Monthly Archives: August 2011

Teacher-Mom

by Prof. Janet C. Mendoza Stickmon,

On paper and voicemails, I identify as a professor.  Professional interactions–a professor.  In the classroom–a professor.  I’ve found that identifying as such is so important for us as people of color who have students who have never had a professor of color…it becomes important to recognize our title while at the same time not turning it into such a big deal that the title alienates me from my students.  This is tricky. In everyday speech, I speak of myself simply as a teacher.  Teaching is one of the most selfless, prophetic professions one could ever undertake. I put it up there with the nurse, the doctor, the therapist, the minister, the curandera, the babaylan, the griot, and other healers…like crossing guards, ice cream truck drivers, and tow truck drivers. Any qualities I claim to embody as a professor is because of the people that I have emulated.  Teachers, priests, nuns, indigenous healers, counselors, homeless men and women, the anonymous fellow passenger sitting next to me on a plane, friends, family, and other loved ones have all had a hand in my development as a human being and consequently as  a teacher.  If I am ever complimented on my teaching, I have no choice but to remember that I am a direct reflection of the loving people I have come in contact with throughout my life.  When my mentors have come out to support me, I learned surprisingly that my success was their triumph. My beauty was their splendor.  My happiness, their rapture.

Teachers have the potential to be healers.  Not saviors. Not omnipotent leaders.  But humble healers who know that whatever liberatory catharsis is experienced by our students as a result of our teaching, that this is because we are instruments of a greater power. The gifts we share with those we care most deeply for are bestowed upon us by the Divine. This is a tremendous responsibility and one must not intellectualize it too much otherwise one might miss the beauty of it, the mystery of it and collapse from the enormity of it.  There are things that I do in the classroom that I cannot take credit for.  Like the perfect thought that comes at the perfect moment… and I am left surprised by my own words. The impact we have on others, even on the days we don’t feel good about ourselves, is fascinating to me.  Such things can only be explained by the Divine.  It is vital to call upon the universe, God, the gods, the ancestors, all to reconcile the interstices that bind our greatest expectations to our greatest disappointments; that bind our greatest lack of understanding to our greatest revelations.

When my daughter was born, this identity as teacher/professor was tested. Hyacinth was born on March 26, 2008. I was with her for 5 months before I returned to work.  And when I stepped foot into the classroom, I didn’t feel like a professor or a teacher.  I felt like I had never taught before.  I was lost in my own classroom.  I stumbled over my words.  My old lesson plans seemed outdated and I felt clumsy trying to teach from them.  I was painfully ashamed and considered ending my career as a teacher.  I couldn’t figure out what had happened to me.  I thought that it had something to do with using baby talk for five months straight.  But I felt it was much more than that.

In the past when I’ve been in these awkward, painful transitional phases, I knew this signaled a new exciting beginning. So I waited and rode the wave. Eventually, it occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly expect myself to be the same person, the same teacher, after bringing a life into the world.  I had changed permanently, and what was painful for me in that moment, I imagine runs parallel to the trauma Hyacinth felt when she was born.  Perhaps, the Goddess is in the transition phase right now, preparing to give birth to a new me.  And I need to get out of my own way to let that birth happen.

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Filed under career, daughter, growing up, mother, parenting, story, transition

A Furious Woman

by Sarah Tyson

Every woman that I have ever bared my soul to has been furious.  Not in the angry, mean kind of way but in the intense roaring, raging wind kind of way.  You know this kind of woman who blows into a room and inspires you or rallies you to her cause of injustice or her plight of burnt salmon or her saga for being done wrong by this one or that one.  This woman’s laughter can be heard down the block and the music of it fills the room with color, vibrant yellow and magenta.  Her joy, as well as her sorrow, is long and deep and full.  She will give you advice even if you don’t ask for it and it’s almost always what you needed to hear.  She knows when to speak loud or whisper, when to hush up and just listen.

I could list you out, you furious women in my life.  I would begin to write and the paper would roll out long and bounce across the floor like the lists on the movies do.  So many of you have marched in just in time and others of you have melted away over the years.  Some of you have died and the memory of you picking up hitch hikers and how the Avon lady called at your house and all your jewels and weathered photographs, they linger and thrive furiously in my soul.  Some of you live too far away so I settle for you in doses and it’s always a delight to be in your furious presence.  And a handful of you are a treat that I indulge myself in, some weeks more than others.  When we are together, merry and content, we gather around the dining room table to feast and celebrate being alive, to clip coupons and solve all the problems.

To have known or become a furious woman is a gift to the world.  We need your intense clanging and banging while you put away the clean dishes after dinner.  We need you to say the thing we were all thinking, the inappropriate thing that sometimes only you can say.  We need you to swoop in and save us with your chocolate chip cookies, to eat ice cream cones with us before dinner.  How would we survive without your hair care tips, your child rearing wisdom, your knowing sigh to a day gone long and wrong.  The world needs you furious woman!

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Filed under friendship, story

An Unconventional Red Tent

By Jayleigh

On a warm weekend in July, a Red Tent was raised at the Culture Fest in Salem, MA. I attended for a few hours in support of my friend, Natalie Johnsen (featured in the Red Tent Movie), who played hostess for the Red Tent throughout the two days it was up.

Red Tent Temple, Salem, MA

Red Tent Temple, Salem, MA

The tent itself stood out from the others: red amidst the white. The entire inside seemed to glow red from the reflection of so many pieces of red fabric which had been draped over three of the tent’s sides. There were red-draped chairs, red-covered tables, red pillows and rolled-up blankets on the ground.

This Red Tent had multiple purposes. One was to provide for those who wished a space for respite, shade, and refreshment (ice cubes, iced tea, and cold gazpacho were available). Anyone could enter and sit for as long as he or she liked. Another purpose was to educate and increase visibility for the Red Tent. Men were welcome to come and learn. Another purpose was to create soulful space where lively conversation might happen.

I entered the Red Tent after it had already been up for several hours that Saturday. I sat, watched, and listened.

The space was witness to conversations ranging from intimate asking for support to a group discussion of hair and what the connection might be between cutting off one’s hair and releasing the hold of old memories. A few men stopped by. Women came and seemed delighted that such a space was there.

Red Tent Temple, Salem, MA

Red Tent Temple, Salem, MA

At one point I found myself writing in a book in which women at various times had recorded their lineage through the women in their family. I paged through and read names, read women’s writing about why they had come to the Red Tent. It was a profound thing to write my name, and then my mother’s, and then my grandmother’s, and then (after a long pause in which I struggled to remember it) my great-grandmother’s. No matter who these women were, no matter what they had or hadn’t done, their lives allowed mine to be. I wrote my own dedication: I knew in that moment that I had come to the Red Tent to affirm my life.

Eventually, that day, I left, appreciative of what had been. What a radical thing it is to simply offer space where one may be nourished without needing to be any particular way. Natalie, with her open eyes and open arms, held this space beautifully for all who came, whether they had ever heard of the Red Tent before or not. Although it was an unconventional Red Tent, it was the Red Tent at its best.

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Filed under "things we don't talk about", memory, place, red tent, red tent experience, red tent temple, Red Tent Temple Movment, space, story

Is it a Place or a Space?

by Susan Eaton Mendenhall

Where is ‘place’ within the spaces we live and see?  Walls, streets, buildings give us place.  Sky, fields, and open water offer vastness of space.  Are ‘space’ and ‘place’ the same? I think not.   Space is vague, inclusive, and universal.  Place is named, determined, recognized.  Space holds dreams.  Place holds memories.

Space allows breath and breathing.  It awakens the imagination and creativity.  It invites the deepest part of us to trust and explore.  It begs for nothing.  It is the absence of ‘what might be’ that gives it freedom.  It has no demands.  Space is uncommitted, unnamed, without story and specific memory.

ABC Carpet & Home Store Red Tent

Red Tent at the ABC Carpet & Home Store

Place is very different.  Place offers suggestions by its very nature.  Place defines as it becomes a sounding board for the many memories it may invoke.  Places hold and invite stories.  While a place may be silent, the story that is recalled will be full of sound and movement, color and dynamic. Places remember a relationship, moods and feelings.

Both a space and a place that is growing within women’s circles is called the RED TENT. Draped in shades of red fabric, this is a created space to hold whatever stories, dreams, imagination, art,  and self-care the women wish to bring.  It invites all that a woman has experienced in her body – in her lifetime – to be celebrated, shared, released, and healed with the other women who also gather in this space.   Once the stories unfold, the activity begins, the rituals performed – the sacred space that has been prepared to invite the whole of womanhood becomes a place full of new stories, new friendships, memories, and renewal of life itself.

The Red Tent is a place where a woman is able to ask herself “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you?  A place where other women, perhaps somewhat older, had been affirmed before you, each in her time as she struggled to become more truly herself.  And if the other women had helped you to trust your own becoming and quietly and prayerfully nurture it.  How might your life be different?”  (Judith Duerk)  It is this kind of question that makes a place important.  A place helps us ask life questions, look at them from all sides, and trust that an answer will arrive in its own time.  The Red Tent is a sacred space prepared for women to place their stories, lives, and questions.  “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you?

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Filed under memory, place, red tent, red tent experience, space

Excerpt From My Personal Red Tent Narrative

By Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost

It is eight p.m. on Saturday– time to enter the Red Tent. The rain and clouds add to the darkness soon approaching. I exit my cabin and walk up the curved driveway, past two cabins, and across fifty feet of wet grass. As I approach the three steps up into the red glowing interior, I am not sure of what my experience will be. I remove my pink rain boots and place them on a shoe rack to my left. I reach out with my right hand to pull aside the sheer red drape that creates a soft, vaginal looking opening. Waves of warm sensations bathe me. An amalgamation of dim, but lustrous red tones, a warm temperature, glowing red Christmas lights, and luxurious red velvets, sheers, and silk brocade fabrics drape from the ceiling down to four cushiony soft seating areas. The space is intimate and radiant. I search for a perfect, but private spot to lounge. As I look around, I notice that there are only about ten other women in this space that could probably hold forty. Talking quietly amongst themselves, the women are sitting in the central seating area in a few clusters of two to four women. Grateful in that moment that I do not know anyone, I continue with my quiet experience.

I proceed to sit down in the space to the left of the door. It has a beautiful three-foot-square red velvet pillow that I lean on and occasionally hug. Beneath me is a flat velour-covered box cushion with large fabric covered buttons that extends across the six-foot long bench. Located next to the kitchen and tea area, the space is just long enough to fit two or three people in close proximity, but wide enough to sit cross-legged. Alone, reclining on my pillow, I scan the space and notice that there is an elevated bed in the opposite corner. Underneath is a cube-like, draped cave structure. I think to myself that it would fit my mood, but alas I notice that there are two bare feet sticking out from inside it.

As I sit there with my wandering eyes, a woman comes up to me. She wears a long red sarong, a white t-shirt, and a red flannel shirt. She says hello to me and introduces herself as Rowan. She comments, “Would you like some tea?” She pours me some piping hot “Menstrual Health” tea by Traditional Herbals. As she hands a wide mouthed red cup to me, I comment, “how did you know that I was menstruating?” She pours herself a cup, sits down next to me, and says, “How is your weekend going?” I explain that I have spent most of the weekend in bed with a menstrual migraine, I quit a job that I completely loved, I do not have any money, and my alcoholic ex-boyfriend abandoned me after my IUD insertion that I chose to do to ease my fear of having children. Now I have stabbing menstrual cramps because my uterus does not like the IUD.

(To be continued)

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Filed under IUD, memory, menstruation, place, PMS, red tent, red tent experience, red tent temple, Red Tent Temple Movment, space, story