Jane Addams and self-expression

Pollock Self-expression takes on forms that can be observed in a multitude of ways. It can be applauded for its creative enterprises, or it can be avoided for its too outlandish expression. Artists, which include visual, literary, theatrical, and musical alike, are often revered for their self-expression, which can develop into an acceptable style either due to its conformity or it can put up a fight, demonstrating a more nonconformist approach regarding societies norms.

These latter examples are a quick look at adults who find themselves in the pursuit of self-expression. But if we were to observe the younger population, children, the degree of self-expression is curious. Its eloquence often mimics informal play, in comparison to that which is formal, regimented, and scheduled. Let us take the instance of receiving a gift. Perhaps the wee one, say at the age of four, is given a grand birthday present…does the child play with the tricycle or does he or she take this plain ordinary, rather large carton it was delivered in, and transform it into an imaginary rocket ship? But, if the child takes to the trike, perhaps their self-expression is reconstructing their persona into the form of an imaginary race car driver…although we can’t see it, the little mind is rushing about and the feet are peddling as quickly as they can.

Children’s freedom from inhibitions take flight at an early age; like a player on stage, they will light up a room with a fairy wand or capture the most notorious crook as a pretend policeman. They will sing the latest song, dance the latest dance, and demonstrate a magic act without any real props; happily emulating those who reign and command our many forms of entertainment… from video apps to the “silver screen”. Self-expression is the unique part of us all…it is the secret place that emerges like a rainbow behind a cloud…it can brighten the grey sky or distract another rain storm. For within our lifetime we take the role of presenter, sometimes the play is a success and other times it may be a flop…fortuitously, ones self-expression is malleable; like clay it has the ability to take a shape and then again be reshaped…and unless an artist is unyielding and allows it to harden without being true to the form, self-expression can be an asset, a performance that explores the self and for those who are lucky enough to be in the audience, it too can enrich the spectator.

Jane Addams 2 Today’s blog returns and explores the words of our esteemed thinker: Jane Addams, a progressive and tireless worker who is recognized as the leader in the profession of social work in the United States. As the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, she championed progress for public health and reform, which included both world peace and the woman’s right to vote.

I invite you to take a few moments to reflect upon some of her thoughts from her book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. I give you Ms. Addams…

“…To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of “make believe” they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reënter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.

“Going to the show” for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for “a play unlike life.” The theater becomes to them a “veritable house of dreams” infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories…

…The few attempts which have been made in this direction are astonishingly rewarding to those who regard the power of self-expression as one of the most precious boons of education… The Children’s Theater in New York is the most successful example, but every settlement in which dramatics have been systematically fostered can also testify to a surprisingly quick response to this form of art on the part of young people…It would also be easy to illustrate youth’s eagerness for artistic expression from the recitals given by the pupils of the New York Music School Settlement, or by those of the Hull-House Music School. These attempts also combine social life with the training of the artistic sense and in this approximate the fascinations of the five-cent theater…”

First image: Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948, Oil and enamel paint on canvas

Esteemed thinker: Jane Addams

garbage city In our diverse and independent lives men and women, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, and economic demographics, in spite of our similarities, differences of opinion, or attitudes; we all own a common annoyance… that of garbage. Trash, waste, compost, rubbish, and even sewage; we produce and eventually must dispose of it. Just the mere mention of the word makes our nose wriggle with anticipation of a most unpleasant, if not putrid odor. It produces some of the most adversarial thoughts, so much so that entire towns have come together keep it at bay. And so; the elimination of our combined garbage can become a most problematic undertaking…what to do with it?

For many, we take our garbage for granted, walking it out to a bin or trash can …and for a nominal fee, often included as a tax, it is whisked away by the first light of the morning without us having to worry about its next resting place, or we flush it away where it becomes part of a larger entity known as “the sewer system”. Some of us take a more devoted interest in our refuse sorting it into categories; arranging assigned bins such as glass, paper, and plastic where we feel wholly satisfied that we are part of a solution. Though minimal in the enormity of our disposal problem, it is a help.

Yet garbage was and is not always as simple as ‘taking it out’ like one takes a dog out for a walk. Historically, garbage gradually become an increasing problem with the onslaught of higher density living. Those who resided in sparse settlements could manage its elimination more easily, though maybe not ecologically sound, they rid themselves of the “nasty stuff”. However, as towns grew into cities, lack of sanitation control manifested itself into random distribution of filth and the contamination of water supplies…creating such horrific epidemics for humanity such as the Bubonic Plague in the 18th century, and our own modern 21st century out breaks of cholera.

Even today we are still cleaning up the environmental mess that garbage and the thoughtless disposal of waste created in earlier decades; rivers are unfit to swim in, fish and wildlife have unhealthy habitats, and beaches are often closed due to encroachment of sewage by illegal dumping by ships or coastal communities. It was not until 1979 that the United States took sweeping steps to limit open dumping. However, on the more positive note, little by little we have made progress and new laws for the disposal of our trash along with an international consciousness and home-grown grass-root efforts are exerting a forward momentum.

Alas, we need not despair for garbage, as big a problem as it is, has a way of uniting us…after all, how else would you get to meet your neighbor if it wasn’t for the fact that sometime…at the exact moment… they too will be carrying a similar plastic tie-wrapped bag out from the house…for as we all know, everyone has their own form of “garbage”.

jane addams. Today’s blog bids you to take a few moments of your time for the esteemed thinker: Jane Addams (1860-1935) born in Cedarville, Illinois; she was a pioneer for social reform, insisting that the fullest possible good be required from public and social agencies for the poor. Her name is attached to Hull-House, a settlement house founded in 1889, Chicago, to improve the living standards for recently arriving European immigrants. Miss Addams became politically involved; she made speeches about the needs of the neighborhood, raised money, convinced young women of well-to-do families to help, took care of children, nursed the sick, and listened to outpourings from troubled people, and actively involved the suffragette movement. She was jointly awarded the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize 1931 on behalf of her work in diplomacy and peace.

I now bring you the words of this legendary change maker; from her essay of 1915, “Why Women Should Vote”.

“… A woman’s simplest duty, one would say, is to keep her house clean and wholesome and to feed her children properly. Yet if she lives in a tenement house, as so many of my neighbors do, she cannot fulfill these simple obligations by her own efforts because she is utterly dependent upon the city administration for the conditions which render decent living possible. Her basement will not be dry, her stairways will not be fireproof, her house will not be provided with sufficient windows to give light and air, nor will it be equipped with sanitary plumbing, unless the Public Works Department sends inspectors who constantly insist that these elementary decencies be provided. Women who live in the country sweep their own dooryards and may either feed the refuse of the table to a flock of chickens or allow it innocently to decay in the open air and sunshine. In a crowded city quarter, however, if the street is not cleaned by the city authorities-no amount of private sweeping will keep the tenement free from grime; if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded. She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health. In short, if woman would keep on with her old business of caring for her house and rearing her children she will have to have some conscience in regard to public affairs lying quite outside of her immediate household. The individual conscience and devotion are no longer effective…”

Hull house