Sunday, October 24, 2010

Blooming on Purpose

Sometimes, if you actually take the time to look at what you are doing, and try to see the message that those behavior patters are trying to tell you, it can be more significant than it first appears. Suddenly I found a message that I have been sending to myself in the thousands of photographs on my computer's iPhoto. I have taken pictures, a lot, probably every day for 39 years, which is how long ago my grandfather gave me my first Kodak. I quickly learned that having to pay for film meant I had to be extremely picky on which shots I took, and I would limit myself to pictures of friends and family, with other things in the background.

The first digital camera to find its way into my hand, changed all that. Suddenly, everything that caught my eye, also came in front of my camera lens. One thing led to another, and I had uploaded an unmanageable mass of pictures, and needed to organize them into some type of grouping. That is when it became obvious that I had taken a huge amount of photographs of blooms. I would have said I liked flowers, a bit, but I didn't have a flower garden, or buy flowers for my house, or browse through bulb catalogues.
So I didn't realize how often I stopped, and admired a bloom, and smiled at its vibrance, and preserved that beauty in my camera and my heart. But the truth was there to see, by far the largest album I could create was the one I called "blooming."

I still didn't ask myself why those fragile, temporary blossoms held my attention. But I uploaded that album to my screen saver and began to find myself mesmerized by the slide-show as I sat down to chat in a forum or write on my novel. There was something about the brave, perkiness with which those little beauties demanded the attention, of what could be a dangerous world.
While I was working on my novel, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog, I was having to relive times when I had been abused and bullied and had learned that the safest thing to be, was invisible. I was realizing that the reason I was such a shy, observer and recorder, was a habit learned in grade school, when being noticed often meant being attacked. I had learned to hide with my nose in a book, and as an adult, I still took videos of those who sang and danced, I was behind the camera, writing in the journal, the family historian.

Then came the dreadful realization that the person who was comfortable, alone at the writing desk, would have to stand on the stage to promote the book. The writer and the marketer are two very different personality types, but in this modern publishing world, to be successful, the writer must become the promoter.
The description that I wrote of my protagonist in the introduction to my novel was an apt description, not just of Duffy but of many victims of schoolyard bullies. Myself, included.
" Then he met Skull, and for the first time, but not the last -

Duffy Barkley was called a “Dog.”

Most of us know a Duffy at one time in our lives. Some of us

have even been one at some point or another. If we were lucky we

learned to dare to expand beyond our skin, bit by bit like starting

a warm summer day with only our big toe in the cool water.

Immersing ourselves, inch by shivery inch in a world where some

people really can love us for who we are.

Duffy and the others like him learn to be invisible as a survival

skill. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they just turn down the

volume on themselves in order to go unnoticed. They tone

everything down and pull back into the smallest bubble, deep

inside their own skin. They then get so good at being unnoticed

that sometimes there is no longer any personality there to hide.

For awhile it looked like this would happen to Duffy, then for

awhile after that, he wished that it had.

Nine year old Duffy has Cerebral Palsy, which is often called

"C.P." C.P. began for Duffy when he was born too early and for

awhile didn't get enough oxygen. So, unlike those people who

develop C.P. later in life when their breathing has been cut off due

to an accident or an illness, Duffy has always had to accept that

who he is, is a person who can't keep up with his peers in some of

the most obvious ways. At nine he uses foot and ankle braces

which are a light, plastic support which straps onto his feet

over his socks but inside his shoes. Duffy balances himself on

elbow crutches with a plastic sleeve which he reaches through and

then he grasps a rubber handle grip similar to the ones on his

sister's bike.

People usually see the crutches before they notice Duffy's face

for the first time. Unfortunately, once he started kindergarten he

became good at making sure they often didn't notice his face at

all. Even his silence helped them avoid his eyes. When they didn't

include him in the easy chatter of the classroom, he wouldn't have

admitted that he excluded himself, but each time he felt even

smaller and less willing to reach out the next time he met


School was difficult for Duffy because he was teased by

bullies and called "Duffy Bark Bark." The crueler kids liked to

taunt Duffy by saying that "He walks on four legs like a dog but

couldn't lift one to pee without falling down." Duffy truly

believed that he had to suffer in silence. He thought that seeking

help would make everything worse. So he stood there as he was

teased, staring at his shoes and hoping that they would become

bored and leave him alone. He thought that the adults in his life

wouldn't understand or even if they did, that they wouldn't be able

to help. If he told, he thought he'd make his enemies hate him

even more, so he never told, not in kindergarten and not in fourth


Duffy would have hated school except he truly loved and still

loves learning, especially anything creative. He loves to draw and

paint so he was happy during art class because he could work all

alone in a quiet corner. He liked to sing in the school choir

because he didn't have to audition, and he didn't sing loud or try

for a solo so he was lost in the crowd and could relax. Sometimes

art and music were the only things that made him heave his

weakened body out of bed and pick up his crutches for another

day. Sometimes his teacher father would talk about the fact that

music and art might have to be cut because there wasn't enough

money. When he heard talk like that he held his breath and felt

like someone was discussing cutting out his heart.

He hated the classes where people actually looked at him, like

the times when he had to give a speech or write on the board. He

didn't like the in between times and above all he dreaded lunch.

Being alone at lunch was a quiet agony but better than the

demeaning little digs he endured every time the wrong kids

remembered his existence. Other kids were assigned to help him

carry his lunch tray to the table but they usually just set it down

and hurried away-He mumbled "thanks" but never met their

eyes and never ever invited anyone to sit down with him.

Duffy mainly got by, by carrying a book with him at all times

so he could escape a little and so he could have something to look

at to keep himself from accidentally meeting someone's eyes. Too

often they had only snarled, "What are you staring at, ya creep?"

Duffy didn't trust anyone who appeared to be offering

friendship because too many times he had been approached with

seeming kindness only to have himself lured into a trap so the

others could laugh at him. Once in first grade he had been happy

to be asked to sit at a table group by the five other kids

who sat there. They smiled and laughed in friendly ways and

included him in the history project as their class designed a desert

diorama. Duffy painted a background in the lid of a pizza box. He

painted a sunset, towering saguaros and silhouetted mesas. Other

kids filled in sand and small plastic snakes and hares. Their table

group won lunch with the teacher. The day they came in for pizza

the other five turned their backs each time he approached. Then

after lunch he came to the table and a pretty girl with ribbons in

her long hair hissed. "Go away. Don't you know we just needed

you because you paint the best." and they all laughed as he stood

there, blinking at his brace encased feet.

The only child Duffy had allowed close to him, who had never

betrayed his trust, was Isabel, his sister. Izzy was a laughing,

dancing Independence Day rocket who lit up Duffy's life with joy

and energy. She loved her big brother unconditionally and to his

great puzzlement, even at school she continued to brag that he

was her brother. She raced across the playground to hug him,

often nearly knocking him off his feet, but then ran on to play

with the many laughing first grade girls who always

surrounded her.

If things had kept going the way that they were Duffy would

have made it to high school graduation in a bubble of his own

creation. Inside the walls of that bubble he would have shrunk a

little every day. He would have gone on believing that because he

was different he was also somehow less than the other, more

graceful, "normal" kids who seemed to have no problems in

knowing what to say and when to laugh. Maybe Izzy could have

kept enough joy in his life that he wouldn't have given up.

Maybe? Yet even in the everyday world of school and home,

things have a way of changing. Suddenly a stagnant situation can

no longer be taken for granted.

One day Duffy was noticed and rejected. His bubble shattered.

It seemed his world was breaking up beneath his wobbly feet. For

awhile he just wanted to fade away. He might have done so

except for the love he felt for Izzy. His small sister had always

been strong and vibrant and filled with the joy of life. Now she

was quiet and pale and near death. For Izzy's sake, he wanted to

help but then his parents sent him away. They said that he couldn't

help except by agreeing to leave them alone so that they could

concentrate on what needed to be done.

He either had to give up or become stronger. If he didn't die

then he had to choose to be very visible. In fact, Duffy, silent no

more, would have to sing that solo. "

And when I began to realize that I might not have to literally sing, I would definetly have to stop being invisible, is when I heard the message that the flowers had for me.

Yes, there will be people who want to cut you as soo as they notice you. Yes, if you leave the shelter of your tightly closed "bud" you will be faced with wind and frost and hail. Even, Yes, your glory may be very brief, and you will die.


Yes! You will be beautiful, you will be noticed, and the memory of your unique fragrance will linger in the air.

And when all is said and done, if you have dared to BLOOM - There will be seeds remaining once you have faded away

And you will never know how far those seeds will travel, or where they will find fertile ground
but you will know, that you were brave enough to give them a chance to bloom in their own turn.

So I have begun. I published my novel. I talked it up on-line, I carried a copy with me to show friends, and then i went to marketers and to art fairs and I began to share my own gift with the world. So far, no-one has trampled me, or tried to cut me down. And I am Blooming.

So, This message was for me, but if it found a place to take root in your heart as well, BLOOM.