(86) Lessons in Squiggle Art

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It starts with a squiggle — a marker on paper — that eventually becomes a story.

Yesterday I did this activity with one class of 7th graders. One squiggle, then they had to pass it along to the next person on their team. That person had to start figuring out how to make something out of the squiggle. They switch and switch again, adding to the picture, until most of the pieces of paper have something usable.

This process is improvisational and tricky. It involves nonjudgment, acceptance, vision, respect.

Once the drawing roundabout has ended, students work in their teams to look at the pictures and decide what story can be told. They are allowed to add to the pictures then, once they know what story they are going to tell. Stories are written on chart paper with the drawings attached, and then presented to the class.

Yesterday we had a story of Gizmo the Worm (#theworm), who ended up nearly destroyed in an erupting volcano. We had a tragedy — 4 friends who go out on a boat and die. We had a dragon that created rainbows with Skittles, calling out “Taste the Rainbow” as he did. And we had the lovely romance of the snail that fell in love with a butterfly.

During the drawing roundabout activity, I had to keep reminding the students, “Take what you are given and use it.”  “No judgments.”  “Say yes and add to it.”  “What do you envision? What can you create?”

And I knew full well, as I was saying it to them, I was meaning it for me.

As reflected in my posts of late, I have been exhausted and unmotivated and even at times angry and frustrated. I’ve edged out of my professional stance. I’ve tried to find ways to flee my circumstances.

Then I hear those words coming out of my mouth: Take what you are given and use it.  This does not mean take abuse. It means I have to take whatever is happening in the moment and say yes, create my vision, use my creativity and my know-how to make it into something beautiful. And even if it isn’t beautiful, at least it should be delivered with joy. As these stories were yesterday.


Today is the first day of spring break, and I spent a good deal of it putting myself through an online course I have to take called Bring Your Own Device. Next year, every student in the school will have their own tablet, and this will be a big adjustment for all of us. I have been vocally upset about this — I love the pen scratching on paper, and I have found that students like computers for games, not learning. But as I was putting myself through the modules, I felt better about the whole thing. There are plans in place to make this work. Now, I have to take what I’m given and make use of it. I have to envision and create. I have to say yes and add to it.

I cannot keep teaching my students something I won’t apply myself.  How inauthentic is that! Everyone sees through a phony.

The other day I had my students reflect on this saying: “If you want something to change, you have to start with yourself.”  That message was mostly for me. Seems to be something I have to keep learning over and over again. But that’s okay.

Buddhism teaches beginner’s mind. It’s about being in a continual state of openness to the moment, to whatever comes our way.

So here I am, an empty vessel, willing to begin again.



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