Big Pink Pig at a Picnic Table

November 26, 2009

There are many things I’m thankful for, but today I want to celebrate the folks who, thanks to their quirkiness, make me smile. Chief among these on my recent trip to the midwest are the people who sat a large pink pig at a table in their otherwise very conventional back yard. I don’t know what the pig was made of. I don’t know anything about it except that it was not alive and I’m pretty sure it was sitting on a chair at the table. Trains move fast and I spotted the pig from the window. Was it eating? Pork chops and bacon, perhaps? I hope not. I’d prefer to think I wasn’t witnessing hamibalism. Not when I enjoyed it so much. There aren’t enough pink pigs in the world.

I loved this pig, but I wasn’t quite sure where I might be going with it until I had a dream last night. When I can remember them, I write my dreams down in an ongoing series of dream journals, although if I don’t act quickly, they evaporate and even as I am writing, parts of them disappear. Sometimes I can save quite a bit especially when they’re as vivid as this one was (a note about me: I often remember conversations in dreams as well as things that I read):

I am talking to a cohort of teachers-in-training about their clothing and many of them are angry. They misunderstand me and are taking what I say as personal criticism. I begin speaking to them, saying, “I see a man in a skirt. I don’t care. I see a woman in a dress that looks like it comes from the 1700s. I don’t care. I see a woman in a tutu. I don’t care. Man in a tall hat? I don’t care. Man and woman in matching yellow and black checked pants (BIG checks, may be three-inches square). I don’t care. Immodest garb? I do care. Pants cut out to show the buttocks. I do care. Nipples clearly visible? I do care. Skirt so short you can’t sit down? I care. I care.”

Nevertheless, they are angry, yelling at me and pelting me with cranberries and pomegranate seeds (I get this part—it’s Thanksgiving eve). And another note: this has absolutely nothing to do with the students with whom I’m currently working. They do not dress inappropriately. In my dream, it was as though I was working with a troupe of Cirque de Soleil performers who’d decided to become teachers and it was my job to help them learn to dress in “teacher clothes” without antagonizing them. It wasn’t working. Their anger was palpable. Yet even as I tried to deal with it, I admired what they were wearing.

There was a blue-faced man whose yellow mouth and bright orange hair matched the gigantic stripes and polka dots of his green shirt and purple pants. It all went together in a weird way. The pants were very narrow at the ankles and very billowy above. The shirt was tight at the wrists and in the body and had huge tightly gathered sleeves. He wore long pointy-toed shoes of blue leather with curled toes that ended in dangling gold bells that chimed as he walked. Their chorus was joined by tiny bells attached to each of the orange porcupine quills of his hair and by the chandeliers of bells he wore on his ears.

I remember only a few of these folks although I know I talked to most of them, trying to convince them that I loved their getups, but that their outfits would probably hamper them as teachers. I also remember the woman in the tutu. It was pink tulle and each layer that stuck out around her was about four feet long, making her unapproachable. On her legs, she wore grey and lavender horizontally-striped tights and on her feet, pink satin toe shoes with large purple roses on the toes. Her tutu was immense, layer upon layer of variously colored tulle, mostly pink with shades varying from the palest to shockingly bright with occasional layers of purple and lavender and even bright red. Above this immense skirt, she was encased in tight-fitting satin of the palest pink, dotted with aurora borealis jewels that caught the light and shot off sparkles of fire as the sun hit them.

The sleeves of satin covered her fingers and the top continued in a tight-fitting hood over her head, leaving only the oval of her face open. It was covered with jewels as well, sparkly stones that flashed as she spoke carefully so as not to crack her makeup. Atop her head? A gigantic crimson rose. She was beautiful and I’d love to have been her and twirled in the spotlight. Jewels trimmed each layer of her skirt and I could imagine how lovely she would look as she danced. “You don’t like me,” she said, and I tried to explain how much I did, but how hard it would be to teach wearing the tutu and the jewels that made it almost impossible to talk.

I awoke remembering more details of people I spoke to, but mostly only dreamwisps remain: a tall yellow stovepipe hat, crooked and leaning to the side, at least four feet tall, with words written on it. I read them although I can’t remember them. Green shoes, their skinny ankles and calves laced with red and their soles as wide as tennis rackets, edged with what looked like red rubber balls cut in half and attached to the soles cut side down. Painted faces. Impossibly colorful plaids and patterns. Costumes risqué and outrageous. And among them, sad looking people neatly attired in shades of black and grey. None of them smiling. “Is this what you want?” one of them asked. Of course, it wasn’t, and I tried to explain. I woke up and began to write this down before I forgot.

I remember one more man. He was very, very, very tall, and extremely thin, covered in vines and leaves of various shades of green. The strangest thing about him was the bugs I could see crawling in and out all over—purple, yellow, red, blue—sort of like ladybugs, but a little larger, about the size of a dime. I think they were bugs, but I couldn’t tell for sure. They never flew, but crawled about among the oddly-shaped leaves. I only remember the teapot- and airplane-shaped ones. His face, hands, platform shoes, all green.

And one last thing I remember: gloved hands, the fingers several feet long, stuffed and wired, splayed and twisted at impossible angles. The woman whose hands they are on insists that they represent her soul, reaching out to the world, twisted and seeking. She is dressed completely in a deep chestnut brown, some sort of stretchy tight-fitting material, and covered from head to toe except for her face. A tree-like extension of green tops her head and I see that her fingers—and her toes—are meant to represent roots. Oddly, her face is not made up at all. I notice this and remember this costume because it seemed so strange to me. It was the trigger that brought her back right now.

These people were all beautiful and idiosyncratic and took delight in how they were dressed. The ones who were trying to please me were unhappy shadows. There is a land in-between these two extremes where those of us who work within systems must live. It’s a land where big pink pigs can still sit at picnic tables in back yards but their owners don’t need to dress like their porky pals to show their iconoclastic spirits. Each of us has to find our own way there and I am thankful most of all for the others who do.

How do you show your big pink pig spirit to the world?

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
• Charles Mingus, jazz musician, composer, and activist


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