Growing Pains = A Long A** Post

by beccaborrelli

Empirical Constructions. 2003. Julie Mehretu


“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. ”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

This past Thursday- the first hour of my Community Art Programming course was devoted to a PBS special on the Green Movement. Refusing to be daunted that I was paying tuition to watch a movie accessible for free on you tube, I responded by launching into high cerebral mode. No zoning out for this girl. I would make use of class time with or without the professor.

I furiously jotted notes- disseminating the movie’s ideology into dozens of pieces. My mind swelled… my ego soared. By the time the dvd wrapped up I was ready… bursting… nearly exploding with excitement to share ideas with the class. Discussion time here I come.

Yet with each raise of my hand- like a slowly deflating balloon- I began to realize my ideas didn’t relate to the professor’s direction. With each blank stare it became clearer and clearer I had taken a trip down a pretty deep intellectual rabbit hole during that movie, and the rest of the class had been… well in the present moment.

With nowhere to put my excitement I stuffed it down. I had still come up with some pretty cool ideas, it wasn’t necessary to share them anyway right? You did the work, you don’t need the reward. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince myself.

Why was I paying for this? What was the point? What a waste of time.

As I biked home from class, my mood was black. The physical effect on my body was stunning. Fatigue washed over me- all I wanted to do was eat and take a nap.

What was going on?

Wasn’t the honing of my mental facilities one of the highest educational endeavors? Hadn’t I done that? Hadn’t I flexed my intellectual muscles to their max? If the answer was “yes,” than why did my spirit feel like an empty balloon… shriveled on the party room floor?


“Would you be interested in creating a workshop for Austin ISDteachers in a few weeks? We’re looking to do a workshop that incorporates Texas education standards with an artist we’re exhibiting in a few weeks,” asked the Director of Education for the Blanton Art Museum.

Was this a trick question?

Two weeks later, brainstorming sessions brought me to the drought parched Shoal Creek riverbed. Crouching on my heels, I picked up water worn stones and reverently placed them in a crate.

A man crossing the bridge above leaned over the edge:

“It’s an awfully hot day for rock collecting!”

I laughed as he made his way down towards my rock-picking site. He sat on the edge of a wall lining the riverbed, legs dangling above my head as I worked.

“Whatcha picking rocks for?” he asked.

I launched into an excited explanation.

 “Well you see I’m leading a workhop on this artist from Africa… you might not have heard of him, his name is El Anatsui… anyway he does art made from natural and recycled materials that tell stories about his culture, so I got this idea to do a collective artwork about the drought….oh yeah, I work at the Blanton… but I don’t really work there, I’m a graduate student at UT… this will be a workshop for teachers…”

In the middle of my rambling diatribe, he hopped down and began hunting for rocks with me. Amused, I watched as he eagerly approached with stones:

“Will this one work? How about this one?”

Up closer, I could see dirt on his face and under his finger nails… tell-tale signs of homelessness.

In spite of this realization, I was grateful for his company. We picked rocks in relative silence once I realized he didn’t have any interest in art history or discourse on pedagogy. When the crate was too heavy to carry- he lifted it without question and carried it to my car.

He grinned a partially toothless smile- his eyes sparkled as they locked with mine. “It sure was nice helping a pretty girl today- good luck on your workshop. “ No plea for money. No awkwardness. He waved, turned and walked away with- I kid you not- a light hop in his step.

And I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a light hop in mine too.

 …You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve….


Dots connected on my walk home from campus last night.

Rocks… graduate school… a homeless man… heart… mind…

Why did picking rocks with a homeless man feel so much better than intellectual acrobatics in class? Walking down the busy drag of Guadalupe at the hottest time of day-sweat dripping down my face – my mind churned with questions:

 Which kind of school will give children that feeling I had in Shoal Creek?

A school intent on minds full of information, and energy generated by high grades is certainly what we’ve created so far. But a school intent on hearts full of grace, and souls generated by love? Isn’t that church-ish? Well, love and grace are bigger than dogma. How does one create that in school? It seems like there should be a balance… heart… mind… body… wow that sounds hippy… how would I convince others…?

As my mind churned, my brain disconnected from the beautiful present moment surrounding me. It was about this time serendipity decided to prove a point.

“Excuse me miss, do you have some spare change?”

The voice barely registered. My mind was clouded with ideas. I briskly walked by, eyes straight-forward, shoulders steely.

“Well God Bless… thanks for ignoring me…”

His passive jab cut through my cloud, I heard him then, five steps too late.

I should have spun around.

 “I’m sorry I seemed unfeeling towards you just now. You happened to ask while I was lost in thought about how I was going to save the world. Here’s five bucks.”

That would have thrown him.

Instead I kept walking, feeling a mix of embarrassment and amusement.

Still trying to save the world with your brain eh Brazen? Once again a homeless guy pops up to remind you a brain in the clouds feels best when balanced with a heart in the present.


I don’t know what schools need. Really I don’t. Maybe I have a better guess than someone who hasn’t worked in one… but I would never purport to have all the answers. I don’t know what the world needs either, although there have been moments on this blog when I sure talk like I do. Lucky you- you caught me in a humble moment.

What I do know is what feels right in my heart.

What I do know is that the thoughts, actions, and creations that make my life rich and blissful (picking stones in a riverbed with a homeless man)… aren’t things kids get to focus on in school:

Service to others, personal reflection, creative expression, conversations with friends, running around in nature, meditating in the moment, singing, dancing … all distant third and fourth places (if at all) to information consumption, test prep, and skill building.

In past posts I’ve blamed capitalism. I’ve blamed an economic mindset. I’ve blamed society. I don’t think the brazen blame thing works for me as well as it used to. After all, economies and societies are made up of all people… one of those people is me.

Why am I surprised to find schools don’t focus on art, dance, love, grace, and friendships… when I myself don’t focus on them? When I myself make material achievements, prestige, good grades, more money, a better job, and a higher degree… the places to focus my energy.

Who am I to preach on this blog, when I am part of the society I blame?

This… will of course be a post for another day.

Love and Grace,