Threads and Hiccups, III

The physical hiccups were finally gone on Tuesday, but the power of hiccups as metaphor stayed with me as I was writing yesterday’s post. It stayed with me as we ate a celebratory breakfast, as both children got ready to visit friends, as I did Stuff around the house, as The Girl and The Boy returned from their adventures. By the end of the day, there were three metaphors and a notion of five words (I borrowed that from Starr’s post, the one I referred to yesterday) competing for my attention. Then an excited late-evening phone call from a friend added another image to the mix.

Somehow they’re all connected, and they all shed light on my recent struggles. But how?

Hiccups, as Debbie reminded me, are often a symptom of stress. Have I been under any stress recently, I jokingly asked myself. Why, yes … yes, I have. Knowing that a change is necessary, but not knowing exactly how it will happen or even what it will look like … that’s stressful. Confronting all the factory-fears about dying alone and starving to death, the fears that (perhaps by design) show up whenever you think about leaving the factory and doing something new … that’s stressful, too. All the hiccups of my friend’s continuing adventures on the way to buying the Current House from us … more stress. I’m not sure why stress causes hiccups, but it strikes me that hiccups are about breathing. If not physiologically, then at least metaphorically, they force you to breathe.

To “cure” them, you have to breathe and drink water, or slowly eat dark chocolate, or breathe into a paper bag, or find a friend to scare them out of you … there’s a long list of potential remedies. But all of them involve the most elemental things of life: air, water, the presence of someone who cares for you, primal emotions, physical responses. Factory-thinking encourages us to take those “things” for granted, to reduce that friend or relative to a “thing.” Maybe hiccups are an important reminder of what lies beyond the factory-paradigm walls.

Pam’s recent comment about factories, silos, and castles brought another important metaphor to mind. Not every hierarchical system is an industrial-age factory! Some schools are castles, not factories. They tend to be old ones, private ones, well-endowed ones designed to train The Special Elite for their special roles in society. Not every independent school is a castle, of course; some are factories, some joyful communities, some follow entirely different paradigms. And within many (most?) factory-model public schools, if you look closely, you’ll find castles, complete with metaphorical moats and defenders. Corporate headquarters, and school districts’ central offices, feel more like castles than factories, too. You can’t forget the power of the castle when you’re thinking about leaving the factory!

A castle implies a ruler, and rulers exert authority over those they rule. Some are benign, of course, and some less so. Some relationships heal and build up; some tear down and destroy. Half a lifetime ago, in very different circumstances, I put my “Scarlet Ear” tendencies to use as a volunteer with a crisis help-line in the town where we lived at the time. every couple of weeks, I’d get The Pager (this was a long time ago, wasn’t it?), and if it went off that night, there was someone who desperately needed to talk about something. All too often, it was someone who’d (finally) realized their spouse or partner was abusive, not kind or loving … but what to do now? Stay and set boundaries, or leave and begin anew? And of course there were always logistical concerns, terrors about money or what to tell others. The organization had some programs, but choosing to use them was a huge step. Sometimes you’d hear from the same person for weeks or months before she (usually she, but sometimes he) got the courage to leave and move on. Or gave up and just kept “hoping it would get better.”

Are factory-systems inherently abusive? Or are some of them, like some castle-dwelling rulers, benign, while others abuse their power? I don’t know, but the image of factory-school as abusive is powerful … so powerful that, right before I wrote this section, I somehow managed to “forget” what my third metaphor was. There’s so much more to say about this image, but I need time and space to explore the implications. And if you’re caught in an abusive factory-system, what do you do? Set boundaries, stay, and try to make things better, or move on despite the fears?

Starr’s notion of five key words to describe your classroom, your learning community, or (for that matter) your life has been haunting me … but while it’s not that hard to generate a list of ten or fifteen words, it’s really hard to cut the list down to five. It’s also hard to figure out the connections among hiccups, castles, abusive relationships, and … that fourth image of the matchmaker that my friend excitedly shared on the phone last night.

But somehow the threads all connect, and when the connections are clear, I suppose the next steps will be, too. I’m thinking the five key words go along with the hiccups and the matchmaker, and that in some important ways they stand against the factory and the castle. But what do you think? And what powerful images have come your way this week?

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Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] the hiccups, when I was writing yesterday’s post, I kept struggling with themes of relationships (especially abusive ones) and matchmakers.  How […]


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