Difficult conversations and the long French pour.
I had some friends over the other night to chat, share viewpoints and experiences, and simply catch up. Our initial quick conversation over an espresso developed into a longer in depth conversation of difficult topics. Actually, the topics themselves were not difficult; they were the standard American topics of racism and social equity. But what was difficult was the constant re-evaluation of my experience to another individual’s oppressed experienced. It was not so much of connecting because we felt or experienced the same things. But understanding that these two experiences were two experiences, not singular. It was the challenge of NOT bridging the gap. Of allowing a gap to exist between us, which meant that we acknowledged the space between both of our lived lives, the unknown and the known. It was the challenge of listening deeply, of allowing myself to prod curiously and trying to understand while knowing and accepting that I could never fully understand. That this was not my life, this was not equivalent to my experience and that it never would be. This was the beauty of having a difficult conversation: the realization that my well-meaning imagination can not fix anything, but what I can use my well meaning-imagination to do is to leap across a physical boundary and implant myself to the best of my ability into the telling of a story, holes, icky parts and all.
This immediately made me think of the classroom. If I am to create an environment that is open and safe to the unknowns, how am I reaching across those boundaries? How do I make my students feel secure enough to take a (proverbial) leap from their seats and beyond?
When we see fragments because our existence is part of a whole, how do we understand that while giving our own voice and life agency? In “Releasing The Imagination” Maxine Greene says “This is another way to imagine imagining: it is becoming a friend of someone else’s mind, with the wonderful power to return to that person a sense of wholeness. Often, imagination can bring severed parts together, can integrate into the right order, can create wholes.”
What does this have to do with art? Everything. What does this have to do with everything? Anything you do. The arts have a unique capacity to create through actions something that has not been materialized before. Something that is unique yet in dialogue beyond known languages, combining metaphor with critical thinking, the abstract with physicality. Quite often, this brings about difficult conversations. Conversations that students did not even know existed in their own works, in their own experiences. Those icky spots or moments. Difficult conversations that sometimes surprise me. Because they now have tools to express, explore and discover that which is beyond the everyday function and capital of language, signs, and symbols. Moments of combustion ignition-where one spark of imagination has met another. Difficult conversations that one can think about, prod, watch and observe–with a guided tool of critical dialogue. But, as Maxine Greene also says, “In thinking of community, we need to emphasize the process words: making, creating, weaving, saying and the like. Community cannot be produced simply through rational formulation nor through edict. Like freedom, it has to be achieved by persons offered the space in which to discover what they recognize together and appreciate in common; they have to find ways to make intersubjective sense.”
And this is why our initial espresso developed into a long French pour.
“Again, it ought to be a space infused by the kind of imaginative awareness that enables those involved to imagine alternative possibilities for their own becoming and their group’s becoming. Community is not a question of which social contracts are the most reasonable for individuals to enter. It is a question of what might contribute to the pursuit of shared goods: what ways of being together, of attaining mutuality, of reaching toward some common world.” –Maxine Greene