Do I Need Brazen?

by beccaborrelli


Two Fridas. Frida Kahlo. 1939.

“All I know is that I paint because I need to…” — Frida Kahlo

***

The other day I got an email from a former colleague:

“Sorry my response has taken so long. I just never seem to have enough time.”

Her comment transported me back. In two years of graduate school I had forgotten.

What is time like for a teacher?

Some things have to be experienced to be understood, but as I remember it, time was paradoxical– a state of hyperawareness spread thin. It was addressing multitudes of tasks and mini-personalities simultaneously. Teacher time was a feeling of being incredibly present and absent at the same time.

If a bottle of glue spills, Sarah jabs her neighbor’s art with a marker, Sam cries over a paper cut, and the fire alarm sounds, they will inevitably, as “Teacher Rule” states… happen all at the same time. A teacher learns to unite forward motion with e-motion. Clean thoroughly, discipline respectfully, console compassionately, and rally the troops with a calm smile that says everything is perfectly fine…

At once.

Teaching art to young children is boot camp for the soul, only boot camp in the traditional sense is meant to end after four months. Teacher time is so full that if you don’t exercise personal power… time that is chock full of stuff can feel eerily empty.

I could go on and on about teacher time, it extended to weekends and evenings as well. In the end I’m posturing and perhaps being a bit melodramatic. I get it, we all have tough jobs. Even still, sometimes during happy hours I will jump on the teacher bandwagon: “A good teacher works harder than the President of the United States!” I’ve never been the President, and I can’t say for sure… but after a few martinis, I am nevertheless willing to insist I have fifty percent more experience regarding this comparison than someone who has been neither a teacher nor a President.

All of these memories had almost completely faded after two years in graduate school…

Yet these were the circumstances that shaped Brazen.

When I created her, I created a new reality. In Brazen’s world, there was plenty of space and time to ponder and reflect on where the heck I was going. In her world I had power over my career. She directed the plummeting train. I needed her like Kahlo needed paint.

When I left teaching and moved to Austin, motivation to blog went away practically overnight. I suppose the blogging stopped, because I stopped needing it. The university changed everything. Now my whole life is like a blog. My job has become to reflect, my salary has become a degree. The novelty of Brazen wore off.

***

In my apartment, sprawled out across my bed are reading assignments. Most of them are about John Dewey, an early 20th century pragmatist who has become my “deceased man crush.” It made sense I would fall for Dewey. “Art is far more than a Picasso painting,”  J.D. believed. Art is a way of seeing and being in the world. 

His ideas have shaped how I will view education and life forever.

Well excellent!

Bring on the cinderblock walls and shelves of crayola! Where are the runny noses, antsy bodies, and earnest hands?

And that’s when I remembered.

I chose to leave that place.

Now when I read John Dewey, I get to…

… reflect and write a paper.

No longer is Brazen for slowing down and reflecting. Now I need her to get a freaking grip on reality.

***

This morning I walked out into the kitchen and saw a fly perched atop a sugar cookie… the temporary survivor of the batch… the one who hadn’t ended up in anyone’s belly last night (the cookie not the fly.)

The kitchen was peaceful at 7:30 am. Sun was streaming in, everything was still. It made me smile. Not an outward smile which is nearly impossible before a cup of coffee has entered the system… but a smile in my heart.

“That could possibly be the happiest fly on earth right now. Completely at peace and alone atop his own self-appointed mountain of buttery sweetness.”

I felt affection for this fly. I found myself feeling protective of his little moment on the cookie. I wanted to prolong his experience before the day’s events would permanently end his sugary ecstasy.

And in this moment I was happy.

I was having what Dewey wrote about for years, and what I have been reading about for months…

An artful experience.

Without warning a familiar pang returned. [Oh there you are TBT] Instead of bringing First Grade portraits up to the levels of magical mystical powers, I felt like bringing magical powers down to a little fly. It turns out that Brazen shows up when I need balance– lofty reflection after a day of bureaucracy, paint, and First Graders– insects and baked goods after a day absorbing high-minded literature on my butt in the library.

***

Between sips of coffee I read a journal article about John Dewey:

“A work of art is not an undergoing, but a doing. The purpose of the doing is to achieve the quality of an undergone experience. This, of course, requires a perception of the relationship between what one does and what one undergoes as a result.The perception of such relationships is the result of intelligent inquiry. Art, then, amounts to the act of controlling experience by means of intelligence in order to recreate an undergone quality.” ~ James A. Mackin

Which is basically a really stuffy way of saying:

“Running around a classroom, sitting in a library, writing in a blog, or watching a fly on a cookie can be f-ing beautiful… and it is art… if you make it that way.”

So yeah, I guess I need Brazen. Not in a creepy Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde way… she’s more like a pair of rose colored glasses. She makes every situation I find myself in artful.

Without her as a teacher, I was a hamster in a wheel.

Without her as a grad student, understanding John Dewey is only for getting a good grade, and that dirty fly is contaminating my last cookie.

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