Friday, December 21, 2012

Return

It's been a while since I've been in the studio. Thoughts, emotions, and images come to surface here. I uncover my soul.
My palette
So much has happened in the last year. Final half of my Sabbatical with travel to France and Italy (experiencing all the magnificent art from centuries back), and then back to work with little break and a major restructuring of my internal processes as a manager and as a faculty member.
Migration of monarchs
Then of course, I myself almost die this Fall from the littlest thing—a wasp sting. But the confrontation with my own demise is palpable and strangely reassuring. Not as sure anymore about the point of living to 104.

Then there was the young woman in the Boston subway and confronting yet another aspect of self and being alive. 
For reference
 Last weekend we hosted the EMC and MFA staff and faculty and their families. It used to be that it was a slightly older set of children but they have all grown and are now in college or graduated into adulthood. The newest bunch are little guys just figuring out the rules and teaching us at the same time. It was so lovely to see them play again with each other.

What I keep, what I let go
Which brings me round again to those little children in Newtown—the shock of the loss of innocents—and our innocence. Perhaps it is the season, or where one goes when the horrendous is encountered—to something that can offer hope and condolence, but the accounts in the Bible where children are mentioned keep coming into my mind. Beyond the story of Christmas I can think of two.
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas tree display Infant Jesus
Attributed to Giuseppe Sammartino (1720–1793)
There is the Massacre of the Innocents in Matthew 2:16-18 which seems eerily to mimic the horrendous nature of what has occurred in our own present day:
When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 
"Out of Egypt I called my son." 
 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
The Holy Innocents by Giotto di Bondone.
However there is the story of Christ and the children in Matthew 9:14. This is the one from which I draw comfort.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Emil Nolde Christ and the Children 1910
And so returning to my studio all these reflections overflow my heart. I rediscover that I have saved one of the wasps and a butterfly found this summer. On my noon walk with Addie I find a beautiful leaf. And what I visualize are the tiny souls of the children, like the monarchs, flying home and being welcomed into the brilliant light. 
In the church yard
It is that which I start to paint this Christmas season.
The joy of return.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What I Want for Christmas 2012


Tegan
Christmas has always held a special place in my heart. Raised in a very religious family, it was the season to celebrate the birth of God into human form — the event when God walked the Earth. A time love became settled on the earth. It has always been a joyous time in my family though as a child I did not perceive the greater meaning. The script was the story of a perfect baby with awesome but extremely poor parents—a mother of 13, a father in his twenties—surrounded by strange visitors who somehow figured it all out.

Tegan
Fast forward to my thirties. I am a young mother with a new borne in the backwoods of Vermont staying with friends and their 1 year old. We receive a call. My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their first. An amazing thing happened. I was filled with a radiant joy. A birth. Another new start. Another attempt at a better world. In that singular moment I got the meaning of Christmas. The purity of the innocent start. The love of parents. The hope for humanity. The chance at a better world. All wrapped in a little child.

Tegan
Since then that has been what Christmas has been for me. Not gifts or Santa or even gatherings. It has meant the innocent heart. The fresh start. The change towards a loving world.

But this year...

My heart cries out. Why as a society do we believe and advocate so strongly for the power of violence? Why do we not protect our babies, our innocents? God dammint—our SIX years olds! Those of pink cheeks and ready grins, and constant questions "but why"? Babies with an entire life yet to be created?

Cousins - Becca and Tegan
Most of my life I have worked in education. And many of you may recognize me as a professor but before that in my twenties much like Victoria Soto I worked in an elementary school. I worked as a special education aide with those who had trouble fitting into the categories that our society puts forth. I have and will always love the energy of an elementary school and those "special" children. There is an openness that children bring to the world and an eagerness to just be that cannot be explained easily. It is a world of open hearts easily damaged and yet easily strengthened. 
My first teaching experience - special ed aide on the Lincoln Elementary School in Vermont. Much like Newtown, a small rural school with a great principal and mostly female staff.
But since then, since I was a child and since I was an aide, and even since my daughter went through school, we live in a different society. Schools are "locked down". The world is regarded as one of danger and fear. What kind of lesson is this? What kind of world are we creating? What kind of persons are we creating when we strip away love and trust and replace it with fear and hate?

Newtown. I can imagine the principal and her staff. I worked in such a school. I am sure their days were about the needs of Kate and Sam and Nate's IEP. They put in longer hours than most people understand. They discussed the softball team, the bad coffee, the school board decision, who threw up during assembly, and how to reach Emily and Pete. That is until last Friday.

A debate is raging.
Don't take away our right to bear arms.
It's the mentally disabled. Stop them, those weirdos.
Guns blazing.

I get it. I teach media. I've heard this debate. Just change the words around. It's not mediait is those susceptible.  It's not guns. It's THEM.

But "them" are the innocents. The broken innocents. And the arms technology in 221 years has changed from slow loading muskets to semi-automatics military style killing machines.

But I am whole. You are whole. It is our job to protect the innocents, broken and whole. Do you walk a child into a candy shop when they are diabetic? Do we make semi-automatic guns so easily available to those who are the broken innocents?

It is our job, the job of the reasoned and healthy to make way for a brighter world, a world of love, a world that every culture hopes for and believes in. But belief is not enough. We need to proactively protect our innocent—the young children who died in Newtown, their hard working teachers, and the young misguided man who took their lives.
Governor's Institute of Vermont in IT - teens using IT to propose solutions to a better world.
So let me go back to my innocent self—the one who believed in angels and such. What would God do if again in human form? Advocate for weapons or for the babies? What would make Christmas ring out hope for humanity?
Breakaway game camps in Hebron, Palestine. College students teaching respect and peace in a divided city.
I believe we have three clear steps:
  1. Our first step is regulating the powerful tools that cause such instantaneous and unstoppable destruction such as the semi-automatic weapons used in the Newtown murder of innocents. The tools that changed a misguided and broken human being into a mass murderer. 
  2. Our second step is looking at our own selves and asking how can I work to make our world a more loving and peaceful one. 
  3. And then let's all tell those we love that we do indeed love them deeply.
There's no time for hiding in the sand because as history of school shootings shows it just get's worse. Here's one way to have a voice that counts: http://www.causes.com/actions/1715164 .

And even better, directly write your Congress and Senate members requesting an end to this insanity. They are easily reached online just Google your state or their names directly and leave a message.

And then we can truly wish each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The only thing one can do in the moment *


I think the world runs in infinite loops bringing us back continually to our central question.

This term, I've been speaking about Joseph Campbell's hero's journey—specifically as how it can be used to structure games for impact and how it applies to the process of actually creating them. All this comes about due to the experience of producing our UN sponsored game to address violence against women and girls:  BREAKAWAY. We've had champions along the way and I have a profound belief in the hero capability of the "twenty-something year old". I presented this as a keynote at Meaningful Play in Michigan and was asked to give it again as a guest lecturer at MIT's Game lab. Both great honors for me, incredible honors.
Campbell quote & from a church in Italy
But I've not been feeling much like a champion myself. Life has been pulling at me and sometimes, so wrapped up in the overwhelming "challenge" list,  I've forgotten why I even do what I do. I've forgotten the joy part, the love part. And I haven't been able to connect to my twenty-something heroes in the meaningful ways I'd like to.

This past Saturday looking for that why, I picked up a book by my friend Judy Rodgers and her colleague Gayatri Naraine "Something Beyond Greatness". It has been at my bedside for about 2 years but once I began, I spent all day reading it through to the end. It could be a companion reader to Joseph Campbell as it describes a journey in search of what makes individuals do the extra-ordinary. All week it floated in my head like a tune I was trying to remember the words to. 
"In the moment of action, the hero actor does not have the conscious thought of being an instrument, but feels inspired and then compelled to act in a certain way." - Dadi Janki
I was incredulous about some of the stories of individual actions: the man who jumps into the subway to protect another who fell; the 16 year old girl studying CPR who goes to the aid of a woman hit by a car; the Air Florida crash passenger who gave his life so others would be rescued; and others on larger life scales. But life does seem to be an infinite loop constantly returning to the test question. What would I do?
Self-portrait at MIT
Wednesday morning with barely a coffee consumed, I was on the Boston subway in a packed car when without a sound, a young women collapsed across from me onto another passenger and then fell to the floor. No one knew what to do and there were no medical personnel in the car. I am squeamish about medical stuff - purposely not going into nursing - but instantaneously - with barely a thought besides "there is no one else", I was on the floor beside her. Her scarf was wound around her face and I was afraid she couldn't breathe. I unwrapped it and she appeared to be having an epileptic fit. I made sure she could breathe and was safe and I held her from harm. I was calm.

 It seemed forever and the whole car of people surrounded us glued to their spots staring down at the two of us on the floor. Another young woman appeared bending in asking "Can I help you?" but I had no words or directions to give. I heard another calling 911. The car was moving but seemed so freakishly trapped in time. 

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop.

Then like a spring unwinding, her eyes began to stop rolling and her body un-stiffened. When the young woman came back to consciousness, she looked like a young lost child or a wandering pet caught in the middle of the road. Recalling what I had read in a passage in Judy's book, I said "Hello. I'm Ann. You're OK". 

I wish you all could have been beside us as her look turned from fear and confusion to one of security - the way a child recognizes her mother. It was incredible. One I will not forget soon. One stranger caught in a life moment with another.
Self-portrait at MIT
In the scheme of life, I didn't do much. I helped. Yet since then I've been reflecting on the how - how it happened - how I knew what to do - how accurate the book was. I think it was the sight of the scarf that called me to action. There was something I could do. I could unwind it for her. Yet I don't feel it was me who helped the young woman, it came from a bigger place, a place outside myself, a knowing and a certainty from another source. And I was the lucky one - the instrument which it passed through. It still makes me tear up in awe.

Much later in the day, after my lecture, there was another small awesome moment. Ever so appropriately, an owl took up residence for the day outside the window of the MIT coffee shop.  I got to see it with MIT's Scot Osterwell and Konstantin Mitgutsch and my daughter Tegan, reminding me of yet another post I made a long time ago at the beginning of our BREAKAWAY project.


It really was quite an unexpected journey I had to Boston.
The MIT owl
* titled from quote by Sr. Helen Prejean in "Something Beyond Greatness": 
"What is it that makes someone turn their life over to humanity? It can be a life's journey or it can happen in a second. I know from my own experience of holding a loving vision for Patrick Sonnier as he died in the electric chair, that what other people see as greatness often doesn't feel like greatness to us. It feels like the only thing we could do in that moment."