The image of teaching-as-midwifery has come strongly to me the past few months — all these feminine metaphors of birthing, hemophilia carrying in wombs, nursing at breasts, powerful metaphors so far removed from the Mighty Conquering Warrior archetype I’ve spent most of my conscious career-development period (ages 11-26 — start ‘em young!) in drag king training for. I’m being shaken out of comfortable androgyny in this sort of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual puberty that also changes how I physically move and interact in the world.
There’s enough androgynous drag king intellectual Mel there yet that I still feel really weird writing this stuff because what the hell. And of all things, Catholicism is feeding my feminist/poststructuralist/activist growth spurt — Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Mary-mom-o’-Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, the list goes on, the list of wildly tradition-shattering strong women that I hadn’t seen before beneath the sparse, stuffily-translated things that Jewish guys (and Paul) wrote down. Don’t even get me started on the Song of Songs, which has me floored (and very, very freaked out).
When I approach Catholicism like a grad student, wrestling with real texts and not pretty comic books with happy lambs and cartoon angels, my whole self — brain and all — catches on fire, and that fire spreads to the rest of my life and work. Oh, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, I yelled at God last week driving back to Indiana in the minivan. Why didn’t you freakin’ tell me earlier?
I fell in love with science, literature, math, art, and religion in the giant tumble of childhood. I either quickly outgrew — or had always outgrown — my books, classes, and teachers. Scantron sheets and graded readers, time-tests, memorizing names of painters, cartoon lambs. I knew there was more than the baby textbooks, and I waited, wrestled and waited for spaces and communities of people where we could wrestle with that beauty together, struggle with that joy — and I got that for math, for science, for literature, writing, academic geekiness in general, my intellect. My mind got the big universe first, and so my mind became my universe.
And then others opened up. Computers! They can be rote drudgery, infantilizing powerpoints — or joyous hacking explorations, Free Culture adventures, open source and content movements thundering through worlds, reshaping them. Gym class situps and quizzes on the rules of football: stupid. Contact improv, learning how to sense and touch and push and move and balance, dance, exquisite touch — amazing, rich, connecting. There are ways to suck the Real out of everything, and there are ways to pull it in, but just because something is poorly taught and watered down doesn’t mean the thing itself is impotent and powerless. It just makes that power harder to find.
Faith? Yeah, memorizing prayers. Yeah, yeah, bookmarks in the shape of crosses. Whee. They’re like large lecture halls; if I’d learned engineering that way, I would hate it, think that engineering was this dead thing. But I went to IMSA, went to Olin — fought past that to the joy of being in communities where those things were living, and I now see lecture halls as reminders of what-could-be and what-could grow, not I-guess-that’s-all-there-is. And recent conversations, books, friendships, IVoW and Newman Centers and all those things — all these made me realize: they’re the Olins and IMSAs of faith, and I should look for those.
Back in the minivan. Why didn’t you freakin’ tell me earlier? Oh, so now I get yet another world to bridge — faith and this other stuff I do? Lovely.
But I was made for bridging; it’s my gift. When I pull across worlds and stand between them, I feel both the pain of loneliness and exclusion and not having a home to belong to, and the joy of being fully used — because in any one world, only part of me is awake. I need to reach across worlds to be all me, be all there.