Sunday, 4 September 2016

What a delight

This weekend, I talked to adults about the power of images to make meaning.

What a delight.

My real aim was to encourage the use of graphic novels for increasing reading comprehension, but in the process of creating my presentation, I realized that what I was really talking about was multimodal literacy.

This making of meaning through words and images is in our every day. Saturday, a dear introvert friend and I were supposed to meet up for a drink. A couple hours before our date she sent a cancellation:
credit to Allie Brosh

I replied in kind:

Earlier in the week, I'd written one of Oscar's teachers to share some worries over how that boy doesn't exactly embrace school and how some his actions could be misunderstood. The teacher replied not with words but with image:
It was such a relief.

And that's what my talk was all about---empathy. Having a seat at the table. Using images to start something or to grow something and to build relationships with books and words and neighbors and society. I'm a soap-boxer about graphic novels, so I'll save that for when schools are foolish enough to give me the mike, but as I spoke on the power of images to make meaning, it touched a very personal nerve.

Last night I was reading Patrix by Nadia Bolz Weber; she writes that we have this misconception sometimes that when something is new---it's clean and shiny. It has a new car smell and tender green sprouts. Ha! Usually new is really messy. It's awful. The new sober person trying to make it through the next 16 hours. The new baby bringing fatigue and body fluids. The new school year for Oscar Gus. 

I'm experiencing some new. The Kapok Tree, a beloved endeavor with a beloved friend, has been at a crossroads for several months. It's as successful as we need it to be. And it's certainly fulfilling. But, in order to grow it, we have to go in a direction and that doesn't quite sit right. So, we have a new path in front of us. The Kapok Tree as we know it in Singapore is coming to a close, but some other things are growing. 

And it doesn't feel clean and shiny. It doesn't smell very good. It has a lot of fear behind it. But, as Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign." It festers. If there's something in there---you gotta get it out.

Last night I was looking for a visual metaphor of courage to help take on the fear at the changes ahead. Elizabeth Gilbert tells us that fear can come along our creative journeys, we need her, but she gets to sit in the backseat. As I looked for visual courage, I remembered this dog:
Awkwardly posing for her school photo, Weela looks resigned rather than heroic. Her absurd image and her story were published in Outside Magazine in 1996. Back then, I pretended the carabiner that held my water bottle to my backpack was really used for scaling rock faces. I was a poser in every part of life--desperate to be something. Anything. A teacher, a good friend, a mountain climber, an artist, a soulmate, a writer. I was struggling with being in my own skin and with having any sort of compass. I wore clogs and corduroy and long baggy sleeves to cover a self that had no passport and no direction and no defined character. After reading that little ol' Weela saved dozens from drowning, lived through a rattlesnake bike, and was a mighty-hero-dog in a little pup's clothing, I hyperbolically (and cheekily) cut out her image and pasted it over my own drivers' license photo in hopes of channeling her grit and determination--or at least having something to make my geology lab partner laugh.

Last night, twenty years later, I Googled old Weela, and I cut her out again. I pasted her mug on my jar of drawing pens. An awkward talisman. Like Weela, I don't feel particularly ready for my close-up. But the difference between 40 and 20 is that I am not lost wondering who I am. I can send a cartoon to cancel an evening out and not be thrown into a spiral of self doubt. I can doodle something mediocre and not think it's me forever. I can live in the mess and believe in the hope. I can make meaning.

What a delight.

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