Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s menopause, but there are so many moments in my life these days where I’m not sure if I’m where I’m supposed to be.
I visit a friend in a quaint small town. “I could live here! What would it be like to live here? This would be great! And solve all the annoyances of my present day-to-day life. Yes! This is the ANSWER TO MY PROBLEMS!”
I visit a friend in a city, I think the same thing.
I talk to a friend about his international aid work – why don’t I do THAT?
And hair extensions – clearly I have missed the boat on a modern convenience that is to good to pass up. What am I thinking?
I must interject right now that this mental gymnastics has nothing – repeat nothing – to do with the quality of my life. Which, by and large, is grand. I also want to interject that never do I want another husband, or different friends, or different children. (Okay, that last one is a lie. Next time you are in California Pizza Kitchen and feel some poor woman looking longingly at your children who talking politely while hers are screeching and spilling the 10th glass of water? Yes, that would be me. I wouldn’t mine swapping mine with yours right about then.)
Unless a desire to change is persistent, I’ve actually come to think of my inner monologues as a byproduct of what they used to “an overly active imagination.” I am a storyteller and actress by trade, after all; it is my job to imagine what it would be like to live in a different city than mine, with a different job. And hair extensions.
But then there are those moments where time stops, the mental chatter dies down and up from the ocean of my soul bubbles up, verbatim: “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Yesterday was like that.
Yesterday I was an advisor to a group of nine diverse student leaders from my kids’ school – Charlotte one of them – as they joined other student leaders from the LA area to learn about Unified Theater. You may have seen my tweets and posts about Unified over the last year. I met its founder, Michaela Connery, at a CAL-TASH conference almost two years ago, and she and her team are now heroes of mine.
Unified Theater is in over 100 middle and high schools on the east coast; CHIME is one of the schools bringing it west. It is a fabulously constructed curriculum for inclusive art making for students of all abilities. Unified and CHIME – with its fully inclusive classrooms – are a perfect match. Both institutions have moved beyond the us/them language of disability. Even amazing organizations like Special Olympics and Best Buddies and Easter Seals (with whom I sat down last week) are examining their paradigms of a designated “special Olympian”, for example, and his/her “helper”. Even though the support is amazing, and it’s great to have individuals shine who may not have a chance to otherwise, ingraining that paradigm – there is a designated “disabled’ person who needs help from an “abled bodied” one – perpetuates separate-ness. And separate-ness breeds segregation of populations who could truly become integrated, given half a chance.
We began the day by dividing into groups and creating tableaux around words like “invisibility” “exclusion” and finally “inclusion.” A student named Ellen (names all changed) said, “I have Down’s Syndrome. Sometimes people look right through me, like I’m invisible.”
We talked about what is better or worse, invisibility or exclusion. Someone said, “at least with exclusion someone is noticing you, and ‘caring’ enough to shun you. Being invisible means they don’t see you at all.”
But ultimately, Unified Theater is about creating a piece of theater, from the ground up. This is the mother lode. It’s great to stage another middle school production of “Oliver” but for my money, nothing beats having these theater artists create their own words, choose their own themes, and communicate what is going on with them. Another advisor, an woman older than me, was talking about some idea Charlotte came up with – a story about going to the White House and asking Obama for coffee? – then said, “They are so much more creative than we are. We lose that freedom, in our imaginations. I wonder why.”
I wonder why too. But until I figure it out, I plan to suck off the wild creativity of kids this age, which knows no bounds and could power a small city.
Brian is a CHIME kid who I know, and love (I taught him last year.) He had seemed to have fun, but flagged in the middle (don’t really know why, but I heard through the grapevine he didn’t like his lunch). Brian has a wonderful mother who is attentive, gregarious, and has shepherded her quirky kid so that he can flower and grow. I know it’s been a challenge at times. We have a bond through the similar path we walk: IEPs, services, and quirky kids. It’s a very special club.
We sung a song at the end, got on our feet, learned some choreography. The blood pumped and we finished the five-hour workshop in high spirits. Brian beamed at me: “I had a good day! I had a good day, right?”
“Absolutely!” I said, “It seemed like you a great day.”
His face quieted. “I had a little trouble in the middle,” he remembered, and trailed off.
“But you came back strong, buddy. You totally came back strong. That’s all that matters.”
His face bounced back, a caricature off wide-open glee. “That’s right. I DID.” He turned away to gather his things. With is back to me he mumbled, “By the way, what is inclusion?”
That’s what inclusion should be. So effortless, there doesn’t need to be a name for it. Like breathing fresh oxygen.
This is exactly where I am supposed to be.
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