Teri Orr: What’s in the glass matters more than whether it’s half full or half empty
I am weary of folks who argue — hard — over the mundane. Who operate at such a low vibrational level they crush your spirit. Does the water — midway in the glass — make it half full or half empty — they push to make their point. What do you think? They are urgent and intense. They want a singular answer. The silliness of it all — the circular arguments are wearing. This is where Creatives just want to toss the water into their face and say — I don’t know, how does it feel to you?
I don’t know when I was first exposed to expansive thinking — it feels like it was in high school at the end of the ’60s when we were starting to question everything — including our teachers. And by that, I mean our teachers, too, were questioning norms.
My life didn’t allow me to graduate college and it has always been a certain sadness. I remember a wise, older, big-breasted librarian at Lake Tahoe when I Iived there — taking me to breakfast in a diner two towns away one day. She had seen me checking out a variety of books and going to the very small space that was the library in the ’70s in Tahoe City sometimes to write. We had grown friendly over conversations at the check-out desk. One day she asked if she could read my writings. At that breakfast she asked me a lot of questions. She saw I was terribly lost. I confessed my lack of higher education and my desire to write. She also knew me as the young woman who had opened a children’s clothing store with her equally young husband. And I had two small children.
What she did that day was nothing less than change the trajectory of my life. She told me I didn’t need a degree to be a writer. She told me most of college was just a rite of passage and rarely an education. That if being educated was a goal I should pursue it. But she warned me that sometimes a love of learning could last a lifetime. This was the chapter in my life that whenever my husband found me reading — he would take the book out of my hands and throw it across the room. He hated when he wasn’t the center of attention.
A year after that breakfast I had run away from my abusive husband and with my two small children I landed here. I folded sweaters in a ski shop by day and read at night after I got the kids settled. I read everything. And I started this column. I became a reporter and then an editor. Critical thinking and expansive thinking became the tools that allowed me to find stories that might have been hidden for others. I learned to shoot a camera — first for the paper — and then for pleasure. I learned to see differently.
Last Sunday I was invited to a dinner in our tiny cul-de-sac. A young woman who was grown up among us and now living in Portland — was home for the weekend and we all wanted to celebrate her visit. When Cata was 14 she moved quickly in dance class and that move somehow snapped her femur. A freak accident until tests showed the bone was weak because she had cancer. She spent years in and out of hospitals and with treatments, and more than once it appeared we might be saying goodbye to her beautiful soul. Seeing her at that dinner surrounded by her family of friends was my favorite summer night. I am fairly certain I was the only person there born in this country. Her father is Austrian and her mother Argentinian. The people who owned the house before them and have remained friends — even though they left the country for a spell — they are Austrian and Australian. There was a couple who was Japanese and New Zealander. Another who was Middle Eastern. Another from South America. It was dizzying really — the accents and the laughter and shared dishes on the table.
Looking at Cata now I remembered when the Australian woman made it her project to make certain — despite all the setbacks and hospitalizations — that Cata would graduate high school — and against the odds — from a hospital bed — she did. That woman, Michelle, now is the principal administer of a new experimental high school here that just graduated its first class. She understands — in both a hard won and also intuitive way — how to motivate young people to learn. That night — outside on the deck — we told stories and drank wine and celebrated our 28-year-old friend who has carved out a meaningful, successful life for herself without a formal college education. She uses her multiple language skills to translate and make a living and a life. She is a curious soul — questioning how the planet works each day from the seat of her wheelchair.
Michelle was determined to find a way for Cata to not only graduate but have a variety of life skills — the most important of those being curious. The mix of exotic friends is how these folks have always lived — in borderless relationships bringing with them their customs (and fabulous cooking) from a myriad of countries. And constantly being open to change — in politics and patterns.
Some of us were not cut from cloth that lays flat and drapes easily against the body. Some of us were cut from different cloth — wildly patterned and patchworked together. Some of us don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full — we just care what is in there. Life is not a linear journey. Nor is education. My favorite people are the curious, the problems solvers and the dreamers. A mild level of chaos is where the Creatives live. You can find me there most days — especially Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.