Letters Home #14 'House of Tallulah (Part 2)'

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Tallulah sat in half lotus on a cherry red moroccan pouf in a modest room at the back of the cafe. Odd stools and chairs, covered with candles, crowded the walls. There was a window to her left, a bookshelf to her right, behind her a large wooden chest and beside her a small glass table. Her pouf was in one hemisphere of a round mat, woven with threads of dyed pandanus, in earthy tones of green and orange. I sat in the mat’s other hemisphere - also on a pouf. 
"So, what are you looking for?” 
Her eyes were soft but offered no place to hide. They followed mine to the bookshelf, where I’d turned for time and inspiration. I read a few spines. Sacred Geometry and the Body, 24 Recipes for Grounding, Love Matters.
I paused, lost in a moment of contemplation. She noticed.
“Are you looking for love?” she asked.
“Um,” I replied, remembering something. “Actually I’m looking for the sound of my own voice.”
“I see,” she said. So, you’re not looking for love?”
“Well —” I paused and gave it some thought. “I mean I’m not not looking for love."
“When was the last time you had it?”
“Love?” I said casually, as if surprised.
“Yes,” she said, “When looking for something, it helps to know the last place you had it. Like a clue.”
“Um.” I hadn't prepared to think about love. Suddenly my stomach dropped and filled with dizzy butterflies. They were slightly nauseous. I winced and moved my hands to hold them.
“Something the matter?” Tallulah asked.
“There’s a pain in my stomach,” I said. The nausea crept to my back and shoulders then into my cheeks. Tallulah didn’t seem concerned. She paused and said softly, “Stay with it.”
I must have looked confused because she offered an explanation, “Sometimes,” she said, “when the voice is hidden, the body does the talking. Listen. What’s it saying?”
“Its saying its in pain.” I said through tight eyes.
“What kind of pain?”
“Like a puncture,” I said, “like my stomach's been punched and a sickness is oozing from the wound.”
“Mm,” Tallulah fell silent. Meanwhile the ooze dribbled into my hips. I tightened my grip and winced again.
“Its like I’m sick,” I said.
“What do you mean by ‘sick’?” she asked.
“I mean something isn’t right, like an illness. Or a disease.”
“A disease,” she echoed.
“Yeah, like I’ve caught something in my stomach. Its making me sick. Ruining my life.”
“Ruining your life?” She asked. 
I was a little surprised by my admission but took it as permission to confess. “Yes. It makes doing things hard. I can’t be totally happy or friendly when there’s this feeling making me want to do nothing but curl into a ball and go to sleep and not wake up till its gone.”
“It makes you want to curl into a ball?”
“Yeah.” I looked at my stomach.
“Would you like to try?” she asked.
“Try what?” 
“Curling into a ball.”
“Now?”
“Well from what you’re saying it sounds like there’s a pain in your stomach thats ruining your life and it wants you to curl into a ball. I wonder what would happen if you did what it wants.”
“Um.”
Tallulah smiled, “Only if you want to,” she said.
“Okay.” I agreed.
She unfolded her legs slowly, stood up and moved her stool outside the mat. She opened the chest behind her and pulled out a white crocheted blanket. “If you like,” she said, "I’ll put this blanket over you when you’re in a ball. If you feel as though you need to speak, that’s okay. If not, that’s okay too.”
“Okay,” I stood, awkwardly. I moved my stool and lowered to my knees. She seemed assured and that was encouraging. I lay on my side and wrapped my arms around my legs. The pain in my stomach pressed against my thighs. It turned over and oozed up my sternum, behind my tongue. “Ready,” I said.
Tallulah moved towards me and draped the blanket over my body so that I was completely cocooned. “I’m going to light some candles,” she said.
“Okay.” 
The lights went out. I could hear Tallulah lighting candles. Eventually she stopped and one of the stools creaked under her weight. I closed my eyes. The pain was most acute a few inches above my bellybutton. It sucked at my skin and spread out towards my sides. Then it rolled over and tugged at my jaw. It tucked itself behind my bellybutton, rising and falling with my every breath. Suddenly it sharpened and my stomach gurgled. An image flashed into the speckled blackness behind my eyes. It was a crying baby, covered in purple and white blotches, with clenched eyes. Its umbilical chord was intact and flailing. The baby was floating in a room, faintly red, but no one was holding it. No mother or father. Only a few shadows moving about in preparation. The baby was silent. Its eyes clenched tight.
“I see a baby,” I said.
“A baby?” she echoed.
“A newborn. Its afraid — its frozen with fear. Its eyes are clenched tight.”
“What does it need?”
“Um,” I started to shake. Tears welled in my eyes. They were clenched. 
“What does it need?” she repeated.
“Love,” I cried. “It needs love.”
Tallulah was silent. So was I. I sat up and put the blanket to one side. Her eyes were soft, but offered no place to hide. “I’m looking for love,” I said to her eyes. They blinked and smiled.

(not) the end.

Sharing is Caring

I've told this story a couple of times in the past week and many times since I first encountered the phrase 'sharing is caring' on a preschool playground in 2016. At the time I wrote a blog post titled 'Understanding the Law: Sharing is Caring'. It was a satirical legal commentary that attempted to unpack the problems with practical application of the 'sharing is caring' principle. I've included the original post at the end of this one. In the meantime here is the story I wrote in response to the problem. I also feel it holds particular relevance given that next month I'm heading up to Arnhem Land to volunteer in the remote community of Gapuwiyak. I hope to learn from local art makers and educators up there and contribute to the community by supporting arts education. I'm sure I'll learn a lot more about sharing and exchange over the next 6 months. 

Spider

One day Spider was wandering the bush in search of a web. He was searching because he didn’t have a web of his own. Suddenly he came across a beautiful web between two trees. He crawled up and found that another spider called Leaf Curler was already there. “Excuse me,” he said, “Can I have this web?” Leaf Curler looked confused.
“This is my web,” it said.
Spider responded, “Yeah, but... sharing is caring.”
Leaf Curler was stunned. Sharing was caring. So it gave up its web and moved on.
Spider was happy in his new web. But after a while he became hungry. He didn’t have any food so he went out in search of something to eat. Nearby he found another web with a juicy fly stuck inside. He crawled up and reach for the fly but was stopped suddenly by the web’s owner, a spider called Jumper.
“Hey!” shouted Jumper, “That’s my food!”
“But I’m hungry,” pleaded Spider.
Jumper looked confused, “Well you can’t have my food,” it said.
“But,” said Spider, “Sharing is caring!”
Jumper was stunned. Sharing was caring. So it gave up its fly and moved on.
Spider took the fly to the web he had taken from Leaf Curler. He rested happily and ate his fill. After a while Spider became lonely. He didn’t have anyone to play with so he went out in search of some friends. Nearby he spotted Leaf Curler. He went over and asked, “Hey, want to play with me?”
“No way!” shouted Leaf Curler, “Not after you took my web!”
Disappointed, Spider moved on. He came across Jumper. “Hey Jumper,” he said, “Want to play with me?”
“No way!” shouted Jumper, “Not after you took my food!”
Spider was hurt by this. He was lonely and wanted to play but no one would play with him. Had he done something wrong? Sharing was caring after all. Spider needed some guidance. He decided to visit someone older to ask for help. Because sometimes older people know things we need to know. The oldest spider in the bush was Golden Orb Weaver. Spider told the Orb Weaver about his problem, how he was lonely but no one would play with him. The Orb Weaver listened carefully.
“Spider,” she said eventually, “You did not have a web of your own, so you took one, because sharing is caring. You did not have food of your own, so you took some, because sharing is caring. Now because you have taken these things you are no longer welcome. What you must learn is this. Sharing is caring, but, sharing is giving, not taking.”
Spider was stunned.
He thanked the Orb Weaver and left.
In a nearby tree Spider began to build his own web. It wasn’t easy. It required some skills he didn’t have and he needed some help to learn these skills. But eventually he was able to build a web. Then he waited for some food. It wasn’t easy. It required patience and he wasn’t so patient but eventually he learned and caught some food. Now with a web of his own and food to eat he saw a little spider wandering nearby, hungry and lonely. “Hey,” called Spider, “Would you like to share this food with me?”
The little spider was surprised but gratefully accepted the offer. After sharing the web and eating his fill the little spider asked, “Why did you share this web and your food with me?”
“Well,” replied Spider, “Because sharing is caring. But sharing is giving, not taking."

The End

  Spider,  (from Arthropod series) 5/8, 2017, 20cm x 13cm, ink on card

Spider, (from Arthropod series) 5/8, 2017, 20cm x 13cm, ink on card

 

This is the original post from 2016

Understanding The Law: Sharing is Caring

The Facts

Adam and Jaimee were playing one day in the school playground. Adam was on the swing. Jaimee wanted to go on the swing but there was only one. So she asked Adam, "Can I go on the swing?"
Adam replied, "No."
Jaimee really wanted to go on the swing so she sought the assistance of Ms Simons, the teacher on duty. "Ms Simons, Adam won't let me go on the swing," she said.
"Did you ask nicely?" replied Ms Simons.
"I did," said Jaimee. And so it was.
"Okay, let's go and see what's going on."
And with that Jaimee led Ms Simons to the swing.
"Adam, do you think you might give Jaimee a turn on the swing?" said Ms Simons.
"But I want to go on the swing too," replied Adam.
"But Adam, its important to let others have a turn with the equipment in the playground. Sharing is caring, remember?"
Reluctantly, and after a little more coaxing, Adam agreed to let Jaimee have the swing and he went off to find something else to play. The next day in the playground, Jaimee was on the swing. Adam really wanted to go on the swing, so he went up to Jaimee and said, "Jaimee, can I go on the swing?"
"No." said Jaimee.
"But sharing is caring!" Adam decried.
Alas, Jaimee could not be persuaded. So Adam sought the help of Mr Bell, the teacher on duty that day. "Mr Bell," he said, "Jaimee won't share the swing!"
"Did you ask he nicely?" asked Mr Bell.
"Yes, I did,"
"Well let's go and see what's going on, shall we?"
They walked over to the swing.
"Jaimee, do you think you might like to share the swing with Adam?" said Mr Bell
"But I'm not finished swinging," said Jaimee.
Adam cried, "Sharing is caring, Jaimee!"
"That's true," said Mr Bell, "Sharing is caring, Jaimee, and its important to care for our friends here at school. How about you let Adam have a turn on the swing?"
Reluctantly, and after a little coaxing, Jaimee agreed to share the swing with Adam. A few days later, in the classroom, Adam noticed one of the other children drawing with a most wonderful pen. It was adorned with feathers and from its end the ink ran all the colours of the rainbow. Adam liked drawing, and rainbows, so he decided to have a turn with the pen. He went up to the child who was using it as said, "Can I use that pen?"
"No, its mine from home," said the child.
"But sharing is caring," responded Adam.
And so it went. Adam noticed things he liked and wanted and went about acquiring them by way of the Law, Sharing is Caring. For Adam, this Law meant he was able to get what he wanted from others, for they were obliged to care for his wants and desires. For Adam, sharing meant taking from others what he wanted.

Legal Commentary

Intuitively this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the principle of Sharing is Caring. Yet the intentions of the teachers in attempting to apply the Law were sound. So what went wrong? How did sharing come to mean taking?

One way to better understand how it happened is to consider on whom falls the burden of proof. In the case of Adam and Jaimee, it was for the one without the swing to prove that the one with the swing was not sharing. Thus sharing becomes a course of action available only to the one without. However, it is the one with who is ultimately the sharer, the person responsible for performing the act of sharing. So there exists a fundamental separation between the desire for action and the will to act. The former is linked to wanting what the other has, and the latter is imposed on the one who has it rather than arising from his or her own volition.

The solution is simple. It requires a shift in perspective and a corresponding amendment to the Law. The phrase 'Sharing is Caring' fails to capture the essence of what is involved in both sharing and caring. In practice this Law defines sharing as taking and caring as acquiescence. But what if the terms were redefined? 

Consider the following: Sharing is GIVING not TAKING.

Teaching Sharing is Giving not Taking (Creative Arts Workshop)

In groups of 7 children,
Each child is given a paintbrush or crayon of a different colour (one of seven colours),
Each child is also given a blank piece of black or white card.
Seated in a circle the children are told the following story:

A long time ago there were no colours. Everything was black or white. It was peaceful but also a little boring. One day a group of children were sitting in a circle and their teacher gave them each their own special colour. The child with yellow was only only one who could give yellow to the black and white worlds. The child with blue was the only one who could give blue to the black and white worlds. At first the children began making colour marks in their own worlds with their own colours.

Allow some time for the children to draw with their own colours on their own pieces of card. After a while return to the circle and continue the story.

Now there was some colour in the worlds of the children. But each child only had one colour. The child with yellow noticed that the child with blue might want some yellow in her world, so she went over and offered him some yellow for his world.

Get the corresponding children to act out this part of the story, using the words, 'would you like some ______ in your world?'.

The child with red noticed that the child with green might want some red in her world...

Again, have the children act out this part of the story. Then allow some time for the children to go around offering their colour to others. And so on.

At the end of the activity collect all of the worlds and display them on one board. Return to it from time to time to retell the story of the children who gave colour to the world.

Turtle

This past week I've been telling a story about turtles. Its inspired by a Native American motif I came across that relates the pieces of the turtle's shell to the twenty eight days of the month and explains their occurrence by a fall from grace. I wove in some seasonal themes and the concept of hibernation. At bush school we usually follow this story with some clay and invite the kids to make little turtles. They can draw shell designs in the clay with sticks and then make hibernariums for their turtles to rest in. We also play predator/prey type games in which the kids have to embody turtles looking for food, when the hungry eagle swoops in the kids have to curl up into their shells or else get eaten by the predator.

 Turtle, 2018, ink on paper, 20cm x 15cm

Turtle, 2018, ink on paper, 20cm x 15cm

Long ago turtle's shell was smooth as stone. Like today he lived in small ponds and swam around in search of food. It was summer and there was plenty to eat. Turtle would swim around looking for insects and crustaceans. Occasionally he would poke his long neck out of the water and take a look around. On one such occasion turtle noticed that some of the trees were losing their leaves, it was windy and the air was growing cold. There were less insects and crustaceans about. Winter was coming and soon there would be no food to eat. In the distance Turtle saw Heron, a large bird with long legs, preparing to fly north with the sun. Turtle approached Heron and asked if he could accompany her on her journey. But how would she carry him? She asked. Turtle had an idea. He fetched a stick and asked Heron to hold it between her feet. Turtle gripped the stick with his front claws and held on tight. Okay, he said, I'm ready. So Heron flapped her wings and took off into the air. Higher and higher she went, all the while Turtle held tight to the stick. When they were quite high Turtle looked down. He'd never been so high up before and was shocked by the bird's eye view! So shocked in fact that in his surprise he let go of the stick and began falling to the ground. His heavy shell hit the ground with a loud crack, splitting into many pieces. Heron flew down after him. When she landed she found Turtle in a great deal of pain. He was too injured to fly and would have to remain in the pond while his shell healed. So Heron helped Turtle find a safe place in the pond to rest. She soothed him until he fell into a deep sleep. Turtle slept so long that when finally he woke the sun had returned and it was spring. Turtle's shell had completely healed. Every crack was now a scar. Together they made a beautiful pattern.

So it is that every winter Turtle recalls his misadventure and chooses to rest cosily in his shell, recover his energy and emerge just in time for spring.

A Story about Resilience

This story was inspired by two encounters. The first was with a comment by Dr Jordan Peterson, he said during one of his lectures, "You are the last in an unbroken string of successful reproducers going back three and a half billion years." Those words struck me to my core. The second was an encounter with the parent of a child who was suffering from attacks of anxiety. I see this a lot and I suffer from anxiety myself from time to time. Its really hard. There are lots of people out there developing tools to help. Some of them might even work. But at the same time, like all technology, tools come and go, not everyone can access the same ones and its important not to mistake the tools for the solutions. I think the actual solution has more to do with accessing the quality of human beings that for thousands of years has given rise to tools. We are resourceful and resilient by nature. We have to be. But we forget. And it helps to be reminded. And the best way to be reminded is for someone or something to hold a mirror to that part of ourselves which is the last in an unbroken string of successful reproducers going back three and half billion years.

So, with that in mind I wrote this story...

Once the sun and the earth made a seed. The rain watered the seed and it sprouted two leaves, then a stem and then two branches. The sun and earth watched the seed become a little plant. One day the plant woke up. It looked down and got such a fright! Oh no it thought, I am so far from the ground, what if I were to fall? The plant was very worried. So worried that it stopped growing altogether. The sun and the earth were worried too, for they watched the plant refuse to grow. So they sent the wind to help the plant. The wind listened to the plants worries and suggested that perhaps the plant would be better off as a bird, for birds can fly and so there would be no chance of falling over. The plant agreed and so the wind transformed it into a bird. The bird flew a great distance until it came to a large forest. The forest was full of enormous trees. The bird was amazed by the trees. It landed on a branch high in the canopy. Oh dear said the bird aloud to the tree, you must be terrified! The tree responded to the bird in a low and gentle voice. Dear bird, it said, how old do you think I am? Maybe three? Said the bird. And how old do you think trees are? The bird was confused, what do you mean? Well, said the tree, I may be three but I am a tree and trees are 300 million years old. And for all that time we’ve been learning to stand without falling, and all that we’ve learned is inside every one of us. So you see dear bird, it is my nature to remain standing. The bird was amazed. It thanked the tree and flew back to its home. When it arrived the wind was waiting. It asked the bird how things were going now that it could fly. The bird replied that things were great but would the wind please transform it into a tree? They’ve been learning to stand for 300 million years!

 Resilience, 2018, ink on paper, 18cm x 14cm

Resilience, 2018, ink on paper, 18cm x 14cm