|An amoeba engulfing a paramecium….|
Way back when when I was, I guess, 16, I was working my socks off to prove I wasn't stupid. I had to remain down in the fifth form after 'O' levels as three passes were needed to go up into the sixth form and I only got three…. Yes, I got the three, 'but art doesn't count' was touted out. So, there I was, the only girl out of 73 others, still in uniform, being 'held up as an example' to the others of what happens when you're 'stupid, lazy, and don't bother to work hard enough'. (What happens is SHAME, and the givers of this salivate as they walk past you with a smug look - nasty.)
So, I-Was-Going-To-Show-Them. And not because my mother told me to, or to show her that her pleadings of 'Just try, darling, just try!!!" might work. The thing was, I always had tried, it was just not known then that my brain didn't work quite like others' brains. I read 'well', but I actually made most of it up in my head so I wasn't actually answering the question asked. I could have a PhD if that could be based on the most gained 'read the question' and 'that isn't what I asked' comments written in fiery red ink in the margins of my books and exam papers.
So, I was allowed - how magnanimous of the headmistress - to begin my 'A' levels in English and Biology whilst I (successfully) re-took my failed 'O' levels. I loved biology and english and worked hard at them, but, of course, I was 'stupid' so I was never taken seriously. So….
There was one essay set for biology that I decided, I set the intention for, I willed, for which I was bloody-well going to manifest an 'A' grade….
'The Difference Between the Organism of the Amoeba and the Paramecium - discuss'.
I wrote long and hard. I drew really, really good (and they were) pencil drawings of said creatures. I wrote and I wrote, and then I wrote some more. (Everything I wrote was - apparently - way too short. Because, 'of course', I was stupid and lazy and didn't bother to try.)
I wrote all night - kneeling on the floor before my bed, the old foolscap paper (longer than A4) laid out on a sturdy atlas, torch becoming ever more dim as the night wore on. And then I wrote again the next day. And the next night (new batteries). And then I proudly handed in my 32 page essay.
I put it on Miss Ponting's shelf in the 'homework cupboard' on the main corridor - a small shelved room with space for marking to be placed above each teacher's name. One would then go back and collect the marked work the next day, or whenever…
Only about an hour later I went to drop off some other homework and was surprised to see my essay already back…..with the most enormous (foolscap sized) red R (for so bad it's returned un-graded) completely coving the front page - so much so that the downward, final stroke of the R had been written so forcefully that the biro point had cut right through the paper down to page 10….
I couldn't believe it. What had I done, or not done, now…?!?!???!???!
Friends gathered around me as I spluttered and frazzled, reading furiously to see if I could discover why this had happened…. Then they began to laugh….
"What?" I said.
"Look!!!" they said.
"What??" I said again.
"Looooooook!!!!!" they laughed. "You've written an essay discussing the difference between the orgasms of the amoeba and the paramecium!!!!"
They were, by now, rolling on the floor in paroxysms of laughter.
I had little idea of what they were speaking. No, I really didn't. I was very, and annoyingly, sheltered in my only-child, religion-riddled, upbringing. But yes, I had written 32 pages about the orgasms of the amoeba and the paramecium. And there were a lot of orgasms in 32 pages….
My head-mistress then called me into her office:
"You have the mental age of a three-year-old", she whined at me (because she had a mean and whiney voice). "You will end up cleaning lavatories on Waterloo station."*
I left school. Not expelled, but I had had enough of being bullied and shamed. But still the damage was done.
I have laughed long and hard about this one for well over 45 years. And I have not been found cleaning the lavatories on Waterloo station - toilets I have even gone past giving a 'V' sign too as I pass; now it's a cheery and self-kind wave of 'ok-ness'. Instead I have been offering my teaching, based deeply on Alexander work, for 35 years now. And I know that nowadays my essay might well be the annual-silly-but-loved-prize-winning essay in a school magazine, and definitely all over Facebook to great acclaim, and probably even published…. But clearly it still hurts. So I've shared it.
And I put it in my Self-Kindness blog to be kind to myself. To remind myself that, no matter that Miss Ponting was an elderly (younger than I am now?!?) spinster in the mid-1970s, embarrassed as hell about 'that word', and that I was well disliked in my school, because…. Well, because…. Actually I have no idea…. I guess a left-handed red-head is a pretty good bullying point, but I did assist the school in winning many a sports trophy, so there…. And because I wish I still had that essay - it was, of course, confiscated and burned and I had to write another, far less successful C- one - because I know, I really, really know, it was good. And worthy of being honoured for its content, not scorned for the hang-ups of its reader and marker.
I have long 'healed' this, even if layers sometimes come up to remind me of its echo. These, too, I can heal through the holding of the pain gently. But of one thing I am now sure; I no longer allow anyone to mock, judge, criticise my work. I am open to comment, feedback - what they liked, what they would like more of - but not the telling of how my, or another's, creativity is 'not good enough', or 'should be other than it is'. Please remember this, no one, but no one, has the right to 'prune' you without your permission... To tell you you aren't good enough as you are. This is their story, not yours.
This is why I work with people in the respectful holding of their own creativity, nurturing their self-belief in a safe and kind way. We are all capable of growing into big, strong plants, but even if some plants only thrive on very hard pruning, every plant is different; some plants die if cut back harshly and insensitively. I work with these 'plants' - these beautiful, maybe delicate or tender 'plants'. The people who need a slow pace, gentle nurture, and bespoke protection as they become the full and glorious bloom they are.
(* Waterloo station is one of London's largest train stations.)