Growing Pains

We are growing and it is both beautiful and terrifying…

I apologize for abandoning this part of the project these past few months. But I assure you that my silence is not reflective of the progress that has occurred over this time, nor is it indicative of how often you will hear from me now that we are back in action. For eStudio 473 and myself, it has been a time of reflection and preparation for the next leap. I had just had my birthday when I last wrote, since then we had our first exhibition as a group, and I (Katie) had a solo show back in St. Louis. The girls went home for the summer to be with their families and many of them have not returned to the Buen Pastor. Which saddens me of course, but the new smiling faces that greeted me this week replaced my heaviness with excitement. Individually, I have had an action packed couple of months…traveling a bit in Oaxaca, getting super sick with parasites, moving out of one house into another, simultaneously preparing for a 5 week visit with my friends and family up North, putting on a solo photo show, returning to Guanajuato and finally meeting an incredible menagerie of folks that will be joining us in our upcoming workshops! It has been a wonderful ride, but I am quite tired both physically and emotionally.

Today is our first day of class. We will meet at three o’clock after the craziness of the disfila del Bicentenario passes…there has been a lot of discussion of revolution, independence and the passage of time versus the idea of progression. It is interesting that we return to this small act of community and creativity on this monumental day where President Calderón, the military and the drum and bugle cores have effectively shut down the entire city. With our focus on stories this workshop period, the dualistic nature of history keeps waving over me.  The contrast between what is documented and celebrated, and then the actual story behind it all: the human thread that connects that moment in time and those lives with this moment and our lives and also with the way in which we envision our future. What does today mean to Calderón? What is passing through the mind of the man driving that tank? What are the children, out of school for the day, seeing and feeling as they observe the whimsy mixed with military? This date marks violence and struggle and victory, but today does not. Today is full of other feelings and this time is full of a different revolution and struggle for independence. And today is also a parade. For many of us that is all that this memory, this personal history will involve.

So as an ode to the experience of growth and to our next workshop “Storyplay,” an Investigation of Our Stories Through Art, I thought I would share one of my favorite narratives, a sharing of personal history, appropriately written by a Mexican American woman, Sandra Cisneros.  (I have also included a gallery of the girls imagery from their recent show.)


by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody, ”Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine.” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours, ”Mrs. Price says. “ I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine. In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, “Now, Rachel, that’s enough, ”because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t care.

“Rachel, ”Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not –“

“Now!” Mrs. Price says.

This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven because all the years inside of me—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one—are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers. I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s a cake Mama’s making for tonight and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven. Because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny—tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.


A peek into our worlds…

Here is a gallery of images created by the girls over a weekend. The assignment was to complete several portraits of a person that has greatly influenced them and the development of their identity. {A formal portrait, a portrait of personal space, a still life of personal belongings and “hidden” portrait showing them in their life, without awareness of the camera.}

This entry was published on September 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm. It’s filed under reflections, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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