes before a homecoming pep rally, seriously.

Then, suddenly, all I could think of was to tell them stories. Perhaps if I kept them entertained they would quieten down and we could get through the five minutes without too much struggle? But as I began to tell them a recent funny story, they became enraptured.

They laughed.

They hung on my words for the first time and their mischievous energy fed my starving artist soul.

Within moments, I was performing the story on top of my desk chair loudly enough to be heard down the hall, loudly enough to keep them with me.

We connected.. We laughed… We played.

For two moments, we reveled in the hilarity of the story, but then out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar figure at my door. Her frown was puzzling to me.Why wasn’t she a merry as me? I was entertaining this corral of ponies, herding their spirits into delightful rows.

As I opened the door to my assistant principal, I was actually still laughing. Literally, I had no cognizance that I was behaving entirely against what a lockdown requires.

Seriousness. Quiet… Fear.

“We can hear you all the way down the hall!” she yelled in a whisper. “What are you DOING?”

“I’m ……I’m keeping them quiet by telling stories… ” I stammered back in growing shame.

Suddenly the ridiculousness of my actions broke over me like a wave of cold North Atlantic. The shocking icy splash said, No, that is NOT the correct behavior for a life threatening situation. Or a practice to live through one.

She looked at me, her face contorted in anger “If a shooter was in this building you and all these kids would be dead right now! Do you understand that!?” Her voice showed her disappointment and annoyance at my supposed ignorance.

“I’m sorry.” My playful spirit evaporated. “My apologies”, I said. “I’m so sorry… I’m profoundly sorry.” I said in a whisper, my eyes looking to the floor. She turned and walked up the hall, walkie- talkie in hand.

I closed the door. My students were silent; our faces were white, drained of the joy of the previous moments.

“I’m in trouble”, I said quietly. “Let me explain to you why I made the wrong decision.”

And so I told them why a lockdown was serious, how we would all be dead right now and I would have failed to have protected them through my inappropriate behavior. Now, I could be written up or even dismissed, sent home for days without pay. I had no excuse.No defense. I lost myself in creative abandon and for that, I might pay. It wasn’t their faults, I said. It was entirely mine. We were playing… And I should have known better.

They were somber when they left for the pep rally.

“I’m sorry Miss Kelley.”

“Sorry Miss Kelley, I hope you don’t get in trouble.” This followed hanging heads and embarrassed faces. We were all ashamed.

Their assurances spoke of times they themselves had been lost in innocence to the joy of play.

That evening, I went home and knew I would have to climb out of the straight jacket of real life. What had happened to me was an example of a state of imbalance, what happens to a creative soul who has been starved for too long. I poured myself that night into an artistic self that was comatose. Eight hours later, I emerged unwillingly from the land of hand and thought, soul and color.


Howl (33 x 22.5) Oil pastel and gouache. Interpretive mandala of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves.

I didn’t know what would happen Monday when I returned. Whether I would be disciplined or it would be chalked up to a long week of testing, and pre-homecoming disarray. But I knew one thing. My days in this environment are numbered. For I cannot play with my children in the way I am used to any longer and I must be who I am now and let that teach them, too. It seems as if that type of teacher is not welcomed by the state, by the culture in our refusal to acknowledge the wildishness of our natures. It saddens me that I cannot show my pups the wildness of the human world, the way in which to negotiate a creative life, and the secrets to remaining awake and alive:

To play.. To create.. To think… To trust… To love… To be.

What have our systems done to destroy the passing of this learning? Before they even set out on the road of life, they are tamed.

Not in my world… Not under my watch… Not under my protection.

I know they must be taught of danger and predator, but they must be taught of moon and stars as well. In the world of shooters and multiple choice we must not tame their wild spirits.Or life will be one long sleep in which we lose the possibility of resurrecting the wild creative, the authentic self.

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