Macy Marks and the Bonsai Tree

I once killed a bonsai tree, the most unusual plant I’ve ever owned and a gift from my husband. Bonsai is one of the most intricate forms of gardening, an art that invites you into a world of different dimensions. The aesthetics and techniques and tools are specialized and sophisticated. My bonsai tree died because I treated it like I treated my other houseplants: water once a week along with a dose of Miracle Grow.

And I liked to teach in the same way I cared for my plants—to make a system and expect my students to fit right in. Only Macy Marks didn’t. Sometimes, seeing terrors other students didn’t see, Macy huddled under the corner table, leaving her essay unwritten. Or in a class discussion, she’d hone in on a matter of injustice, say the internment of Japanese who were U.S. citizens during World War II, and not let it go, even if we had moved on to other important ideas, like the change in bus schedules.

Some days, when her emotional load was light, Macy was full of goodwill, extolling the virtues of her classmates and bringing kids on the margins into discussion. But on her dark days, students took the long way rather than pass her desk, and in light of world tragedies, she saw her homework as highly insignificant.

I came to see that my systems didn’t work for Macy, not because she was defiant, but because the voices inside her called so insistently and with such volume. To reach Macy, I had to appreciate and release her intensities, not fight them. Macy sent me back to my books, to theorist like Dabrowski and Piirto. They showed me how to give Macy what she needed (forums for her passions and spaces for her dark times). And they guided me in helping the rest of us cope with Macy’s emotional largeness (not accepting responsibility for keeping Macy happy or taking on the burden of her angst). I needed specialized tools like this to reach into Macy Mark’s world.


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