Much of my life I have felt I was an outsider. While others might have had safe homes, mine was a war zone. I was kept home for three months out of a year I see from my grade four report card most likely from being bruised so badly I couldn’t be in public. When I did attend school the possibility of frustration leading me to tears was a haunting presence. The report cards exclaim to my parents, as if they are the school’s ally, that “Cherie will frequently burst into tears for no reason.”
The dyslexia which I only discovered after it appeared in both of my children, caused me to have difficulty learning to read. I would sit quietly and listen with interest when my father read G.H. Well’s Outline of History out loud to me for hours at a time. So the failure to read was obviously not a sign of lack of intellectual curiosity or a lack of depth of mind.
My teacher in Grade three kept me in at noon hour to work with me until I made a break through. Bless her persistence. It is when I first knew that one caring person could change your life. It is probably when I knew I wanted to be that teacher, that person for others’ lives.
However, the social outfall of being abused, emotionally weak (with a hyper sensitivity to others’ energies) and having learning disabilities lead to a deep sense of shame. I retreated into myself. Others would bully me, isolate me and my response was not to defend myself, to step into my power but rather to shrink even further.
What effect has this had on the landscape of my life? Having a quick, perceptive mind locked in a shame-filled personality is a formula for failure.
Although I scored in the 98% on the standardized National Education Exams for all grade 11’s and all grade 12’s in the United States, I had few close friends. I could not speak out freely in class unless I was suddenly overcome by my inner power. When people talked about oppression of national minorities, about denying power to others, with a mindless philosophy that would lead to pain for others my mouth would open. I would blurt out something that I didn’t even hear or register. It was like channeling. My teachers told me I was brilliant. Classmates would come to me to ask what was going to be on the test or just before an exam ask me for answers to something they could not decipher. But that was one of the few times they spoke to me.
I know now that most of the failure to be seen was mine. Having taught acting classes for 25 years I have seen how those who carry pain and low self esteem make it almost impossible for others to show affection and to include them.
Where am I now? Today when I saw that artists had created banners for a street in our town, it came back. The full hit in the gut pain of being outside, excluded, not validated, being invisible. After working as an artist almost daily for 18 years, my work is not on display.
Is it that my work isn’t considered important? I am not selling. The work continues to be shown in secondary venues. Even though I garnered awards in the European shows in Florence and Vienna, I lose money when I have booths at local fairs.
Because of my spiritual beliefs and because of the interior plastic surgery I have done on myself in the last two years I am able to sit with the deep grief I feel coming up. Again, my body tells me I am less than others. I am not included. I am somehow damaged and a lesser being.
These stories are old stories. They are the stories of a little girl who is dressed beautifully and sent off into the world. But under her starched puffed sleeve dress are bruises on her arms, finger prints in blue and green.
Under her bow on the back of her dress are marks and fractured bones.
So my job, my practice is to step back and watch the reaction in my body. My lesson at this time in my life is to be honest with myself.
I am neither an insider nor an outsider. I am an artist who is called to create by some higher urge. My visual art, my poetry, my plays, my voice rising in choir, my dancing and spreading my arms out to take the space are my soul’s work.
These people whose banners are flying have spent time building a network. They validate one another in this tribe of artists. Social equity results in more exposure of their creations.
It is the hours over coffee, the showing up at events, the building a following that pays off. Literally pays off. So this is another in the lessons that I am learning.
I also realize that I can never quite trust my interpretation of events. As within so without, my spiritual teacher reminds me. How much of my reality am I creating and how much of my reality am I misinterpreting? As Buddhist teachings say, “If you see Buddha, kill him.” So being able to drop the story and just know feeling excluded hurts. Feeling invalid and invisible hurts.
The work is to feel that in my body, sit with it as if it were a baby as Thich Nhat Hahn says. Let it cry. Then move on to make my life more satisfying. Grieve it, feel it then heal it.
The questions always comes back, “Who are you when you are authentic?”
I am still struggling. Perhaps, because of my family history my social development is not very far along. But today, this day I am working on the problem that life has given me. My heart is open to those around me who offer me friendship.
I am learning that if a friend needs me, to stop everything I am doing and just go be with that friend. I am learning that I no longer need to isolate myself. I will never show up at an event or in life simply to push my agenda or to garner financial gain for my art. It is against my nature.
But perhaps, I can begin to see that by being genuinely caring there are connections I can make to others. That I don’t need to hide any more.
And as for bullies. Yes. They exist in the cultural community as well. But now I am strong enough to either turn around and leave ( if the energy feels negative) or to speak out against the attempts at manipulation. I am no longer afraid to speak up. And I don’t need to zone out, to disconnect and allow the channeling voice to speak. I can speak from my heart in my work, in my friendships and in my life.
I might be growing up. Gratitude for my lessons.
One day, my banner will be waving for all to see. I know this.