“Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.” ~Jericho Brown
A dear friend recently texted a link to an episode of the On Being with Krista Tippett podcast to me. The episode features poet Jericho Brown. I was struck by so many things he said, but when he talked about the confluence of “love and brutality,” I stopped dead in my tracks. He expounds:
“So I’m interested in where love goes awry or where people use violence as an excuse for love. . . It’s something that I don’t understand. And I think poems are better built out of what we don’t understand, not what we do already know, but what we’re trying to figure out and better understand.”
What am I to make of this dichotomy? Are there other ideas that appear mutually exclusive that actually must coexist? Is poetry a space especially suited for the interrogation of thought? My mind wandered into an inquiry of its own as I listened to this brilliant man speak.
I eventually settled on thinking about dichotomies and whether or not the ones to which we most stubbornly cling might not be false. We Western-minded folks are so quick to create binaries — love and brutality, male and female, black and white. . .desperation and hope — leaving out nuance, thus the possibility of other and yet unfounded realities. But there is an exception: artists.
No matter the raw material, artists lay it in the cradle of their bosom and, through sheer will, nurture it. Jars of paint become masterpieces. Cacophonies become symphonies. Phonemes become morphemes become words become vows. Artists forge meaning out of that which is seemingly meaningless. Where most experience desperation, creative folks find a way to carve out hope and wield it.
A few days ago I posted a manifesto of desperation, Fed Up: A Change Has Gotta Come. I still stand by every word. I carried each one with me as I entered our classroom early this morning to prepare the third teacher for the arrival of the tiny humans. Classrooms are inherently hopeful spaces, though. So I found myself at the confluence of desperation and hope.
Because I am a teacher, I am an artist, a creator. Creative people are uniquely qualified to “make use of hope.” At this merger of my heavy-hearted desperation and the undeniable hope that is found in children and the spaces they occupy, I seized the opportunity to design an environment wherein hope could become a masterpiece, a symphony, a vow of joy unfettered.
When my darlings entered our classroom today, I wasn’t fed up. Instead, I was instantly filled up. Their uncontainable excitement about the changes in our classroom — new books on display, new calendar markers, Halloween decorations, fresh flowers, so many opportunities to notice and wonder — is just the reason why, the only reason, I barrel through the turmoil of teaching.
My students of the past, present and future are how I know that dichotomies are false. All things must exist at once if one is to exist at all. Teaching is both desperation and hope. It is brutality and love. I’m here for it all.