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.