A Blank Canvas | Part 2
In 1984, one year after I began teaching, I attended a gathering of faculty from 6 or 7 sister seminaries. We were together for one weekend. There weren’t many women professors in the group.
Because I was the newest female professor in the group, I was one of the speakers. Why did I become a professor? How did my gender, denomination (Presbyterian, not Baptist) and area of teaching (systematic theology) play out during my first year of teaching? In short, how did I get from there to here, and how has it been so far?
I spoke from my heart, using notes I’d prepared ahead of time. The picture wasn’t altogether pretty. Especially when I came to the part about my first semester of teaching. As a new professor, I was caught in the middle of a stormy sea without many options and only minimal classroom or teaching support.
After my talk we had lively discussion, including how new professors might be better supported. When I sat down I felt naked, vulnerable and shaky. My mind was already questioning what I’d just said and how I’d said it.
After the meeting, one of my new female professor friends smiled, thanked me for my presentation, and handed me an envelope to open later. When I opened it, I was blown away. This woman was a scholar, poet and artist. I didn’t know she always carried blank paper so she could sketch as she listened to speakers.
I stared at the card—as I’m staring at it this moment. Across the top she’d printed, “No woman is an island….” The sun is beaming from the sky above an ocean of water. There’s no land in sight, only ripples of water.
Smack in the middle of the water a larger-than-life woman floats on her back, totally relaxed, totally naked, and well endowed. Trees and shrubs spring up from her breasts and from her private parts. Just nearby and farther away, three small female figures, also naked, float on their backs in the water. A small toy-like sailboat graces the lower left-hand corner.
Shocked and embarrassed don’t begin to describe how I felt. Horrified might be more like it. I decided immediately that I would never show this to anyone. And yet…when she gave me the envelope, my new friend told me this is what came into her imagination as she listened to me speaking.
When I got home I put the card away in a safe place, and pulled it out only a handful of times. It hooked my body-shame and female-shame bigtime. I decided it was safer to leave it in a box with other choice mementoes.
This week I went looking, and found the card. My Blank Canvas dream reminded me that I had it. And yes, it confirmed my thinking about how I want to interpret the dream.
To be continued….
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 August 2016
Photo of the islands of Palau found at http://www.herald.com.au