For some reason that I now cannot remember, one day my second grade teacher, Miss Fisher, pulled me aside in private and told me that there were no mistakes. No one ever made mistakes. Everything could be fixed, or, better yet, worked with. Everything...everything you did was a start and not a finish.
This was twenty five years ago, and other than this one moment, I remember very little about Miss Fisher. I know that she was quite young; I think this was her first class, and even then I could perceive an inexperience in her that made it seem that, most of the time, she had absolutely no idea what she was doing, but wanted so deeply to do a good job. Wanted so badly, and, failed so miserably, that now I can imagine her going home and crying when she had a bad day...Crying to a boyfriend as they lay there naked just after having sex, or crying to her mother over the phone so far away, or to her best college friend over a drink at a local bar, all of this time dwelling on what a bad teacher she was and would always be and how she's made a huge mistake.
I don't know why I believe this, but somehow I know it's true, that if it didn't happen in these ways it must have happened in others. Miss Fisher cried that year over us, over the fact she couldn't teach us or even simply control us...I remember there was an intensity, a rigor to her, and it's almost odd, in thinking back on her and her "tightness," for lack of a better word, that she was the only teacher in all my years of schooling who tried to let me in on the revolutionary idea that a mistake is a lie. No other teacher even broached the topic of mistakes, let alone had any kind of perspective on them, other than a mistake was to be avoided at all costs for it might be the first step to failure.
I don't think I've thought about Miss Fisher once since I stepped out of her classroom twenty five years ago, but this morning, for some reason, I suddenly can see her now as if she is standing before me waiting for me to sketch or paint her. Her cropped brown hair just beneath her ear, sloppy, amost like a boy's. Her clear ivory skin, the button nose with the end slightly turned up, and those large, intense, often frustrated brown eyes.
I imagine her now with flushed, youthful, unsculpted cheeks. Perhaps she is a bit chubby around the waist and rear, she eats when she is stressed. None the less, she is still pretty even in her prim and proper blouses and skirts.
She has this one light blue blouse she wears often, the one that has tassels hanging from the collar on either side. This blouse she's wearing before me now, this her favorite piece of clothing because her father, the one who told her about the lie of mistakes when she was girl, gave it to her before her first day of school.
As I look at her I realize she is much younger than I am now, maybe by ten years.
And this cloudy morning, unable to sleep and laying here in my bed trying to, I finally think I'm beginning to understand what she was trying to tell me that day....
But Miss Fisher, you know and I know I was never a very obedient student, so I'm going to take your lesson one step further:
There are no mistakes, nothing cannot be changed or worked with...
Except the lie one tells oneself, the lie one convinces oneself of in order to try and spare themselves some awful or ugly truth about themselves or the world.
This lie is followed by the disingenuous intention sprouting from the seed of the self made delusion. The cycle finally concludes with the false and frivolous action. This action is, more often then not, the last step in a destruction either great or small, either intimate or public.
Miss Fisher, these lies and the results of them cannot be worked with because they are dead on arrival. Only living things coming from the effort to understand truth in oneself or truth in the world can be worked with because they breathe and they grow as all living things do. Dead things, like actions couched in lies, cannot breathe or grow, they can only lay dead and decompose.
Why now am I beginning to really understand this, the polarity between lies and creativity, how they cannot walk together, how behind the greatest lie there must be truth for it to be made into anything lasting?
As the old Rastafarian saying goes:
"Who feels it, knows it."
Who feels it, that is true learning.
Who feels it, that is taking a mistake and turning it into a foundation.
Who feels it, that is freedom.
A long road to understand an idea so simple and yet so complex...
A long road before you understand and can articulate, even to yourself.
A long road before an idea becomes a weapon, becomes armor...
But when you get this feeling, you know it to be a truth in yourself, you have it for the rest of your life.
So many times between Miss Fisher and right now, for reasons both real and imagined, maybe I didn't want to live. But for moments like this, moments of the smallest understanding on a Spring morning after a sleepless night, I'm glad I did even if, at times, living was a state in spite of myself.
An now I should let Miss Fisher disappear again back to wherever and whoever she may now be.
And I do...
Los Angeles - 3/7/07