31 October 2014

The Morning After


video

It feels like a new world. Like The Morning After.

While it was happening, and for the remainder of the evening, "rape" kept coming to mind. And given the violent, unexpected brutality of the event, "rape" is a logical association.

But this morning, as a survivor of only one actual rape, there's something different in it for me. It's different because the abuser is still present. He lives right next door. I must see him again, and again.

And so it reminds me more of childhood. Of living with the abuser. And it reminds me of the final confrontation with my mother in Lake Tahoe. In the kitchen of the luxury cabin our family rented for reunion when I was about 35...  The evening when she spoke with virulent pride of her "100 friends" who would happily line up to hurt me if she called for their assistance. Her face was unrecognizable to me. She was my mother but I did not know her.

I was speechless and ran to my room and closed the door. The next morning, was a Morning After. The world felt different:  I was the (adult) child of a mother who wished me harm -- and wanted me to know it.

"Live with this, then" says the voice of Evil as the sun rises. "Live in this world where now you understand my power and know your place."


24 October 2014

All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go

Although the denial of my application for VISA to Brazil hurt, the process of attempting to gain approval is proving to be far more painful. In response to my multiple emails confessing bewilderment and asking for clarification -- specifically, the straightforward explanation of what I did "wrong" -- the Brazilian Consulate has found 100 ways to say "Figure it out for yourself."

My packet of documents was returned to me with a form cover letter that includes a checklist of reasons for denial. None of the reasons were checked. A handwritten note on the back side of the form instructs me to apply for a different type VISA -- the type that I actually applied for.

And the rules keep changing. The non-refundable $200 application fee I paid at the beginning of this month has now become $250. The required letter from sponsoring institution verifying invitation and support is now "not enough."

With a few notable exceptions, my dealings with Brazilian people have been marked by a near total disregard for punctuality. More often than not, correspondence is either never acknowledged or the response is late or incomplete. Skype dates are missed; promises broken.

I have taken it in stride. The years spent in New Orleans were excellent training for relaxing my meticulous standards of efficiency and timeliness. And living in Mississippi for two years has offered additional training. I am approaching Mastery status in the art of Meeting People Where They Are (unless I share a house with them...but that's another story for another time).

In light of the tit-for-tat/cat-and-mouse game the Consulate and I are playing, however, the laid-back, noncommittal Brazilian posture begins to look and feel more inconsiderate and thoughtless.

I'm losing sleep. I'm sad. I'm frustrated. I'm suffering and around 4 this morning my anguish yanked sleep away. Hard work to achieve a goal is acceptable. Hard work that boils down to dancing to an insatiable task master is not. The Brazilian Consulate wants something from me but when I write 
What did I fail to send?   Please advise.

The form letter enclosed with my returned materials DID NOT indicate what was missing from the original application packet. 

I am very sorry to seem so dim-witted but I cannot guess the answer.  

Please advise.  Thank you.

they respond
THE PROCESSING FEE IS NOT REFUNDABLE
This means that if you send an incomplete application, or an application with wrong information, we will not return your Money-Order, even though not issuing the Visa. Please, read our website twice before sending your application.

Not really a helpful response. Certainly far from a clear, informative explanation that would permit me to rectify the situation.

So I could take a stab, make a guess, buy another money order and send the stuff in...  And be rejected again. (I have heard several stories this week of people who received multiple VISA denials, one of them even after taking a day off work to fly to Atlanta in hopes that a face-to-face meeting was the solution.)

On this bright, crisp morning it doesn't seem worth it. I am disinclined to send more money to the Brazilian Consulate. It feels like a high stakes gambling game. I'm at the wrong table.

I purchased a passport and a (non-refundable) plane ticket because the Consulate required it. And now they won't let me in?

A bit of research reveals that I can fly to Portugal and Spain for lower airfare and a VISA is NOT required for U.S. citizens. I speak Spanish. I speak (am learning) Portuguese. It's looking like time to switch directions.

Brazil is a beautiful and fascinating place but experiencing it firsthand is just not worth this much work, money and heartache to me.






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.