Friday, December 31, 2010

Core story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who liked to play outside, who had a playful imagination, who had access to acres of woods and pasture, who read, over and over again, the stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome.

She didn't like dolls too much, because when she was a little girl, they were being made of a new sort of substance, a greasy plastic that did not feel good to her. When she had to play inside, she preferred building with blocks and inventing towns inhabited by her small figurines of animals (made of porcelain). She also liked singing, dancing to music her mother or sister played on the piano, and trying to play the piano herself.

She was happiest in the spring, summer, and fall, when the woods were her open to her for hours at a time. She staged elaborate plays in which she played the part, usually, of Diana, or Artemis, the huntress/goddess, who was beloved of her people and sought after by many suitors. None of the suitors measured up to her high standards, but they often tried to surprise her in her wanderings through the woods. She was haughty and dismissive with them. If she didn't play the part of Diana, she might be Athena, who had sprung from the forehead of Zeus and was very smart. For this little girl, being smart was the goal, was fun, and was valued by all her friends in the forest. It was not, however, valued by kids in the school she attended, and so she had to hide the fact that she read constantly and often knew the answers to teachers' questions. In school, she was charming and open, never haughty or dismissive. In the woods, she had chances to act naturally and also to act in ways she would never dream of in real life. Her little dramas gave her a chance to try out whatever emotion or character or idea she wanted.

Her days in elementary school were far less exciting than her secret life in the woods, so she developed fantasies of being "rescued" from school. A knight on horseback might erupt from certain tiles in the floor of her fourth grade classroom and whisk her away to adventures in a magical forest. A trap door might open under her desk, dropping her into a chute that would take her far away from multiplication tables, worksheets, and SRA reading exercises.

She continued to read stacks of books from the library every week, even when she outgrew her forest theatrics. The voices of the other characters, which she had spoken aloud for herself as she played alone, now inhabited her inner life. Sometimes she wrote down what they said. Sometimes she heard them in the music she loved. She would often choose and practice piano pieces that were really too difficult for her skill level simply because the sound of them reminded her of some emotion, some trait of character, some idea that she wanted to "play" with. She practiced on her own and then asked her piano teacher for help sometimes, and luckily her piano teacher helped her master whatever part of each difficult piece that her small child's hands could master. Her piano teacher somehow knew that it was okay for her to play the pieces imperfectly, that it was not "wrong" to try those difficult pieces.

In a similar way, her mother knew that it was not wrong for this girl to be allowed to read anything and everything she wanted, whether it was classics like Little Women or the entire set of James Bond spy thrillers. She was allowed to read and read and read. This continued right through high school, when she read everything on the college prep reading list and almost everything on the alternate "underground" list (books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Future Shock, Black Like Me, The Way It Spozed to Be). She didn't understand everything she read, but she understood some of every book, and stored the experience and ideas for future use.

These childhood dispositions informed her teaching, much later in her life, and helped her understand that good teachers must provide an environment where children are given guidance but with freedom to learn in whatever direction makes the most sense to them.

The childhood dramas informed her writing, much later in her life, and helped her envision the Cosmic Temptress, the Raven Who Follows the Light, and the Orange Wanderer.

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