“Remember to stay inside the lines” said the spinsterly teacher abruptly, making me jump in my short plastic chair. Looking up, I saw the black pits of her nostrils as she peered down at my work through the impossibly small glasses propped on the end of her nose. Sitting there under the fluorescent lights, at the woodgrain laminate table with my peeled and broken crayons scattered around my stark white Xeroxed worksheet, I felt a hot flash of anger rush straight up from my stomach to the skin of my cheeks. As I burned with the rage of an angry boar, I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth and forced my head to jerk down in a quick nod, dismissing the intruder that interfered with my artistic flow.
That was the beginning of my rebellion. I was in second grade summer school because I couldn’t pass math. I remember sobbing over my miniature primary colored counting bears as my Dad would try to demonstrate the simple concepts over and over and over. I was able to pass, and eventually went on to take all the math that was required to get into college, and miraculously, to cobble together enough algebra and statistics courses to get a bachelor’s degree. At each and every gradual level, I struggled and worried and sweated over my assignments and exams. At the end of each semester, I sighed in relief when my grades confirmed I had made it by the skin of my teeth.
Of course it isn’t remotely uncommon to struggle with math in an academic setting, but I’ve really never been cut out for any type of activity that depends on exact and precise maneuvers. When a very strict process of completion is required I become extremely tense and agitated. After second grade, I slowly began to detest school more and more as the years went on. Art class, and art activities offered a space where I found peace. I also took respite in a few other places at school- anywhere that granted me freedom- to write, to cut wood, to play music, to perform a poem, to do anything the way I wanted to do it, really.
Sierra gasps in surprise and points, shouting happily, “Look, Mooom, an American Flag!” every time she discovers one when driving through town. Our city, being home to the biggest army post in the country, is extremely patriotic, and somehow at the age of 2 she is already buying into the concept that that piece of fabric is revered and celebrated by everyone. Despite all the pitfalls of this country- my biggest gripe being over-consumption (by our citizens AND our government), I love this freedom that has been granted to us. I have an understanding and gratitude for how precious and protected this freedom is and must be. But what good is this freedom that we have if as a society we are put in a position where we aren’t encouraged, or even allowed in some cases, to use it the way we want to, the way our souls were meant to?
A little over ten years later, I found myself once again under the fluorescent lights of a public school classroom, this time standing next to a professor peering at my art work through her black frame glasses.
“The composition of your piece on the right is much better” she asserted.
“I kind of prefer the left one’s composition, myself.”
“Why are you here? Why do you come to class if you don’t want to learn?” she snapped. She continued on a diatribe about art theory that I again forced myself to nod along too. She never again approached me to critique my work.
It is extremely easy for conscious and creative people like us to stumble upon and conjure up thoughts, ideas, plans and dreams throughout our waking and sleeping hours. But how can we stake a claim outwardly in our practical lives so that these stirrings and impulses can become a full expression, a living fruition?
We do it by ignoring the critics, the naysayers, the “professionals,” the detractors, and most frequently, those who use the excuse of “having our best interest at heart.” We must block the negative energies and the poison arrows from flying into the camp of our deeper feeling. We must look out for the trojan horses- the advice that on the surface promises safety and comfort, but inside is full of all manner of chains and cages designed to cripple our creative forces. We fight for the time, the space, the resources to do our creative work- not just for a a half hour on Sundays but as a regular routine in our lives. We must consider our creative work with the same non negotiable priority that we apply to practicing personal hygiene and eating regular meals. Going to work, keeping clothes on our backs and a roof over our head allows us to survive in this world, no doubt about it. But what good is survival for the human body when the soul of the person is suppressed, banished and exiled?
Of course many of us are completely happy with the types of lifestyles and activities that can effortlessly be acquired and maintained in our society- for some of us the choices we wish to make happen to be those that are widely agreed upon by the popular culture, and we will face little to no adversity. But if you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely that you are like me. We aren’t made to color inside the lines. We weren’t made to blindly be lead by people that happen to assume positions of authority. We were made with eyes that see beauty and light, with ears that hear to the call of the wild, with hearts that feel the pang of deep emotion, with instincts that smell the rancid breath of those that use fancy words to attempt to manipulate us into submission. I promise you that we have the power within ourselves to overcome anyone who would try and stand between us and our creative work. All that’s needed is a recognition that the power is there, and the conscious awareness to use that power.
When we begin to express our innermost soul urgings outwardly, people start to spot us from a mile away. We begin to stand out like a beet stuck in a bundle of carrots. We probably won’t fit in so well, if at all, and people will innocently start to ask us to please just maybe be a little less red, a little more orange, less rough, a little thinner, a little sweeter. It is then and there that we must immediately use that power, that trust and strength of conviction that courses through our veins. All that is left is to keep doing the work that we’re doing, the work that we’re loving- the way only we can do it, and not stop until WE are satisfied- when we know we have successfully brought our soul baby from the ovaries of our spirit into the earthly realm.
I can assure you, it won’t be easy to do. but I promise that for the artists, the musicians, the writers, the activists, the philosophers, the poets, the witches, the dancers, the builders, the designers, the gardeners, the scholars, the cooks, the adventurers that we are- it’s as essential to our soul lives as oxygen is to our physical bodies.