I’m thrilled to share the first ever guest post on I Give You The Verbs with you today, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to kick it off than my good friend Rachel of The Chronic-ills of Rach.
I met Rachel through Blog With Pip and we struck up an instant friendship.
Rachel writes from a room with a gorgeous view in Auckland, New Zealand. She is a generous friend, a great conversationalist, a teacher by trade, a burgeoning supermodel, and a loving mum and wife. Rachel has a neurological condition called Dysautonomia, and her blog helps me understand the impact an invisible illness can have on a person’s life. Rach is, of course, more than all the labels we apply upon introducing a friend, and you can get to know her in all her multifaceted glory on her blog, The Chronic-ills of Rach. I urge you to check out her skilful, soulful blogging style.
I gave Rachel the keys to I Give You The Verbs, and asked her to write whatever she wanted to, and I’m delighted and touched by her words.
I’m sure you will be too. Let us know what you think in the comments.
I was a student teacher, embarking on my first ever classroom placement. For three weeks I’d be at a little school not far from my home, nestled among the gumtrees in a genteel corner of Sydney.
The class was Year One and from the moment I sat in the story chair and felt all their gazes turn to me, I knew I had found a career I could love. I stared back into each of their faces; hopeful, open, curious faces. I was about to introduce myself and settle into a story when I saw her, over to the side, mousey hair falling over her scowl. A tiny thing, unlike all the others. Troubled. I made a mental note to find out more about her at morning tea time.
Her name was Grace.
Her teacher kept it simple. She explained that Grace had endured traumas in her young life that made her decide not to talk anymore. It is a powerful psychological response to trauma that is rooted in a deep seated need to protect oneself. It’s called elective mutism.
As Grace went most afternoons to be with an art therapist over in the atelier, I only saw her in the mornings. In just the short time I had with her, I learnt a lot about communicating with non-verbal students – lessons I have used often over my years of teaching.
I enjoyed being with her and I recognised that it wasn’t ideal for her to have a student teacher disrupting her routine. Trust is not easy to come by when your little life has already held too much for you to bear. But her little face on that first day had pulled me in. I didn’t want to stress her with my presence, but I did want her to feel my heart for her.
Every chance I got, I drew pictures with Grace. Pictures to make her smile. Pictures only half finished, that she would finish for me. Funny faces and pretty flowers, progressive pictures, built up, turn by turn, by both of us. A squiggle from me and once, a little giggle from her. It was our quiet and tentative connection. I didn’t know how else to connect, but I knew she loved going to art therapy. So that is what we did.
On my last day we had a shared farewell lunch. All the sausage rolls and chocolate crackles had been demolished. The plastic cups were stacked by the sink. We had some music playing and the kids were dancing and singing as they helped clear up the classroom. I was standing off to the side talking to the teacher when I felt it. A little flutter at my elbow. It was Grace. Eyes down, she held up her little hand. There was a piece of paper in it.
‘Is this for me?’ I asked.
A barely perceptible nod. ‘Thank you so much ‘, I breathed as I accepted the folded paper from her hand.
It seemed an extraordinary gift from a little girl who didn’t like to connect. As I opened it, she ran away.
Inside the folds of paper was a tiny picture of a little bird. The bird had a speech bubble stretching out from its mouth, and inside it, Grace had carefully written, thank you. I looked for her, but she was studiously avoiding any eye contact. She sat curled up, knees to her chest, plucking at the threads on the carpet. Then the bell went and all the children ran off home, to the rest of their lives. Before I left for the rest of mine, I drew her a little picture reply. tucking it into her desk for her to find the next day.
I caught up with her teacher years later. She told me that Grace had become verbal before that year was out, due to the wonderful work of her art therapist. I was so pleased to know that little bird had found her voice again. And not at all surprised that the key to finding it was through art.
Art has a kind of magic to it. You need to indulge yourself in the artistic process to truly understand what I mean. If you have, you’ll be nodding. If you haven’t, I warmly suggest you give it a go. No matter what your circumstances, art will meet you at your own level of experience and draw you into something beyond yourself. Something beautiful.
I have adored watching Annette’s passion for painting and creating grow on this blog. Have you? The joy of her work speaks volumes to me. It is a beautiful expression of her enthusiasm for life, the colour and warmth of her nature and her capacity for embracing the now. I can’t wait to see each new piece hanging up for display. To feel the enthusiasm in her words as she describes her perfect day. Have you noticed how often that includes paint?
My mother was a painter. She used to say to me that everyone could be an artist if they wanted to be. Anyone. It’s just about practise and technique.
When I was a small girl we’d go adventuring into the foothills around Christchurch in her tiny Morris Minor. I loved the smell of the linseed oil and paints in her paintbox. The rituals of setting up the easel, squirting out those magnificent colours, named as though they themselves were kings and queens of the spectrum – burnt umber, vermillion, cerise, chartreuse. And then, the hours of seeing her art become something on the canvas board, my own sketchbook and crayons frequently abandoned so I could just gaze at the palette knife in her confident slender fingers. Scraping and moving the colours into blended images of clouds and rocks, trees and sky.
Art making was our meditation. Our silent connection. Our therapy and our reward.
Recently I thought it might be time to pick up a paintbrush again. My mum is no longer with us, but I know she would approve of this timeless way to find solace and meaning in the midst of swirling colours. I might even find her again, in the art of making. Or maybe, I’ll find a little bird. Some Grace.
Recently I read this article about the seven psychological functions of art. It’s a good read and a timely justification for giving art a go again.
What’s your therapy?
To read more of Rachel’s beautiful writings, follow her blog, her Facebook page or check her out on Instagram.