July 2, 2013
Flooded with Thoughts
Our first conversation had been one of those awkward ones where you discount the echo as a poor connection whereas the reality is you are talking to one another only a few feet apart. The campground website noted they were closed through the previous day because of seasonal flooding. After spending a few hours awaiting check-in time at the public park adjacent to the campsite and noting the submerged trees, I was less than optimistic, but I desperately wanted to shower before interviewing the blacksmith at the John Deere Historical Site in Dixon, IL.
Over the phone, after explaining she had no shower facilities, she stepped around the corner of her building and caught site of me. As it turns out, she is as remarkably pernicious as I am, and her primary goal as art teacher was to teach her students how to “fix their mistakes,” something she explained while overlooking her five miles of flooded campground.
She and her husband had purchased the tract of land ten years ago, just before he had been diagnosed with cancer. For the first few years, she divided her time between her fifth grade art students, her husband’s “other woman, mother nature,” and his doctors. Only when the physicians declared his cancer to be in remission did she finally retire, leaving a newly remodeled art classroom she had stubbornly fought administration for to a younger woman.
That day as I plugged in my computer, in spite of her puffy eyes and red nose from a summer cold, “the worst kind,” I heard her dropping rocks into a bucket, carrying them from the washed out part of a road to patch a hole from the receding flood waters.
At the Institute, I heard of a special needs teacher whose students had produced beautiful stained glass tile mosaics. The students were barely able to hold a paintbrush, much less manipulate sharp glass. Yet even though it was obvious the students had little—if any—artistic input into the tiles, they remained the administrator’s beacon of pride.
My newfound mentor was never that type of teacher, insisting, even when students asked for a new sheet of paper because they didn’t like their project, that they “fix their problems,” providing a number of other artistic examples from which they could draw their creative inspiration. Their “mistakes,” she often noted, produced some of the best works of art in the class.
As I listened to her rocks hitting the bucket, I couldn’t help but relate life to Rousseau’s blank sheet of paper. How often do we strive to just ask for a new sheet of paper rather than fixing the one we already have drawn upon?