21 October 2014

The Dream of Claire

I was up all night.

Never mind why. Never mind what I was doing. That's not what this post is about. (Although it could be...)

Somewhere around 8 a.m. it was clear I would not make it to my noon meeting. My eyes felt like sandpaper. Every yawn triggered head to toe, uncontrollable, almost convulsive, trembling. From a purely physical point of view, it was time to go to bed.

But I was also craving coffee. (That's kind of a physical event, too, isn't it? But there's so much more going on when I want coffee the way I wanted coffee this morning...)

The pot was already programmed to start brewing at 8:45 a. A full discussion of the extreme pleasure and delight this feature of the coffeepot brings me deserves its own post. Let it suffice for the current narrative to confess that my affection for the machine and its automatic processes necessitated a whispered apology as I disengaged the "Auto" function and hit the "On" button ahead of time.

I had my coffee, turned off the phones, changed into pajamas and went to bed.

I lay there tired but no longer sleepy for what seemed like forever, eyes closed, resisting the panic that insomniacs know so well -- that "I'm not sleeping, I'm not sleeping, oh my god! I'm not sleeping, should I get up, no, no, any minute now I'm gonna get sleepy again...." wailing in the head; telling myself "It's okay, precious. Lying down with eyes closed also counts as rest. It's alright."

My sense of smell was in overdrive:  the pillowcase smelled like my hair conditioner and the unscented laundry detergent I use and "feathers" (I can't explain). I could smell furnace and Renuzit and the loaf of bread I baked Saturday in the room. My hand curled beneath my cheek smelled like tobacco and soap and pencil lead.

There was an unidentifiable, indescribable scent in the mix, too.  Something that triggered a "false" memory of a large, well-furnished room with low ceilings, bathed in a gentle, marbled
gold-and-umber light and soft burgundy-colored music. I have no memory of ever having actually been in such a room.

In the end, I fell asleep and dreamed of Claire. The daughter from the HBO series "Six Feet Under." After a few minutes of Google searching, I still can't find a photo of her that conveys how she looked in my dream. In the dream, as in her life story as portrayed so unforgettably by the actor Lauren Ambrose, her face reflected the fluid stream of her thoughts and feelings. A hundred different expressions in the span of five minutes....

In the dream I struggled to hide the intense sexual attraction-verging-on-love I felt toward her. But she knew. I could hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes. She knew how I felt.

She wanted me to know it was okay to feel what I felt and to think what I was thinking. She wanted me to know that sexual attraction is magical, spiritual, to be celebrated. It's among the most complex and noble of human capacities. It is Us at our most eloquent and energetic best.

The free and unaffected expression and fulfillment of sexual attraction is perfect freedom.

In the dream we joined our bodies and hearts and minds. We laughed and whispered and cried and looked at each other and explored and confessed and rested.

It was a beautiful dream. And I woke up full of longing for the best of times I've had with women lovers. I have always spurned the application of labels to people so it's never been easy to identify as "bisexual." It is an incomplete naming of my sexual orientation. It says something, but not everything.

Beautiful lovers have many things in common whatever their gender or sexual orientation:  generosity of spirit and creativity to name but two. And yet, perhaps as we are products of a world that demands a hard-and-fast decision about who we are sexually, and as sexuality has been extensively (over)analyzed, there are some marked differences between male lovers and female lovers and transgender lovers that present with some predictability.

My current longing, however, has less to do with psychology and gender-style than with the way a woman's body is "put together." Good sex is good sex and an egg is an egg is an egg but there are important differences between scrambled and poached, between fried and hard-boiled.

Claire was a beautiful lover in the dream. She was, as a former woman lover once called it, "thorough." I felt whole and satisfied and generous and humble and comfortable in my body when I woke up ...and I still do.

20 October 2014

Vai Dar Certo

My application for VISA was denied.

As in the two prescient dreams I had in the weeks after submitting it, the reason for the rejection is unclear.

Why does it feel like a personal injury?

But only a little.

I told someone recently that I enjoy a challenge. I love games and figuring out how to change this "no" into a "yes" feels like I game. A "big" game because I want very much to go to Brazil.

My bristling dissatisfaction and disappointment with Holly Springs MS has been placated -- somewhat -- through teaching piano but for a long time, and still occasionally, I was gripped with a resolute determination to either change this place or escape. It didn't feel like a game. It wasn't fun or inspiring. Felt more like desperation. How can one Northern woman change a Southern town? Where does a middle-aged black woman go in the U.S. to start over....again?

I'm in a cage here but I am fed and sheltered and I have piano students. I'll make do and wait.

I am much less resigned as re the Brazilian adventure. Unlike the Holly Springs situation -- where I am outnumbered and the rules of engagement are largely unspoken -- getting to Brazil is a process of navigating bureaucratic waters. There are explicit rules, although they seem to have changed in the last few weeks. Communication is possible. My opponent is not swayed by my place of birth or skin color or speech pattern. We are, ostensibly, playing by the same rules.

Via Skype, I am practicing my Portuguese language skills with new friends in Brazil. Additional benefits of our conversation include learning about the histories and cultures of the country as a whole and individual regions. And I am encouraged, fortified in the "game" of securing a VISA by the beautiful smiles and repetitions of "vai dar certo" and "vamos vê-lo aqui". Some of them assure me that I "look" Brazilian so my arrival there is a certainty.

This last notion is interesting when I consider how often I've been told that I "look" African. Maybe they are the same thing.

08 October 2014

Free As A Bird

A few moments ago I received an email from a friend (and former employer) containing this Nina Simone clip. The friend said I came to mind as she watched it.

I'm flattered.

The sincerity of the performance is hugely compelling.  As I watch, I am transported to that "space" in which/from which such performance springs. It is a gentle, wide open, heart-centered meditation to make music in that altered stated. The sensation inhabits the intellect, the body, the psyche...

Introducing students to that space is an essential aspect of teaching piano for me. I talk to them about focus. I describe what it's like for me. When they feel they are focused, I ask them to describe what it's like for them. For those students whose descriptions center on thought processes, I invite them into an awareness of the physical and emotional attributes of "focus".

As their understanding of the orientation matures and they become familiar with how it feels to focus, it is possible to coach them during performance, to say "Go 'there'" and a "there" exists for them. They know the route and they know more and more about how to get "there".


A little while ago, after several minutes of noting a mild ruckus in the garden, I walked to the west side of the porch to investigate. A lone bluejay was foraging amongst the fallen leaves and ground cover. He was less than six feet away from me and looked up at me when he sensed my presence. He looked at me, but seemed not in the least startled or troubled.

His look was more in the spirit of "Yes? Can I help you?" I returned to my chair on the other side of the porch, thinking "There's freedom!" Freedom from fear. Freedom to be and to be about whatever he was about. "I'm a blue jay. I'm doing my blue jay thing. What are you doing?"

Some students, especially adult females, are wont to apologize:  if they miss a note or forget the meaning of a dynamic marking or make some other "mistake." And each time they apologize, I remind them gently that no apology is needed. "You are learning to play piano. Mistakes are an important -- and unavoidable -- part of the learning process."

Blue jays make a lot of noise. Students make mistakes. No apologies. In the space where focus abides, we are free to do our student thing -- to learn, through trial and error, turning away from the distraction of self-consciousness, escaping the bondage of apology and excuse. 

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
Say 'em loud say 'em clear
For the whole wide world to hear

The blue jay has relocated to this side of the porch. Rummaging noisily now on the other side of the screen, less than 3 feet from me. Bothered not a wit by my presence or my opinions about what he's doing. He's focused on what he's doing. Living his own life.

29 September 2014

Patriotic? Citizen of?

“To be an American writer today means mounting an underdog attack on all that Americans believe themselves to hold sacred…..it means fighting an astute and agile guerilla warfare with that American complacency which so inadequately masks American panic.” -- James Baldwin

 I started this post several months ago by transcribing the Baldwin quote. The depth and complexity of emotional and intellectual resonance I experienced prevented further comment. This morning I found myself suddenly awake at 7 a.m. (typically an ungodly hour for me) with three pressing needs:  I had to pee. I had to write. And I needed a lover's hands on my body.

the hand you're dealt
I went to the bathroom...and returned to bed. Because my writing has been blocked for months now, I have no lover and there is nothing I can do about either reality. I lay there for another hour and a half, thought and memory and desire colliding and swirling within me. I felt trapped, incapable of doing anything I wanted to do or having anything I wanted to have.

At last, encouraged by the steadfast encroaching daylight and the gentle persuasion of wind in the
curtains, an awareness of a few simple things I COULD do dawned. I could get out of bed. I could wash my face and brush my teeth. I could make my bed and make coffee. I could get dressed. I could open the blinds in the living room and dining room.

I did all of those things. The progression energized me sufficiently to timidly open my blog...and there was the Baldwin quote again. "To be an American writer..." the quote begins. Shame and frustration flooded my sensorium. I'm a wannabe writer.

I took a sip of coffee, took a deep breath and read on. Questions arose:  Is the charge the quote defines unique to writers? Could it not be said of all creatives? All thinking people of conscience?

I learned this weekend that Brazilians recognize only one America. Exploring the website of the
International Center for Theatre of the Oppressed, I read "...este é o método teatral mais utilizado em todos os cinco continentes" and wondered what it meant. Aren't there 7 continents in the world? I asked my Brazilian-American friend over tea.

In Brazil, she informed me, we are taught there are five:  Africa, Eurasia, America, Antarctica and Australia. 

"To be an American writer..." The quote suggested new implications this morning when viewed through the Brazilian lens. "Buy American" and "Proud to be an American" take on new meanings, as do "the American Dream" and "America, Home of the free" and "the American flag" and "American food" and ...

Something of the American "complacency" and "panic" Baldwin speaks of is apparent in "our" appropriation of the term "American." We speak about Mexicans and Guatemalans and other who want to come to America. We say "North America" and understand it as a distinct society and land mass rather than the "northern subcontinent of America" (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_America). "Latin America" is "them" not "us". The perspective is one of those things we "hold sacred."

I relish these new ideas, this new perspective. It's truer, more accurate. And, for better or worse in terms of finding my voice again as a writer, it expands the possibilities and responsibility. There's more to look at and more to say. The definition of "homeland" has changed.

I don't know what I'll do with the rest of this day, with no lover and my writing apparatus out of commission. But I will move through it with a different point of view, taking a closer look at the hand I was dealt. I am American, yes, but that means more to me than it did three days ago.

21 September 2014

Heart to Heart

J is the only boy student currently in the piano studio. He's 7 years old and, though I often wonder about the origins of the phrase, he is "cute as a button." He's tiny:  preparations for his lesson include placement of a big red dictionary beneath the bench as his feet don't yet reach the ground. I traced
each of his hands during the second lesson. "Now we have a snapshot, a reference point," I told him. "We'll look at these again in a few months and see how much you've grown."

His mother called in response to an advertisement I placed in the newspaper. "He's been saying he wants to play piano since he was old enough to talk. I been playing it off 'cause, you know, I don't want him to turn into a sissy. But when I saw your ad and saw that you teach 'keyboard' I thought, well, maybe he'll be satisfied with that."

He loves playing. He works hard. He has some intriguing cognitive challenges; he still has to count
his fingers when I ask him to place finger #3 on Middle C, for example. He's sensitive, tenderhearted. When he makes a mistake that he feels he shouldn't have made, he grows very quiet, his face turns somber and sometimes he cries.

I grow more fond of him every week.

His parents rarely return on time to retrieve him after the lesson. We fill the time by strolling in the yard or conversing on the front porch. Last week, seemingly out of the blue, he asked me "What time do you get up in the morning, Miss Alex?" "Oh, it varies. Usually somewhere between 9 and 10," I told him. "Why?"

"Because my school bus goes right by here in the morning and I always think maybe I'll see you sitting on the porch drinking coffee."

This is the kind of thing that melts my heart. I can just imagine this tiny person on a big yellow bus each morning. The anticipation he's feeling as the bus approaches my street. His face. The associated memories evoked as the stone pillars at the foot of Johnson Park come into view. Maybe he has boasted to a fellow student "That's where my piano teacher lives."

The culture romanticizes "the innocence of children" but, for me, it is the vulnerability of children, their willing transparency, the absence of masks that impresses me more. They don't know yet to hide their hearts. And so, heart to heart communication is possible.

Oh, for more of this among my adult peers.

23 August 2014

Returning to Myself


I woke up with these words in my head and on my lips:

So now I am returning to myself, these things that you and I suppressed...

Somewhat surprised to discover I have somehow failed to include the full lyrics and recording of the song that includes that line -- "Hejira" from Joni's 1976 album of the same name -- on this blog previously. It is a big song for me; extremely high personal resonance with the sentiments and ideas expressed in the lyric. One of those songs that knocked me off my feet when I first heard it because of the specific way it fit my life at the time.

Almost 40 years later, it still fits like custom-made gloves.

There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
I see something of myself in everyone...
You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line

I seem to turn the same corners over and over again in my life. The same realizations dawn with blinding brilliance repeatedly. Over and over, I learn that my life is mine...that nothing is permanent...that life is short. I forget, then remember, that breath and death are the only remotely non-negotiable aspects of existence.

Those of us who were brought up properly bear the weight of responsibility and obligation like a ship's anchor. I forget, then remember, that anchors must be pulled up when it is time to move forward. I stand at the bow of my life ship today, facing the horizon and ready to sail. It is time to weigh anchor. While the anchor rests on the sea floor, assessment of here and now is possible. "Ah, here I am. Here's what I have...here's what's been lost. This sustains me and this can be tossed overboard -- don't need it any more."

 Sometimes it seems safest to remain anchored, to stay in a place -- metaphorically or literally -- that we know well. There is a kind of comfort in familiarity. We might even delude ourselves and believe that we have control while we are in a place whose contours and colors and cycles have become predictable and old-hat for us. "I'm safe now. Nothing can get me here. I know this place."

But it is an illusion. It is impossible to be both in the ever-changing World and protected from change
at the same time.

I am hoisting the anchor to "return to myself." I embrace two readings of the phrase:  coming back to myself after wandering far afield AND reclaiming abandoned or sacrificed essentials.

Revitalizing Holly Springs MS is not my mission. I relinquish all attachment to that goal now and return to myself.

Joining the community of warriors against racism and injustice is not my mission. I relinquish all attachment to that goal now and return to myself.

My mission is the nurturing and advancement of the evolution of consciousness -- my own and others. I return.

I am not committed to building a personal and professional network of human resources to facilitate the blossoming of my "career." This will doubtless happen, peripheral to pursuit of the aforementioned mission but it is not a central intention.

I care about my blood family and wish them always the best that Life has to offer. And, though I have walked and talked as though I accept a responsibility to actively promote this, in truth, I do not believe I have a responsibility to promote their well-being at the expense of abandoning the path toward "awakening," to which I am unconditionally committed.

I care about my friends and wish them always the best that Life has to offer. And, though my ego has been flattered often enough by the dreams that they dream for me, in truth, it is impossible and unnatural to attempt to lend my life to the fulfillment of someone else's dream. "I am not your dream of me..." (from "Getting to Know You," my first SpotLife performance, February 2011).

Admitting to myself that I believe in prayer (sorta) the other day ("Thinking It Matters") felt like "coming out." I'm having a similar experience with the present "returning to myself" post.

It is both daunting and invigorating contemplating next steps, lifting my foot -- and eyes and heart -- to take up the journey from here. Beginning again....

22 August 2014

Coon Time

They're not afraid of me. I'm afraid of them. It's my problem to get over.

I live in a smoke-free house so I spend a lot of time on our enclosed-by-screen back porch, smoking as I do whatever else I'm doing. In the months since the neighbors moved away the raccoon presence has steadily intensified. The neighbors had three dogs.

In the beginning, I only saw them occasionally, usually around sundown, a quick scurry under the hedge a the periphery of my vision. They were cautious and seemed to avoid being seen or confronted.

Then came the afternoon when C and I were sitting on the back porch and a raccoon sauntered across the yard. Hours before sundown, completely unconcealed, and untroubled by the sound and smell of human beings less than 30 feet away.

Since then their boldness has only increased, to the point that they now frolic nightly in the
branches of a tree less than 15 feet from the porch. They aren't in the least intimidated by my presence, smoking...talking on the phone...James Brown wailing on my computer.

Unanimous local advice when I've asked about strategies for controlling them is "Get a gun" and everyone has a raccoon story (or three) to share. I spotted raccoon traps in the hardware store the other day. "What would I do with them after I caught them?" I asked. The store owner looked at me like I was ten kinds of crazy. "Well, you shoot 'em," he finally replied. "Waste of time and gas to drive 'em out and let 'em go. They'll just come back."

After half a century of being adamantly anti-gun, something is shifting in me. There are no light fixtures in our deep backyard. Sitting in the light on the back porch it's impossible to see beyond the screen. Last night, I listened without being able to see while raccoon scurried and crashed about in
the yard and door-less storage shed. When I heard the ping of the chain link fence they use as a springboard into the aforementioned tree, I turned on a flashlight and threw the beam on three large raccoon. They looked at me. My imagination or were they annoyed?

I cannot imagine myself pointing a gun at a caged raccoon and pulling the trigger; but I admit I wished that flashlight was a shotgun last night.

They're only going to get bolder I predict. They have no fear of me. I'm the one with a problem...