(Author’s note: apparently every post this week is going to involve Ethan. I didn’t intend it this way, but it’s funny how things work out. I should consider taking turns with each child. I do have four of them, so I could cover the month nicely with one per week. Something to think about…).
Ethan came into my room early this morning to tell me about a bad dream. George Bush was at our house with a construction crew in hopes of earning our vote through the old “home repair campaign strategy.” (Nice try George). The crew had just chopped down three of the giant old pine trees in our yard and replaced them with an elm. (Isn’t this SO like politicians?) Anyway, in the middle of his story, Ethan stopped and with a horrified look on his face, suddenly remembered that there was a test today to determine his school’s Knowledge Bowl teams.
“No big deal,” I assured him. “I’ll help you study during breakfast and I’ll rearrange the carpool and everything will be fine.” Then I began a mighty search for the Knowledge Bowl study guide, a search which took me through the various rooms of the house, the perpetual pile o' stuff on the kitchen counter, and the school-paper graveyard that is Ethan’s backpack. In the process I came across a note reminding parents that the deadline for applying to next year’s Junior High gifted program was November 13. As in the November 13 that was LAST WEEK. Now this was a big deal. A Very Big Deal.
I had never seen this note before, and more to the point, I had never seen the initial application that had apparently been distributed weeks before. Now the horrified look on Ethan’s face turned to tears and I felt like doing a little crying myself. It wasn’t so much the missed deadline that depressed him and frustrated me, but the pattern of forgetfulness that plagues Ethan’s young life. He is a very bright child, but he feels dumb sometimes because he can’t seem to keep track of things. Ask him anything about naval warfare or the engineering of bridges and he could write you a dissertation, but as for scout meetings, homework, and important notes that could impact his future, these bits of information just don’t stay tacked to the cluttered bulletin board that is his brain.
I am uniquely qualified to empathize with Ethan because I have the same problem. I am hopelessly scatterbrained. Ask anyone who knows me and they will nod their much more organized heads in agreement. Over the years I have learned to cope with my limitations. When I am running errands and planning to stop at the library, I get in the car and put the overdue books on my lap so I can’t miss them. When students ask me for a copy of something, I tell them “When I get home and I walk in the door and am attacked by my children who all need something at once, I will forget. I promise. So you must email me your request” (not that emails can’t be lost too, but I do better). My brain-of-steel husband keeps track of garbage day and does all the bills and car maintenance (I seriously have not filled up the car with gas more than twice in the last five years). And when I want to remember something, I stick post-it notes to my mirror, or the door, or my forehead. Notes like “Do not forget the baby” and stuff like that.
But Ethan has not developed the coping skills that I’ve acquired over a lifetime of hazardous brain lapses. It’s hard on him and I worry about his self-esteem on days like today. (By the way, I called the School District office and all will be forgiven and I can turn in the application late. The director of the gifted program said, “I guess 6th graders don’t make the best messengers.” She deals with her fair share of cluttered minds.)
Most art is focused on a single scene or idea so I feel it doesn’t do enough to express the complex, multi-layered nature of human thought. Perhaps stream-of-consciousness writing and atonal modern music do a better job. But here’s a work that comes close. It’s a photomontage by the inventor of photomontage -- Hannah Höch. The actual title -- (are you ready for this?) Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Epoch of Germany -- reflects the absurdity and political satire that marked the Dada art movement. But in many ways, I think the images and specifically the combination of images – the gears and wheels, the random words, the scattered glimpses of people, places, and events -- make a true portrait of the artist’s mind. All of these things have been cut into fragments and then pieced back together in an arbitrary jumble that makes sense only to the artist herself.
My favorite detail: even Albert Einstein had a lot on his mind (apparently insects and train chassis). But now that I think about it, wasn’t Einstein a poor student and notoriously absent minded? I need to remember to tell Ethan this when he gets home from school.
Now where did I put those post-it notes?