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31 January 2005 @ 03:40 am
why a caged girl sings  
235. It is especially incomprehensible to see how people often fall from reverence into disparagement. They try to represent the Inexpressible; a false countenance results, which only debases the lofty concept. Many such false representations have been scattered throughout the ages. People repeat about the invisible, and immediately proceed to imprison Light in petrified forms.

It is time to manifest commensurateness.

Agni Yoga, Aum, 1936


I had a teacher in 8th grade who, every week, first thing, would write an aphorism on the chalkboard. Before the readings, before the sentence diagramming, before we sat in our assigned groups to discuss the "questions for discussion" at the end of "The Lady and the Tiger," we'd sit, seat-by-seat, with a sheet of notebook paper on our desks, told to fill a page with our insights into her chosen saying.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Don't count all your chickens until they've hatched.

Don't carry your eggs in one basket.

Don't put off until tomorrow what you could do today.


And every week I'd put those wise words at the top of the page. I'd stare at them bleakly. A page, you say? Both sides? Maybe I could write big. Who says one line on the page has to, necessarily, equal one line of text? Until third or fourth grade, after all, we counted four lines for what we'd now call one, lest our mid-line waver and collapse in upon itself. There seems wisdom, then, towards this end:


Shall I fill my page proper?

I'll write much more neatly. You'll be pleased, won't you, as my penmanship untangles? But, alas. This was English 3, after all. Staring bleakly, I'd splutter out a "the." The bird in the hand is more valuable than the two birds in the bush," I'd write. Maybe it wasn't a page limit, thinking back, but a word limit. The first step in either scenario is to repeat the phrase in as many ways as many times as possible, whole at first, and then in echoed fragments traveling down the line.
The bird in the hand is better than the two birds in the bush because the bird, in the hand, is closer to you than the two birds, in the bush, and that bird in your hand represents more cleverness and effort on your behalf because to get a bird, in your hand, you must have a strategy to get that bird in your hand, whereas the two birds in the bush are in the bush no matter, and have no real relationship to you, and have as little significant consequence upon your actions as theirs have upon you, those birds in the bush might, in fact, be there, in the bush, no matter the actuality of your even existing, whether you were there or even if you were not, with this other bird, in your hand, so much better than the birds, the two birds, there in the bush.


There, 150 words so far, only 150 left to go. Diagram that sentence, won't you. The room filled with under breath counting, the hushed recitation of mantra in a cement-masoned ashram. The OM of frustrated mutters. What if I ate the bird? Clearly the eaten hand-bird is more useful than those bush-birds that scatter at the glimmer of a carving knife. Surely it's easier to get the head off a bird in your hand, you just put your bird-full hand down on the block and make use of an ax. Not so easy, otherwise. Try to take the heads off two birds in a bush and what you will accomplish is some very haphazard pruning. Maybe if it's a fruit bush, you take a couple whacks and start thinking about vegetarianism. Maybe you start thinking about it anyway after that trembling being with the darting eyes gasping in your hand ends up in pieces on the block--but that's neither here nor there, I suppose. Here, how many words in a recipe for sparrow l'orange? The sparrow in l'orange can't fly away, now, can she. Come to think of it, neither can said bird in your hand. The fate of the bird in your hand is in your control, is it not? You alone decide if this little life proceeds from here with a merciful part of your fingers or concludes at a good hard squeeze. What's better than that? Isn't bird in the hand what's going on here? Isn't this all about control? You put your words on the board every Monday and make me sit here and write about them. You do not say, Here is a thought you can maybe write on, maybe you'll choose to write about something else instead. Maybe you could use this in a story or a poem or maybe a few dirty limericks. Just please take this fifteen minutes I'm giving you to start out your week with something creative. If you want to write a letter to your friend, please do. Maybe use the aphorism!

No. It was not. It was: You will write an essay about this sentence. It will be fill both sides of one page/it will be 300 words. You will turn it in by Wednesday. If you do not turn it in by Wednesday, you will get a minus in the grade book. You get two chances to correct those minuses before the semester ends. If you end the semester with three minuses, no matter what your other grades might look like, you will fail. She told us six times a week, once a day, twice on Thursdays, that we'd better get used to it. High school was going to be so much worse. We better appreciate all the second chances we got here in eighth grade, because we wouldn't get them in high school. High school was going to be so hard. We wouldn't know what hit us. We wouldn't make it in the shape we were in. We'd better shape up. Three of my four years of high school, Monday morning? Our instructor handed out Dave Berry articles. One of us would read them aloud and we'd giggle over them. I looked those Dave Berry articles over and I thought: you mean I could write like that? Could write about things that happened to me, silly, absurd things from day to day, any old day? You mean I could use my writing to make people laugh?

My third minus that first semester was on "Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today." As was often the case, though we were given our fifteen minutes in class to get started on--or even finish--these noxious assignments, I spent ten of those minutes staring blankly at my blank paper, trying to imagine what I could possibly have to add to a saying that said everything for itself. After ten minutes, I felt so hopelessly inept and insightless I used the rest of the time to work on my pregnant-dancing-girl novel. Suck on that, for a moment, why don't you. Really get the flavor of it on the back-most part of your tongue: Judy flunked eighth grade English the same term she completed her first four-hundred page novel.

Study day; we went to the library after our aphorism. Maybe it was one of those days where the fuckup kids could work on redos, make-ups, or extra credit, and the kids free of minuses could pick out VC Andrews books to read while changing notes to each other, often about us fuckup kids. I remember getting lectured, perhaps strategically, in front of a table of VC Andrews reading note passers who snickered the whole time. I remember my paper stayed blank. I was fed up with being the bird in the hand. What is school about? Is it about developing an interior dialogue, learning to be true to yourself, learning what 'true' and 'self' mean--or is it about learning to shit, sleep, and smile at the whim of unconcerned authority? I didn't write about putting off tomorrow what I could do today. Maybe I'd do it tomorrow. Today, I wanted to read. So I read. So I failed.

Before you get any sort of impression that my failure had anything to do with papers turned in encouraging anarchy or even sparrow decapitation, it didn't. I didn't have an operational understanding of my rage. I did not even grasp that rage had anything to do with what was wrong. I was a good girl. I kept a happy face. I kept my mouth shut. I repressed. I behaved. I worked very hard at not coming to school stinky. I struggled to fit into the peg-hole that school offered, and when I didn't fit, I was miserable. And that misery was entirely my own fault. Every day I walked down that hallway, confronted with kids who had problems--not with expressing their own rage, but with knowing where to direct it. Books were knocked from my arms, with their rage. Strangers would shove other strangers in my face and scream LOOK AT CHAD CHAD WANTS YOU SO BAD HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. When they touched my poisonous body, it was mostly to shove, pull, squeal in revulsion, or attempt some other variation on snapping me in pieces. I'd come home every day, some weeks, my classmates' rage clouding up my pale arms in new bruises; even then I could tell you that wasn't the worst part by far. Bird in the hand, bird in the hand, bird, bird,

Why even describe these ancient little cruelties, or how big they became, factoring in Everything Else? I wonder what happens, when you reach the point where you can't repress it any more. Do you turn in papers about killing sparrows? Start screaming in the middle of class? Come to school with guns? Slit your wrists, swallow pills, fall in with "untrustworthy" cliques? Burn things? Fail English. No one asked. No one pulled me aside and just asked if something was wrong. No one noticed the drop in my performance and cared to attribute to more than prepubescent laziness, or maybe a chip on my shoulder about my English teacher. Maybe my performance hadn't dropped enough? What's one fail to a girl with a C average? Maybe no one wanted to know. Maybe no one had space for it. I was a good girl. I didn't question. I just behaved. Struggled through my day. Hoped that evening the father of the three year old I babysat would stay at work, like he was supposed to; tried to stay on the other side of the living room when he didn't. I didn't ask for help. How could I expect it?

But wasn't it obvious didn't one of my eight instructors one of the many many adults I came into contact with every day didn't one friend didn't one person at the table before school what about a relative didn't anyone at all start to think that maybe this wasn't just television and junk food, chips in my belly chips on my shoulder, maybe this was something wrong?

I'm not being fair. I didn't ask for help. How could I expect it?

I'm not being fair. How could I even begin to ask for help, when I did not understand that this was something that could be helped?

Maybe I missed more than one mark with my aphoristic ineptitude. I could have spelled out 'help' in big red letters.
Look, Mrs. Olson, I can't write about eggs and baskets today. Do you want to know why? Why is because I babysat again last night and this 46 year old man cornered me on the stairwell, shoved his hands up my shirt, and pinched at my nipples for a lot longer than I care to remark upon here. I can not write about eggs in baskets because while he was doing this he forced me against his basket and wouldn't let me go even when his three year old ran up behind us, laughing about Daddy snuggling with the babysitter again. Today I am too fucked up to deal with this tedious bullshit busy-work because my "best friend," after embarrassing me in front of our whole table before school by making fun of how I read my part in our presentation of 'Ann Frank' last week, told me she 'forgot' we had plans after school. She will be going to the mall with her much more socially acceptable friend Sheryl instead, happily freeing me up for more babysitting! If you tell me one more time what a breeze this all is compared to high school, I regret to inform that I will not be making up this eggs-in-a-basket paper, my procrastination paper, or my paper on respecting my elders (even when they don't seem to respect the thirteen year old babysitter enough to behave properly with her on stairwells), because I will be otherwise occupied finding a good razor with which to run my wrists through before the end of the term.

Still doesn't make three hundred words, does it.

Yeah. High school was unimaginably better, in case you wondered. No thanks to Mrs. Olson's eighth grade pep-talks.

*

Mrs. Olson, your careless blade is this: thirteen year olds are not only as incapable of expressing the inexpressible as anyone else, but they do not yet have the experience--though, heavens help us, they often have the careless confidence--to see when they are imprisoning light in petrified forms. Tell them they have something valuable to add to "You are what you eat?" Have your students write about their weekends or summer vacations first, please. Monday assignment: Write about your mother, combing your hair--or combing her hair, if you don't have any--or combing the cat's hair, if she doesn't have any. Those of you who don't quite have a technical mother right now, transfer this assignment to a grandparent or one of your Dads. Something, anything, rather than page after page down the line filled with vagaries and obedient sunshine. Tell your kids that they can write about anything, teach them to write about what they didn't know they wanted to be writing about instead of setting before them an exercise as pointless as it is futile. Maybe then instead of getting a good girl you get a girl who sees for herself that what she's going through isn't something that she just has to go through because there's no way out. Maybe then instead of getting a good girl, you get a girl who asks for help.

Maybe Mrs. Olson wasn't a girl who knew you could ask for help, either.

Maybe Mrs. Olson had her Mrs. Olsons, too.
 
 
mood: chapped lips&knuckles
music: climaxgoldentwins - lovely
 
 
 
asymptotetree on January 31st, 2005 02:43 am (UTC)
that's what it is: the done untos and the do untos who were done unto. i didn't have any reasons, just faulty wiring. and i was a good girl, a smart girl. i was a star. who even knows to ask questions about the huge shadows cast from burning so bright? even when i sat in spanish cutting up my legs with a broken piece of glass. even when i ran to the guidance counsellor in tears. even when i turned in a short story about suicide. even when. there is knowing and then there's knowing. and it's easier to sleep with that first kind, the nebulous kind of knowing. the knowing that shows you the sun but not the shadows it casts.

if i had to write a response to something every monday, i'd want it to be something by you.
selva oscura: dragonfishanonymousblack on February 1st, 2005 01:40 pm (UTC)
*hughug* to you nica, to you and to every you who has shown like a sun or gotten lost in her own shadow. to know that you were out there somewhere even far away even not quite at the same time, it helps to level out where i was back then, i think. if only we could send letters to ourselves back then, letting ourselves know.

and if i had those responses read by someone every wednesday, i'd want that someone to be you.
(ricepaper)ricepaper on January 31st, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
there are lots of times when i really marvel at your courage and your ability. lots of times when you help to surface some sad fragile emotion in that part of me that is still a child. i want to tell you something glowing and loving and warm. what a privilege it is to know you.
selva oscuraanonymousblack on February 1st, 2005 01:47 pm (UTC)
*hughughug* and you h, i must tell you that when i feel strongest in talking about things like this i've come to think of you and the letters we changed a couple years ago. sometime when i am a less neglectful friend (what was it you said about 'you only neglect..') and when it seems we both might have a little time for it (which, for you especially, seems to be the essence) we should write to each other again. even if not, yes, i understand, about those feeling and not knowing quite how to translate them into words. you should know they are there, ofcourse, for you as well.
secret ways of being: (post) 1939muted_rain on January 31st, 2005 02:20 pm (UTC)
now see, i think you handled the morals of journaling just fine on your own. and just as much as what you said, how you said it makes such an impression. grotesquely beautiful is something that comes to mind, or maybe it's the other way around. maybe it's neither, and i'll regret later having that thought or that phrasing. it was a bit harsh, wasn't it, while what you said much more fluid and shaded? but you let people in with more than just paragraphs, and while it takes some nerve, ultimately i suspect you're better off too. (i hope this isn't half as off key as it sounds to me as i write it.)

*love*
selva oscura: sevenanonymousblack on January 31st, 2005 08:37 pm (UTC)
maybe none of you will see this, but i just have to say: i love you, all three of you, so much. thank you for finding me.
secret ways of beingmuted_rain on January 31st, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC)

***
asymptotetree on February 8th, 2005 02:57 pm (UTC)
(hug)

maybe it's telling that the three of us are the only ones who commented? i will echo helen and say that it is, indeed, a privilege to know you and be your friend.

love.
Kim: concerned readersimplelyric on February 10th, 2005 02:38 pm (UTC)
I feel like I should be making grand statements about young people's feelings being ignored, repressed, and devalued as compared to our society's love of deadening feeling with pills; about abuse passed down; about the mockery many classes make of 'teaching' a language that was born from creativity and patchwork collection. I guess, really, that's *all* about repression. But the idea is as far as I get with those grand statements. I don't think they'd be helpful anyway, nor would pity.

You certainly have my sympathy, though, and my gratitude to the world that you know now people like Ben and the other commenters who treat you and your incredible creative vision with the respect deserved.