Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Awakening the questions

I learned an intriguing statistic this morning. Though I'd heard it before, and it even kind of makes sense, I found it nonetheless disturbing.

Of the questions asked in a classroom, over 80% come from the students in second grade. It gets progressively lower, until, by the time you're in college, only 3% of the questions asked in the classroom come from the students.

I was, as a child, one of the world's great questioners; I was always curious -- so much so, in fact, that it drove my 2rd grade teacher crazy. So to keep me occupied and out of her hair, she gave me a poetry project, and whenever I had finished my classwork my job was to either read and copy poems, to illustrate poems, or to write them.

Fortunately, though my mom tended to throw things away, she kept the booklet that emerged from this process, so I still have the priceless works I created, including this charming response to a class field trip which took us to see big IBM computers:

Brun-n-n Flash!
Watch the red lights dash!
Flash Brun-n-n!
Watch the answers run!

I was one of the lucky ones, with teachers who found creative ways to keep me occupied, and parents who didn't work TOO hard to stifle my questions. So when I got to college, I was still a questioner -- and it wasn't the teachers who burned that out of me, it was the other students. I was, you see, desperate for approval. And it was clear that the way you got approval from the other students in my classes was to keep your mouth shut and act like you already knew everything.

And slowly, between those more subtle messages and the more direct ones I got from so-called friends -- messages like, "Diane, you could be so pretty if you just didn't smile so much" and my personal favorite, "Yes, other men are faithful to their wives. But they're not married to YOU."


Yes, I shut down for a big long period in my life. But before you blame those who gave me the messages, I ask that you notice this: I am the one who chose to listen. I am the one who chose to shut down. And before you applaud my wonderful husband for creating an environment in which the real me now thrives, I ask that you notice this: I am the one who saw beyond his surface curmudgeonliness to the kind accepting soul that lay beneath. I am the one who somehow knew I needed his big open heart around if I were to open my own.

The fact is that both credit and blame are far too easy to assign. And the truth is that life is much more complicated than that. And the very things that may seem like curses at the time may turn into blessings at some later date, just as what looks like love may devolve into hate, and what looks like fate may devolve into misfortune. We cannot spend our time whining about -- or missing -- the tragedies or glories of the past, any more than we can predict or control the future.

All we really have is now. And if I chose, yesterday evening, to turn a bit of junkyard trash into a needle threaded with feathers, and though I wondered what the point was, managed to stay on track and finish, who's to say that the next morning I might not meet someone and learn her life has shifted because she read the story of a designer who went from creating graphics to stitching up butterflies?

I can't know where these images are taking me. I can only follow my instincts, one step at a time, and trust that bit by bit the questions are being awakened again within me.


Maureen said...

What a great story about the designer. And what a fabulous dress (just to try on). Her story reminds me of an artist, Mindy Lam, at VisArts in Rockville, Md., who took up drawing when she became very ill. She makes the most stunning jewelry and now has a high-dollar couture line yet remains so down to earth and accessible and still offers jewelry that's affordable. She also beads designs on silk and made a dress out of crocheted wire that has appeared in various fashion shows. Lots of fun.

Louise Gallagher said...

What a fabulous story -- and like you, I have always been an eager questionner. My questionning tendencies have gotten me into trouble, incurred wrath and caused me pain -- yet question I continue.

the designer story is gorgeous.

Glad you haven't given up questionning -- it's such an opened minded, hearted, ended way to live.