We do this with reckless, gleeful abandon, crazed ramshackle construction, but beautiful and cohesive because it It comes from our being together. We, the teachers, are it with them—not watching judgmentally from a distance, not giving instructions, but getting our hands just as dirty, not knowing how it is going to turn out, just like them. In the end we all of us standing back look at it together. It’s so cool, we say. Breathtaking and monumental. Others come and see and we don’t know what they see…But we know what we have been in something deep together, and we love what we have been doing. We are hungry to know what we made and what it means to others. We hear the feedback: I wish I was at a school like this. I wish I was playing with you guys. It is good what we make, we feel that, and we like making others know we have been up to something that feels alive.
The kids yearn to know if what they have made is accepted or good, or if it makes others feel like we felt making it. They want to please. they want people to look at it and see that souls into it. They want their souls to be seen. So we are making a place where they have the opportunity to show their souls. In the energy required to show one’s soul, the dimensions of their souls grows.
In these moments we are making something new that has never been made before and will never be made again. It is an experience of life which is in flux, flowing and moving. But for souls to keep growing we have to make more space. Once it is no longer happening it has no value to us. If we keep the object,, becomes a kind corpse, a stagnant and inert. To keep it would be to try to keep it caged and unmoving.
The joy is in the making, in discovering what we can do. So we burn it and let the wind carry it away. All that’s left is a pile of ashes and a bucker of screws. And that’s how we make space for new things and new happenings. So we practice letting go. As the poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote, the art losing isn’t hard to master. We let the thing go, but we have each other and our collective memory of having made it together. We don’t ;et go of each other because we are not cardboard, we are not scrap wood, we are flesh in three dimensions, bodies in space, memory and time, and we mark that by making things together.
The sculptures we made we did not burn. They were based on Picasso’s “Bathers” and had specific requirements and limitations—less than 15 pieces, one a single spine, a human form, one single color. There is freedom within those parameters In life, we are given limits and parameters, and we must learn to create within those limits. In so doing, we create collective work that contains 24 unique and wildly different expressions in a new form and language.
And then there is this language, which is at once an individual speaking, and announcing her version of a collective desire to be great:
I was sitting in my room with a blank sheet of paper in front of me and this is what I wrote. “I could see North Branch, a loving community, where the teachers worked with you, and you work them with questions. And you make them stay up all night reading speeches. But I can see that in the end the love for everyone consoles you, and I know I would miss them.” I wrote this down blankly on the piece of paper in front of me. Mostly it what I saw North Branch was was what I hoped for, and am now starting to feel. On car rides before my dog Suki passed away, I would find myself singing with my mother to “My Silver Lining” or “Master Pretender,” but once I saw Suki's limp body, tongue dangling out, and no soul in her, I no longer sang.
Only a few days into North Branch, and for once in a long time, I began to sing again. My voice was quiet, but it was a start. I was slowly moving to the real world, and this time I was ready.
Just last night, I started to really think about how I should live. And I started to think about time, and how it keeps moving and draining and flowing forever forward. Minutes into days into years, all of it leading to the same place, a current running forever in one direction. And wer’e all going and swimming as fast as we can, helping it along.
Something I am still trying to tell myself over and over, and I will now tell you: maybe you can afford to wait, maybe for you there's a tomorrow. Maybe for you there's one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, or so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. Or so much time you can waste it. The thing is you never really know how much time you have, and so it’s moments I try to remember. The funny, stupid, and whole hearted moments. All of them. I will remember Angus playing badminton with a two by four, and Tal being obsessed with Gourd season. How Sydney is a very good climber, and went to a boat show in Minnesota, and Will loves hockey.
It’s up to you how you want to spend every second, and minute, and day, and year of your life.
But If we could all see each other as a whole, not separated by the day to day problems and fusses, wouldn't that be the way to live? If we could see each other as the same, no matter if we have a different skin color, or religion, would we then find our own Utopia?
Here I am standing In front of all of you. Do you think you are any different from me, or you friends, or even a tree? We’re all living together, even if most people don’t see it. We all have the same roots, and we all come from the same tree. You and me, everyone. We are not different from that small girl Leeya told us about. How she had nothing but her baggy clothes, and a clean jug of water, when all she wanted more than anything was to hold a hand. Yes, I’m still climbing out of the darkness, but every day you all move me miles in the right direction. I have seen it: We are one small, intelligent school, of 24 people, and we have already shown each other greatness—now all we have to do is share it with the world.
Notes from Angus to come