Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Violent Pedagogy

“You with your violent pedagogy, and me with my broken heart!” A dear friend of mine has spent years howling these words at me in a variety of situations, for a variety of purposes. He says, now, that the words first came from an intense desire to have people—myself very much included—embrace the reality that there is more than one means to any end, that adhering to a rigid dogma ignores the beating, breaking hearts. Ignore those, and we will get approximately nowhere we wish or need to go.

I think about this a great deal, especially lately. I moved to the Boston area because I thought that what I wanted to/should want to do was put my graduate degree to work at any of the non-profit organizations ringing the city. It’s been nearly three years since I left Montana with a Master’s Degree, tucked in among my dog and books and skis, and returned to New England. I’ve spent too much of that time thinking that my goal ought to be putting that MS in Environmental Studies to good use for the betterment of the planet through traditional structures. As if the words on a diploma were the magic key that would let me into doing the great work of the world. I’ve complained countless times that I just want a job that will use my brain. And so, still, I clung dogmatically to what was linear and logical and expected. And willfully ignored that such adherence, such expectations, would never heal my broken heart at the state of the world.

My death grip on that violent pedagogy is loosening, finally, this spring. Because, the closer I cleave to the linear and expected and traditional path, the farther away from my heart I feel. I have a file on my computer labeled “Cover Letters.” It contains 156 different cover letters, numerous versions of my resume, and other detritus of my years of running West, looking for a sunrise, job wise. This number doesn’t include the multitude of online application forms I have also submitted. By and large, I hear nothing from most of these schools and organizations and programs where I have applied for communications or outreach or research assistant or donor relations or any of these jobs titles that stick in my throat, that feel as constricting as the pantyhose I’d likely have to wear. But, according to the pedagogy of our country and education system and our metrics for success, these are what I should do. And so I continue, having been told that this is how one makes it, that this is the path towards success, towards happiness.

Doing what I feel obligated to, what I feel that I should, what is supposed get me an A+ in  American Dreams…I begin to suspect that this will not make me happy. And, while my memory of Philosophy 101 led me to believe that I would never agree with Emmanuel Kant in any regard, his line that “to secure one’s own happiness is a duty,” has been ringing in my head for the past few months as I stumble though, striving to figure life out.

Currently, I waitress three days a week. If I think about this too much one way, it hurts terribly. I have something better to offer the world than a  (barely) passable cappuccino, and it burns that I cannot find the right context to give what I so desperately long to share. But, clearly, the traditional structures of American life are not that into what I have to give. The job market for creative writers with a burning passion to guide people towards loving the world enough to save it, is, surprisingly, nonexistent. Funny, because I can’t think of anything we need more.

And here is the deeper rub of the violent pedagogy of the American Dream, educational structures, and job market: student loans. In a nutshell, too many others and I are in heart-stopping debt because of our educations. The rules of the game, as I understood them at the outset of college, of graduate school, were: swallow the bitter pill and take the loans, get a good education, and that education will land you to a job where you can pay back those loans. (Ideally, in time to buy a nice car, a house, a lot of short-lived, disposable crap, marry the flawless love of your life, and start popping out more little Americans, who in turn with require more expensive educations and who will consume an unholy amount of MORE ephemeral gadgetry.)

Partially because I was unable to find a job with my undergraduate education that would enable me pay back my undergraduate debt, I attended graduate school, where I re-entered the same game. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and I admit that I should have looked more closely into the financial realities of a MS in Environmental Studies on the American job market. But, again, with over 156 job applications over the course of the 153 weeks since my graduation, and thirteen part-time, temporary, and seasonal jobs since obtaining my degree, I begin to suspect that failure does not lie solely with me. Or perhaps it does, but it is not a failure of effort or hard work. This is another piece of the American mythology I take issue with, that breaks my heart—that education, hard work, and committed determination will result in success. I have been triying, as best I can by the lights of my education, to adhere to that ideology, to play that game, as I understood the rules. But it isn’t working, on any level.

And, part of this struggle may come from the heart and subject of my particular education. In college I studied Environmental Studies and Creative Writing and Philosophy and Outdoor Studies and African Studies. I’ve never been on track to be an international financial analyst or, really, anything other than the sort of dreamily indignant writer that I am, hoping and striving to make the world a better place. I believe with every fiber of my being that this is why we are here. And I cannot fathom how this goal can fall outside any pedagogy, any path towards or metric of a successful life. Regardless, the definition and direction of my education was never mentioned as part of the student loan bargain—nor should it be. Should education be fueled only by what will net the student the highest salary? Should poorer students not be enabled to pursue their passions? Are we, as a country, to lose or limit the love of learning? That is a truly violent and vile pedagogy, and one that feels more cruel and more real every time I have emails from my student loan companies sitting alongside job rejections in my inbox.

As this system is broken, I see fewer and fewer reasons to cling to it. There is a time to leave a sinking ship, and for me, as much as I am able (while avoiding default on my loans, because I cannot abide the sick feeling of indebtedness), I believe that this time is now. This is what makes my waitressing job bearable, this feeling that I can drop out of the system, exit the argument, and refuse to play by the violent rules of a broken system. My employment need not be, should not be, the source and food of my passions. (As another friend says, “you shouldn’t make a whore out of your true love.”) The violent pedagogy does not understand passion, and if it cannot, then at my core, I have nothing in common with it. Outside the boundaries of expectation, the ruts and routines that catch us, drag us down in a keening of frustration and unkind sense of failure, outside these structures this is where the broken hearts will come together, this is where the strength of humanity is. And here, with our hearts cracked and bleeding with joy and labor and love, is where we can start down our intersecting, uniquely passionate and effective paths towards something better than what we have known. I suspect that it will be more wonderful than we can yet imagine.

God knows there is enough violence in this world without visiting it upon ourselves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day, and The Angriest Person I've Ever Met

Today is Earth Day. I spent the better parts of yesterday trying to crawl out of my urban life. It’s been a strange, sad, hard week in Boston. Anyone with a radio, internet access, television, or chatty strangers probably knows this. The other night all I wanted to do was run to a wild place and be still amongst the trees and the stars and the unquiet tranquility of a New England forest in spring. My nearest woods, now that I’m urban, close at dusk. So I contented myself with finding Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” through the Poetry Foundation’s excellent website. I read the words over and over on my blinky computer screen as night came on in the city.

The poem has been working its way deeper into my mind ever since. The words are almost filling an ache for being at once at peace and wild…almost.

But yesterday, instead of going quickly to the woods at dawn and lying still on the ground until the world seemed fine and graceful again, I read Nicholas Lemann’s essay “When the Earth Moved” from the April 15th The New Yorker. Lemann details multiple failures of the Environmental movement from the first 1970 Earth Day Teach-In to the current, sorry, state of green affairs. Earth Day started as a grassroots day of learning. There were no corporate partners, no oil industry players participated in the day as part of a sneaky, sideline campaign designed to “green” their dirty image. And yet, from what I’ve read (and I do have a graduate degree in this stuff) and what I’ve heard from my elders who were there, by God, Earth Day was—briefly—effective in altering behavior and public policy. People got together, and shit. got. done. EPA! Clean Air Act! Clean Water Act! Super Fund! Endangered Species Act! Well done, and thank you.

Something terrible seems to have happened since then. I’ve personally attended a staff retreat of a large environmental non-profit—the Appalachian Mountain Club—and listened to a PowerPoint presentation about how to use Twitter as a tool for conservation. Tweeting had been used as a lobbying tool on air quality legislation, and despite all the Tweets, the measure failed (i.e. air stayed polluted), and we were discussing this as a successful campaign because of the number of Tweets. I readily agree with the adage that any tool is a weapon if you hold it right, but that meeting felt a thousand miles from where the Environmental movement should be. 

The failure may be that we’ve tried to join the increasing corporatization of this country. In that light, it doesn’t surprise me that environmentalism is lagging, that our successes have been so relatively few and we’re willing to accept such anemic compromises as success in the first place.

Because, at heart, this has never been a corporate/government/business entity. These are matters, deeply, of the heart. And this is where our efforts and resistance must come from if we are to be successful, if we are to save, protect, preserve, salvage anything good on this little spinning orb of sea, earth, blood and fire.

One thing that we are missing is rage. The things I love, the ways I want the world and its people to be towards each other, all of this is under constant threat. I’m furious about this, that things I love are not safe. The peace of wild things can only quell this fury for small spells, thankfully.

People say that rage is bad, that anger will not help the situation. I’m not advocating for violent actions to be taken out of this rage—I’m unlikely to kick oil executives or dirty-monied members of Congress in their teeth (teeth don’t heal)—but I do think that the motivation of rage, the fury that what I love is being robbed of me by a corrupt system while I stand idly by, this feels like a clean, good burning fuel. The struggle is to make the anger useful and non-violent, just as it is to make the love active.

A motivating rage extends farther than blogging alone at midnight about the state of the world or clicking “Like” or tweeting “#Happy Earth Day!” or emailing elected officials to stop a criminally stupid pipeline. While I’ll keep doing all of those things (minus the tweeting), they increasingly feel like not enough to quiet the raging beast, to bring peace to the wild things.

And here is where I think of the angriest person I’ve ever met. She was five years old, and had the communication abilities of a feral dog. She was born deaf, and when I met her, she was just beginning to learn sign language. Her parents had not been able to admit she was deaf, and so, for five years she had no way to effectively communicate with the world. All that a person can see and experience and question and long to express in those first five years of life was bottled up in this child. She broke my heart, and lately, a decade or more after I knew her, I’ve been thinking about her more, as my own rage grows.

The rage, the frustration, the defeat, despair, apathy, back-broken hope, and all the other current road blocks to a vibrant, effective Environmental movement stem, in part, from something similar. The current structures of the world cannot hear what we’re saying, or perhaps they willfully do not listen to the truth. Either way, it amounts to the same. So we need to change how we communicate, within ourselves as much as with the powers that be.

Here is my thought. It comes, in part, from counseling a co-worker at my cafĂ© who is going through a very bad break-up. We, the green folks, almost had kind of a good thing with U.S. Policy makers, about 40 years ago. Since then, it’s become clear that they’re just not that into us. And we’ve been hanging on, making ourselves more like them to get them to like us more. Fuck that. It’s time for the post-break up makeover. We’ve got to make our way of doing things, of living, of being, so beautiful and enticing and incredible that the power comes crawling back. Anyway, by quitting that fight, we regain our own power. Right makes Right, as T.H. White says in The Once and Future King--Might (or money, now) does not make Right. Also, I'm pretty certain that the smaller, tighter, more effective lives of people actively living in the ways that make them happy—truly happy, in the ways that buying more and bigger and “better” stuff never will—is the best answer to how to live in the first place. Living like this is likely to make us all happier than trying to be something we’re not, than speaking a language that does not express the realities of our beliefs.

And, better than waiting for the pathetic loser of (most) U.S. Environmental Policy to crawl back, we can use our way to life to shape better policies. The United States remains steadfast in our mythology that we are governed by and for the people. We may have made corporations into people, but that’s idiotic. Corporations cannot march, cannot protest, cannot get into the actual heart of people. Turning this myth of what we say we are into who we actually are is going to be hard, but I think it can be done. Living in Boston, I find myself literally stumbling across pieces of the Revolutionary War. It happened once here, it could happen again. It should happen again, people rising up to remake their world better…heck, it might even be fun.

Trouble is, I feel a little like the deaf girl here myself—I want to speak these things, I want to do these things, but I do not have the right tools to even know where to begin. I suspect that a lot of people are in this same boat. Living simply and happily I’m working on—although it’s worth noting that I wrote most of this on paper napkins at work last night, in between waiting tables. Mostly, though, it’s the communal uprising I’m looking for. Anyone else? We should talk.

Happy Earth Day! Go fight the good fight, in whatever eco-battlefield or wild place makes you happy. I wish you the peace and ferocity of wild things.

Friday, April 19, 2013

In Praise of Sweat

Thursday night, before my city became paralyzed with the brief, strange confusion of “sheltering in place,” I attended a vigil for the marathon bombing. The wind was blowing hard, the half-mast flags snapping in the darkness. It was hard to hear—the wind was blowing across the speakers with this strange hollow-thunder noise. I loved that, the wind making itself known, this invisible force that can only be seen and felt in the reactions of what it touches. Like love, really. Someone read a poem, and other people sang, and it did what those tools do—opened hearts enough and pointed to the soft places in our souls where a scrap of comfort, if not understanding, can creep in. I was most moved by the runners who spoke. They talked of their community, of the love and support they find, of the comfort and challenge and addiction of running. Their words, these runners, were as moving as the poetry, the songs, the wind. In the end, it’s all the same thing.

I am not a runner. A marathon is something far beyond my abilities, or interests. When the world overwhelms me--as it has this week--I go to words. I read, I write, I re-find my sanity, my faith in humanity, my calm place to go forward with this often hard and messy business of being human on this earth, my best thing to give the world I love so fiercely. I know many people run for the same reasons. They pull on little fluorescent shorts, lace up their sneakers and go, pounding their hearts into the trails and pavements, until life comes back to focus, back to size. Other people take to their guitars, their pianos, their churches, mountains, oceans, deserts, kitchens, equations, woodshops, gardens…their best thing, the instrument or action they have where they can best give and receive of the good of the world. And where they can muddle some sense from the darkness. May we all find this thing, and soon.

My sisters are both runners, and in general, far better athletes than I am. I dabble, I enjoy, I stop to look at things and take pictures and come home and write essays and poems about all that I’ve seen and then wander about in a poetic, world-loving daze. That’s fine, and really, it gets a lot of attention for being a Good thing to do. I like to think that my words are the best I can give the world, and I find a lot of reassurance on that front.

But, my sisters and their running brethren go out and sweat and empty their bodies and find something like peace and happiness through that strength. They choose a hard thing, and take delight in their abilities. My older sister ran a half-marathon on a whim a few summers ago. (She admitted the next day to being “a little tired.”) After the events of this week, she, like many others, is looking for a marathon to run and hoping to qualify for Boston.

A friend told me this week that he cries watching marathons, that the power of that mental and physical commitment always impresses him. When I think of all that brings me to my knees as being beautiful—passion, effort, good-intention, and a holy glow at what humans are capable of—I cannot think how I overlooked how inspiring and glorious running is, or, really, all athletics are. What the human body is capable of is no less soul-inspiring than what the human mind, the human heart can do. We are becoming a nation that does not know our bodies well—we are no longer required to be physically strong in order to eat. And so, such physical strength and the body’s natural grace often becomes a sport, a game. Except that it shows us yet another way in which we can be wonderful, malleable, resilient. “Or haven't you noticed just how invincible and unbeatable spirit is, so that its presence makes the whole soul fearless and unconquerable in any situation?” Socrates asked that in The Republic.

How that spirit presents itself varies. For which I’m grateful. But here, for a little while, I’d like to lay all that I can, all my words and the best intentions of my spirit, at the feet of the runners. Your efforts, your sweat, your struggles, your success, your choice and joy in these actions…this is as beautiful and as needed as any words spoken to a lonely crowd on a dark night, seeking comfort.

Today, while listening to the news of the largest manhunt in U.S. history, I didn’t know what to do, so I started writing this. I made art, I read poetry. When, finally, the world became a little safer, I went outside. Some of the first people I saw on the quiet streets were runners. It almost made me dig out my running shoes.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The Boston Marathon was bombed yesterday.

I spoke with my father this morning about it all—yesterday morning he’d emailed me with utter glee to say he had tickets to a Red Sox game for us. Today, he was struggling with the thought, as too many of us are, of how a fun sporting event so quickly slid into horror.

Two of my dearest friends were at the bombing site, with their infant daughter, ten minutes before the bombs went off. Safe, but by the sort of slim margin that will linger for a long time.

I thank whatever I’m calling god today that, at this moment, no one I know was hurt in the blasts. And I’m praying to that same space in my heart for those who were hurt, for all that was so sweet about a crowd gathered for a marathon, and was irrevocably lost in the blast.

News like this fills my chest with rage. My breathing changes, my fists clench and if it would do any good, I’d punch holes in walls and yell my throat ragged. Being enough distant from actual grief, such keening is both inappropriate and inadequate.

But the rage doesn’t have such boundaries. I hate this sort of violence. To live in a world where this happens makes my skin hurt and I wish I could crawl out of it all. How does this happen, and worse, how does this keep happening?

I’ve had the radio on all day, listening to the same few facts get chewed over and over. We know nothing seems to be the only conclusion. We know nothing, except that people ran towards the explosion to help, even before the second bomb went off.

This human decency is supposed to be a balm of some sort. It is, I suppose. But I’m furiously sad that we’re forced to find any good here. Because here, as every time, the good does not outshine the bad, the light does not negate the dark. Are these horrors—all horrors—some how “okay” because people are people and band together and help each other when our legs are blown off, when our brightest days shadowed?

I think not, and I resent the implication of silver-lining finding that makes it so. At worst, I hate the thought that we need tragedy to re-teach us to be kind to each other.

Why can’t we pull together, why can’t we be better humans, why can’t we run headlong into danger and explosion and fear and the unknown before the bombs go off? Such events have authors, such authors have reasons, such reasons could be found, inquired, mitigated. Something. Anything would be better than this locking of doors after the horses escape.

For now, I suppose, Boston is my city. And as such, I suppose that I should feel something more for this bombing that I should for any of the other explosions and mass tragedies that pepper the globe on a daily basis. But I don’t. I’m just plain against all such acts, foreign and domestic. Against all such acts, foreign or domestic in origin.

In this world, in this time, I find that simply sharing a zip code with someone isn’t enough to have their death weigh more heavily on my soul than any other stranger. I see the pictures, and listen to the coverage of explosions and people screaming. The people saying “it was like a war zone.” There are people living every day in war zones—do they deserve less of my heart than the crowds of innocents gathered yesterday in Boston?

I do not mean to disparage either the crimes of yesterday, or the tragic beauty of the human response. I ask only that we try to multiply our understanding, our empathy. Such similar scenes—frightened people running, inexplicable bombs and injury and dead—happen daily. Often, we are responsible. If We Stand United, if We are all Boston and Newtown and New York and Columbine and Oklahoma City and Atlanta and any other of our domestic scenes of terror and violence, should we not also be held to a higher accountability for what else is done in our name? Wars, drone strikes, slaughtered civilians, genocides we dare not dirty our hands with by intervening…all this is done and not done in our name, as Americans.

I say some of this to my father. He says he does not have my width of perspective. It is not a judgment. He is not small-minded and I am not callously large-minded. He called to make sure my friends’ infant was safe—his were the sweet and immediate concerns of a parent, concerns I cannot yet share and may never. But, further, we are of difference generations. I have traveled more widely, bounced around this country and this globe with the ease of my generation. I have seen the lines on maps melt as I cross them. A friend said today, “borders are imaginary, people are real.”

If there is an upside of globalization—and that is a big if—then this is it: those of us who have seen how a hundred different “others” live must learn to live and be in a way that honors those others and lets them live. To me, this means turning the rage against one violent act against all violent acts. This means seeing the seeds of violence before they bear fiery, bloody fruit. This may mean turning our hearts and minds inside out to understand what would drive a person to violence, and this means that we may not like the answer. I believe that violence comes from the darkness lurking inside each of us. What causes the darkness to  explode out, to seep into others’ lives so violently is unpleasant territory. But we must know why, we must ask why. Without those questions, we will never know how to stem the flood, how to heal the original hurt, and there will be more violence.

I am thirty-one. I have never been to war. I have never seen a person die. And, yet, I find that I have seen more than enough violence to last me my lifetime.

Haven’t you?

Friday, April 5, 2013

The World Is Changing

Other than my wracking sobs for fictional characters, the most distressing part of the latest season of Downton Abbey was that I forgot to keep track of the number of time that words to the effect of "the world is changing" were said. I think that sentiment permeated the season as much as lavender and starch permeate the Dowager Countess's unmentionables.

I know that when you hold a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, but I couldn’t watch the beautiful, wasteful, opulence of life at Downton without thinking of the present world. Thoughts on climate change and income inequality and class, gender, and identity struggles all flitted through my head while I watched the beautiful people on the little screen try to keep their lovely home and ancestral heritage stable as the world changes. All that over-consumption, crumbling as the necessary support networks falter…climate change may be my hammer, but I don’t think I’m wrong with the analogy. The show is still a soap opera, I still watch it mostly for the beautiful clothes and the Dowager’s snarky, silky retorts, but just because it is fluff, doesn’t mean some truth and beauty and intelligence can’t be there also.

The people who seem to get truly screwed in Downton—as perhaps, in our current reality—are the parents. They’ve been raised one way, expect certain truths to remain true, and are hurt when life deviates from their plan. The grandparent-aged folk have enough experience and perspective to handle a certain amount of change. And, then the young people are leading the charge, demanding that, if the world is changing, that we must change with it. If this sounds familiar to anyone else, I won’t be surprised. Some friends and I have been talking about how the ramped-up over consumption of the last fifty years has been in service to the Baby Boomer generation, and, to quell the literal rising tides, that we need to return to, remember, the harder, more skilled, smaller lives and greater capabilities of our grandparents’ generations and farther back.

I think of this every time another friend takes up canning. Or knitting. Or farming. These things may be trendy and hipster, but also, they are useful skills for life. I try not to think that some Cormac McCarthy-esque Apocalypse is nigh with climate change and increasing economic inequality and joblessness, but I do think there will come a time where to use less will not be a choice. I’d prefer to learn how to be capable before there is a need, and there is sweetness in making an active choice. The world is changing and we must change or go extinct, as they say in Downton.

I am already frightened for this summer’s wildfire season in the West, for the hurricane season along coastlines that are still raw from last year, for whatever slings and arrows and emergencies we’ve forced ourselves to weather this year. It is more than time to change, the world has already changed, continues to do so, and we must change, and quickly, to live in the world we’ve created. Or it, and we, will go extinct. For my part, there is still too much that is wonderful to give up now. Battered and hot and crowded and problematic as this world is, I think it’s still worth fighting to hold on to. And little actions, like learning to be more self-sufficient and kinder, may not be enough of a weapon. But they are a good, well-intentioned, start towards change.

One of my favorite storylines of Downton has been Lady Sybil falling in love with the Irish Catholic Revolutionary chauffer, Tom Branson. I think that any one of those identities would be enough to sink his battleship amid the Crawleys. They certainly threaten to, a new mark against the man appears pretty much every time he does. Without saying too much, what I most loved about this latest season was watching him come into peace with his old identity and his new as a member of an aristocratic, English, Anglican, family. Rather than fight for Home Rule in Ireland, rather than firebomb and terrorize the countryside in service to his (rightful) passions, he turns back to land and family, and gives himself in service to those ideals.

John Adams, who I like for being persnickety and overly verbose and for helping Abigail Adams to some prominence, wrote “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.” I think that this is the source of the somewhat watered down, “I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer and his son can be a poet.” I’ve seen that line attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, but I’m going to demonstrate a small bit of loyalty to my new state and give it, here, to Adams.

I don’t see why revolutionaries can’t be farmers and poets. In truth, I don’t see a better way.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Glass Menagerie & Glass Flowers, Some Thoughts

“Oh be careful! If you breathe it breaks!” I loved how the actress’s voice rasped across that line—all panic at her fragile glass statue in the hands of another, her voice unused to speaking. The love in the half-catch and quaver of her breath, the hitch of fear, this is what haunts me from the performance. This was the American Repertory Theater’s recent production of “The Glass Menagerie.” Celia Keenan-Bolger, who, as Laura, seemed shrunken smaller than a memory in presence of Cherry Jones’s oxygen-stealing, heart-breaking, mesmerizing, Amanda and Zachary Quinto’s tightly coiled rage as Tom. Except, in this moment where Laura shares the best she has to give and all her stymied love and fear and hope runs ragged towards the light, ripped from her lungs, her heart.

I find myself thinking of love and fear and protection in a variety of guises often. If we are not careful, we will all break all that we love, starting with our own hearts and bodies and ripping up through the cosmos to climate change, space trash, and beyond. But if we are too careful, too concerned and cautious, perhaps nothing good will ever happen. You’ve go to break some eggs to make an omelet, I was recently reminded. That was the message I received from the play. Yes, all the hopes come crashing down, shattered like a carousel unicorn against a wrecking ball. But, even at such times, we still all get out of bed, eat breakfast, convert oxygen to carbon dioxide, and get about the business of living. For some, of course, this is easier. Not everyone has the crushed hopes of Amanda Wingfield to contend with, for example. But, we’re all a little damaged, a little crippled here and there. Dancing to the music across the alley, as Laura does with her gentleman caller, may not fix club feet, broken hearts, skinny legs, warts, or any of it. People are people, not messiahs or silver bullets. But the dancing, the risk-taking, the fun, does make the bumps and bruises better, just to know that as unique as our cripplings are, everyone has them. And that they do not matter any more than the weight we give them.

One of the more amazing and instructive moments of my life—thus far—came when I was briefly studying Zen life in Japan as an undergrad. My freshman Philosophy professor, myself, and three other students when touring around Japan on a Freeman Fellowship grant for three weeks. One week brought us to Osaka and the classroom of my professor’s professor. He—Robert Carter—put the classic Zen Ox-Herding pictures on the overhead projector and proceeded to blow my mind. Through the series, a young boy is looking for the ox, a metaphor for enlightenment and wisdom. Once he finds the ox, he is able to stop searching, to rest with the knowledge, to see that the ox was everywhere and nowhere in one moment. There is one picture that is full of life—mountains and trees and waterfalls. The next in the series is empty. Dr. Carter explained that the trick is to look at the world through both, as if focusing a telescope’s different lenses. Like a kaliedescope, seeing everything and nothing in tandem. There is a sweet tension in holding opposite views in one thought, and knowing that both are righter than rain.

At my best times, I can almost do this.

After seeing “The Glass Menagerie” I started thinking more about ways in which I treat myself, my hopes, as if made of glass. I am, at times, afraid to breath around my hopes, so fearful that everything I want and love will shatter. I am thirty-one and have spent at least the last fifteen years trying to be as capable in as many capacities as possible. I know myself to be sturdy, and that I can--with help--heal from whatever breaks me. So my fears are as foolish as Laura’s. She is a terrifying character to identify with in that regard. I try to remember, as I go about my life, that I am not glass, that I will break, but not shatter, and that’s normal, that’s life.

But then, with my new thoughts of “Throw rocks at the glass menagerie! Do not be so precious as too forget to live!,” I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. They have an entire exhibit of glass flowers. “The Glass Herbarium,” if you will, (and I will.)

I had expected the flowers would be blown glass sculptures, or stained glass windows of gardens. I was not in the least expecting to see case upon case of glass flowers laid out on parchment paper as if in a botany textbook. I hadn’t, foolishly, expected such a perfect marriage of Science and Art.

My mother and sister and I wandered up and down the cases. I found the plants I most consider friends—diapensia and mountain sandwort and moss campion. These are all plants that I smile at as if I have fallen in love when I see them in the mountains. They are part of what I love and feel bound to protect from errant feet and changing climates. And here they all were, preserved in glass. Are they safer in glass, are these glass flowers in glass cases in a museum with temperature controls and neat signs saying to keep off the glass, than their wild brethren?

I worry, very much, that they are.

So here are my two lenses of glass to view the world through today, after my cultural excursions—protect what needs protecting, and get out and live with the rest. I don’t advocate for smashing the glass flowers, but for loving the real with the same ferocity we protect glass flowers. That goes for our human lives, too--I'm all for living life with the same dedication as some might polish glass unicorns, (or bunnies) and hide from beautiful, shattering, reality.