December 15, 2008
Who are you kidding?
I CAN’T REMEMBER,
did she ask, are you cold? Or aren’t you hot? Because I had walked into the foyer of Casa Colonial as I had walked onto the plane, and off the plane, to get there, wearing my full-length, wool “Eugene Onegin” coat, so-called because another opera-loving friend had called his that and I appropriated it.
“I’m going to New York after this,” I offer by way of explanation. I generally wear the heaviest and bulkiest items I’m traveling with. “If you don’t wear it you have to pack it.” Anyway, those were the first words exchanged between me and Jane, the proprietress of my hotel here in Oaxaca. I asked if my bags with my laptop were safe in the lobby. I am not in New York, she told me, and I was going to have to “ratchet myself down” from my cautions of the city, she laughed.
If Oaxaca consisted of nothing but Casa Colonial, I would want to return here. The hotel grounds themselves could provide your vacation. Full of wonderful places and spaces, it’s a writer’s and reader’s haven. And there’s that other feature too often missing from modern life. Silence, that forgotten element of grace.
TODAY IS TODAY
I have to activate my MacBook “Dashboard” to bring up the calendar and see what day of the week it is. I was startled when somebody asked, what is today? I’d forgotten about days and weeks. It’s just today. What other day could it be?
Fear is too strong a word, but I admit to some anxiety about being thrown together with other writers, antennae up and quivering. I’ve never doubted my ability, but it is intimidating to be judged by peers for the first time.
Even before the first workshop session, I had my private consultation with Ariel about my current project. I dreaded it. Was my cocky forecast of success a fantasy? I am investing my life savings in myself, assuming I will pay off in the long run. I’m certainly not going to assume I won’t! Still, all kinds of things went through my mind. “Completely unviable!” “Who are you kidding?” “Clever, but pointless.” “Don’t quit your day job.” Although when making my appointment she’d given me a clue with “I’ve read your excellent material,” I was still girded for disappointment.
HEY, MIKEY! SHE LIKED IT!
Phew! My fears were exaggerated. Of course she had suggestions—good ones; they alone were worth the trip. But I got my gold star! I was as pleased as a first-grader. Readers’ reactions to my column are scarce; aside from an initial flurry of compliments when I was still fresh meat, only a few contact me with comments. So though I faced down my captive audience with alarm, reading my four-page assignment to the group at break-neck speed with shaking voice, it was a welcome experience to have instant reactions. This happens to be a highly talented and intelligent group of writers that have assembled here. They are free with praise and constructive criticism. I am learning to engage with others for input and feedback. But I don’t find it easy.
Here is a piece I wrote while sitting astride a stone altar at Monte Albán, the local ruins. The assignment was to write about the “day you knew who you are.” For me that day has been always.
MAYBE I WAS THREE YEARS OLD.
The number doesn’t matter. Only that once I was a child, and then I was not. My childhood was not unhappy because I never had one. The little girl with the blond curl who sat in the armchair and posed for the picture lasted as long as the snap of the shutter.
That was when “I” took over. The “I” as opposed to the “you”—a being separate from others, the ego’s narrative voice now following me like a thought bubble. It was my adult voice calling to me, just lacking in vocabulary. Sometimes I can burst that bubble, and the “I” of me goes into retreat, to that space before and beyond words.
But words won’t stay down. Rise they must, and rise they do, right to this page. The voice is telling me what to write. The voice is the writer, I am only its hand. Look at this, check that out, did you hear that, make a note, what did he say, don’t forget, fit that in somewhere! The voice is always recording, always assessing. What, why, where, who, how? Whatever the circumstance, the voice has something to say.
The voice knows it is alone wherever it goes, however many people it encounters. It stands by while I talk to them. The voice does not engage; it only dictates. Truth told, it would rather be alone. People create static interference. It is clearest when there is no distraction, and then the voice is my friend. We enjoy each other’s company. It educates me, stimulates me, entertains me, keeps me grounded, buys me wine.
But for once it is my turn to tell it to just shut up.
I’M SHARING THAT
with you first, my loyal readers. Let’s see what the group has to say tomorrow. Will it be “Shut up?” Stay tuned.
View from front door, Cuarto 14, Casa Colonial
The voice says I can go to sleep now.
copyright Alexandra Jones 2008