Small Seeds of Hope: Spacing Material, Mortar and Dark Matter
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Jiggling
This is one of my favorite ways to reduce stress. Just jiggle your entire body, gently but loosely. Or as much of you as feels comfortable to jiggle. Flap your hands. And legs. And arms. Wiggle your torso. It works best if you jiggle pretty fast...maybe 130-140 times a minute. Okay, so perhaps you shouldn't jiggle your head that fast. But you could think of horselips as lip-jiggling. Jiggling is playful, helps us not take ourselves so seriously, and discharges some of that fight-flight energy. As with all zapchen exercises, do it a little, then rest a little, then do some more, then rest--if you want to.
Spacing Material, Mortar and Dark Matter
"Are you looking at those Class Notes again?" asks Lawrence.
Yes. Yes I am.
What he called "those Class Notes" are the recorded happenings of my Wellesley College classmates in Wellesley, the alumnae magazine, and all those in classes before and after me--from birth to death and everything in between.
Wellesley alums are notoriously accomplished women--think Madeleine Albright, Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer of NPR, Hilary Clinton, Katherine Lee Bates ("American the Beautiful"), Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek). Doctors. Lawyers. Senators. CEOs. Entrepreneurs. MacArthur Fellows. Published authors. The list goes on and on. At least those are the ones we hear about.
Famous or not, Wellesley alums tend, in general, to be intelligent, warm and compassionate human beings, oriented towards service rather than achievement for pure financial gain or power for power's sake. A goodly company.
And a guilt-inducing company, at least for those of us who are much less accomplished, and tend towards self-criticism. In fact, whenever I read those Class Notes I droop well into the realm of inferiority, like an underwatered plant. And though my fears might tell me otherwise, I expect there are other Wellesley alums who feel the way I do. Probably plenty of others.
Lawrence, who has been through the routine many times and knows what to expect, is protective of me (as I am of him), reminding me to protect myself from my forays into those lands of "Imnogood" and "Ishouldhavedonemore" and "Imaloser."
But the fact is that, although I have lost touch with all my classmates, I am still curious about them. Still impressed by their achievements. Still proud to be a Wellesley woman. So I persist in reading those notes. And--damn!--feeling bad about myself whenever I do.
My logical mind tells me that we can't all be leaders and achievers--there isn't enough oxygen on the planet for all those egos, for one thing. And somebody's got to read the books, cook the meals, fix the computers, walk on the paths that others have blazed. That pacifies my hyperactive critic, at least a little.
But I've been needing to come up with a better way of viewing myself--a way that allows me to embrace myself as I am: smart but not brilliant, loving my dear ones but quite imperfectly, offering occasional small contributions to the world but not achieving anywhere near stellar heights of accomplishment.
Recently a wise voice from within began whispering about bricks and mortar. We are a society that praises bricks and ignores mortar. We call it a a brick house, not a mortar house. But a house or a wall need both to stand. So we can't all be bricks. Perhaps I am an in-between-the-bricks kind of person, helping to hold things together on some obscure level. That helps a little too.
Then, ironically, an article in this year's summer edition of that same Wellesley magazine offered me another, perhaps even better, analogy. The student author of the (very well written) article had taken a book arts course that included learning how to set type the old fashioned way, letter by letter in a tray. "These little pieces, our professor pointed, are spacing material. Use them between words and to fill in your line of type until it’s taut. Otherwise, as she then demonstrated, your type does not fare so well in the bed of the press, if you can even get it there before it tips over."
In the essay the author uses the analogy to help herself make sense of last spring's aborted semester, suddenly cut short by the pandemic. For her, those spacing materials were the small, frequently insignificant or unintended rituals of closure--meeting a friend after a final class, taking a stack of books back to the library.
But what speaks to me in that article relates to the role I play in the world. Maybe I'm not a useful "e" or a decorative "Q." Maybe I am not a remarkable or beautiful word or phrase. Maybe it is okay if I am "just" spacing material. As the author of that article said, "In my experience...it can be the littlest pieces of spacing material, forgettable slivers, that are the most crucial to get in place." Maybe, on some cosmic scale, I keep the type in place, my very smallness allowing me to provide just the right pressure, preventing the whole line from falling to pieces. Not such an unimportant role, after all.
And then yesterday I read an article about dark matter and found yet another helpful image. Maybe I, and those like me, are akin to dark matter--unknown, unseen, perhaps even unknowable. But in some enigmatic, inexplicable and otherly way holding the patterns of our universe--our common humanity--in place.
Until next time.
Jiggling boy, Clipart Library
Green Hall, Wellesley Collge, unknown
Wellesley students, unknown
Serpentine wall, University of Virginia, unknown
Typesetting materials, Mr. Cup Fabian Barrall, unSplash
Stars, Jeremy Thomas, unSplash