The Perks of Being a Sunflower

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Accept Yourself and Love Like a Sunset

Absorb…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition.

1. to take in and make part of an existent whole

2. to suck up or take up

3. to engage or engross wholly (as in absorbed in thought)

4a. to receive without recoil or echo

4b. to transform into a different form

—–

“Did you finish it?” my friend Rebecca eagerly asked. I hadn’t. Less than a week ago she lent me what she proclaimed to be her bible from her teen years, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”. It’s a fictional first person narrative about a boy’s freshman year of high school. “You need to read this book right now. It impacted me so much when I was going through what you are at this point.” Since coming out at age 25 and finally allowing myself to pursue romantic relationships, I’ve felt like I’m playing catchup with everyone else. Essentially I’m living through the teenage romantic angst that everyone has already gone through. This is why Rebecca wanted me to read the book. “Ok,” I assured her. “I’m not as fast a reader as you, but I’ll get through it. I promise.”

Two days after she gave me the book, I pushed past the first couple pages. It  referenced many cultural landmarks that I personally connect with, like the band The Smiths, the book Catcher and the Rye, and the film Rocky Horror Picture Show. As I continued reading I noticed select sentences and paragraphs she highlighted. It was insightful to see what moments popped out to her back when she first read the book. I felt like I was coming to understand Rebecca more as a person and getting a chance to closely examine lines she thought would be useful to me. Into a couple chapters, a quote she highlighted stood out. “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I leaned back in my chair at my kitchen table and applied the theory to people I’ve known and to myself. It worked in every case. I then pulled out my phone and texted Rebecca the quote. She responded: “That line is specifically why I wanted you to read this book.” I then texted back: “I’m still learning I deserve more than no love at all.” Rebecca then added: “You need to love yourself before you can let anyone else in completely.” This was not the first time I’d heard this statement, but the impact of it felt especially powerful this time.

——

Ms. C started writing on the white board with a green marker. It was my day to volunteer in 2nd grade. On the board she wrote 7 sentences each having at least one blank line in it for the students to fill in. “The unit were working on this month is life cycles. I want you to read with your elbow partner the book I give you about a certain living being. For example we have a horse, a sunflower, and an ant. I want you to fill in the blank of each of these sentences describing the different stages of their lives and what attributes they have in each of these stages.”

Ms. C turned to me and asked if I could sit with a student she had me working with earlier. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah was a Hispanic student who struggled with her reading and writing in English. Her elbow partner was a bilingual Chinese girl, who spoke both Cantonese and English. We’ll call her Jennifer. I sat down next to the two girls just as they were handed a book on sunflowers. They began copying down the sentences Ms. C had written on the board. The first question was easily handled. “A sunflower’s first stage is a seed.” They wrote. After a couple more answers they came to a difficult fill in the blank sentence. They needed to answer what a sunflower can do once it is fully bloomed. Jennifer, the Cantonese speaker, turned to Sarah, the Spanish speaker, and answered: “A sunflower can absorb the sun’s rays after it grows its petals.” “That’s very good,” I praised.

“What does absorb mean?” Sarah asked. I responded: “It takes in the suns energy. It soaks it up in order to grow.” All I received was a blank stare. There was no confirmation behind her large dark pupils that she understood. I paused for a moment, thinking of a different way to explain the word to her. My mind shifted through everything that can absorb. I knew I had to pick something that would be easy for her to visualize. Then it hit me. “You know what a sponge is, right?” Nothing. “How about a paper towel?” She nodded,”Uh huh, ya”. “What happens to a paper towel when it gets wet?” I asked. She took a moment to think and then looked back at me, looking for the answer. I rubbed my face thinking what avenue to try next, then it struck me. “Hold on.” I told her.

I walked over to the classroom’s sink, grabbed a white paper towel, yellow water color paint, and a cup filled with water. I set it all down in front of Sarah. She and Jennifer observed intently. “You see what the paper towel looks and feels like right now?” “Uh huh,” Sarah answered. I dropped an ounce of yellow paint into the water, and stirred it with my pinkie, tinting its color. Then I dunked the paper towel into the water. Both girls focused intently on the paper towel and the cup filled with yellow water. I pulled the towel out of the cup. It was now soaked and yellow. “Is the towel different now than it was before?” I inquired. “Ya its yellow!” Sarah replied. “What happened?” I asked her. “You put it in the yellow water.” she answered. “That’s what the word absorb means,” I explained. “The paper towel absorbed the yellow water.” Sarah nodded confidently. She understood now.

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