MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark
I just finished two magnificent weeks teaching for the Cal State Summer Arts program. I coordinated a Solo Performance course and part of the joy of coordinating the course is that I’m able to choose other guest artists with whom I’d like to work. This year, 27 students and I spent time with Sharon Bridgfroth, Bill Bowers, Jude Narita and Heather Raffo. The other great joy is that this course proceeds less like a college course (which it is) and more like Summer Art camp for adults. And wow, the world needs more opportunities for people to be present, playful and creative, living in supportive community. Yay Summer Arts.
Because this is both a college course and an opportunity to work with world-class artists, the student population is varied. Yes, we had a group of young California State University students, and the line-up also drew professors and working artists. We’re all in the mix together, living as colleagues – as teachers and learners. It’s gorgeous how the lines blur. In addition to the workshop time with guest artists, time for writing and devising their work, students also spend time with me, just playing games and telling stories. I offer activities to prompt experimentation in two-minute increments. And wow, you’d be amazed at how short two minutes can be when you have to tell an impromptu tale about your early memories of strength, or loss, or arousal. Two minutes can go on forever when you have to do a wordless action like becoming an amoeba or performing a social plague. Sure, these activities boost performance skills and help the performer feel time in her/his body, but they’re also meant for fun, and to instill confidence. I don’t want to lose focus on the simple skills as we learn to be masterful writers and performers. Simple skills – like presence and knowing how to offer emotion, feel unspoken communication. We each need to practice holding space for what needs to unfold.
One of the two-minute-activity cards prompts the performer to “Do your best Kimberly Dark impersonation.” And see, this is really funny for all concerned, as the audience discovers slowly what task the performer is carrying out. It’s also fascinating to me, when a student pulls this card, to see how I am perceived.
In this case, the student chose to caricature me through physical demeanor and dialogue. I’m happy to report that I’m seen as having good posture and a dignified countenance. My script was more interesting, however. The student began by asking how everyone was doing and then stating, “You’re all beautiful, and perfect and I’m so glad you’re here.”
Interesting, right? I don’t ever recall saying that exact thing, but indeed, that’s part of the message I hope to convey. Apparently, it came through.
On day one of this intensive, I always comment to the students that part of my function, during our two weeks together, is to love them. This might sound weird at first, but I’ve been teaching this way for a quite a while and it’s nothing incidental. Intensive learning experiences are as much about context as content. My job is part teacher, part den mother. (Not that my son was ever a Boy Scout, but you get the reference.) And really, that’s pretty important. I think we’ve culturally devalued the role of feminine caretaker to the point where we forget; we all need specifically that. We need to be looked after, encouraged and enriched when we’re young. And we need it at strategic moments through our lives. Whether the caretakers are male or female – we need caretaking of the variety that has been labeled: feminine. Indeed, why do the good parts of parenting ever need to stop? If we could each offer the kind of ‘genuinely wishing you well’ expansive love on a regular basis, how much better might the world be?
I invite you to wonder, where can you simply offer love. And just as importantly, how can you accept it? This is the other side of the equation and culturally, the mothering role has been devalued to the point where it’s taken for granted. One possibility, as we offer mothering in unexpected contexts, is that it can become re-valued. I experienced real appreciation from students at Summer Arts last week. And that’s important for all of us to see and feel.
I talk about Summer Arts as a life-changing experience because it changes my life every time too. For a few precious weeks, we are experimenting with creativity, joy, emotion and connection. We’re experimenting with the mystical power we each have – largely untapped – to move the world, re-value the precious, and expand our abilities to give and receive. If you’re an engaged parent, you already know those powers exist. Open them up, and play. Take them out into the world and do your best –not just because you’re a parent, but especially because you are one…
Kimberly Dark is a writer, performer and sociology professor. She is elated that her favorite son is home for the summer after receiving his BA and before beginning graduate work at University of Chicago. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com.