my "letteracies" -- installment 3

this penultimate installment of excerpts from the india chronicles has a bit of a smorgasbord feel to it. i wonder what a journey across space and time does to an almost 18-year-old. by "does" i mean both the effect on an older adolescent's sense of self as well as the cultivation of an affect and aesthetic of self. how do encounters with multiple others, and the unfamiliar readings of oneself by others, shape a sense of self? and all the while that these encounters are happening and musings are coming in and out of focus, the chronicles putter along with a dual audience in mind -- the intended reader as well as the writer, herself. the pale green steno paper on which these words were scribbled, sometimes with haste and other times with deliberate script, are suggestive of a narrative not only being told but also one being made in real time.
I had a fascinating dream last night. I wrote down what I could concretely remember and I’d explain it but it’s confusing, even for me. More than the actual events of my dream, I remember the feelings – both emotions and physical – that occurred. Is there any real value worth giving to dream analysis? I’ve always heard that dreams are symbols of something. Are they?

i've been thinking a lot about aesthetics and literacies -- about how we feel when we engage with or encounter a text, even a text such as a dream. about how texts and related artifacts stay with us. how they linger long after the moment of encounter. how memory shapes them into the recesses of our minds, pushes them deep into our bodies, waiting for the right occasion or trigger to release them back into our consciousness. it is akin to the connection others have with smells or sounds; for me, it has always been words. i remember how i felt when my 2nd grade teacher insisted on mispronouncing my name even after i had meekly corrected her for the umpteenth time; she insisted on rhyming the 2nd syllable of my name with the word "with" when i desperately wished for her to realize its aural kinship to the word "teeth." 

and i sometimes get lost when the words of another hold me in place while the conversation moves along, leaving me holding my thoughts in quiet as the world rushes forward. like when i was told long ago that my face registered on it the hundreds of fleeting flashes of thought as i listened intently to people in dialogue, taking in their words and gestures and formulating a measured response. whenever a passer-by encourages me to "smile!" or reminds me that "it's not so bad!" as my face contorts when lost in thought. and in those moments, those words come rushing back; i had never had anyone read my face before nor has anyone done so since.
OK, still the eighth of August. We finished packing. Before that, though, j asked who I was writing to. i, looking at the first page, said that it must be a generic letter because it wasn’t addressed to anyone – all it says is “Hi!” so I said I was writing to you. Then she asked if it was a letter or if I was writing a book! I simply told her that writing to you was like writing in a diary, only better. It’s like having a sounding board. Somehow, when I write things down I feel better; when I write them to you, I not only feel better but I can think clearer. And besides, I like writing to you – above all else, it’s wonderfully fun!

this passage reminds me of a quote imprinted on the side of a mug given to me by a high school teacher who i adored, and about whom these particular words by eleanor roosevelt ring quite true, "Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart." i am reminded, also, of what another friend said about the ideas and words and meanings we carry with us. friendship is that, i suppose. we shift just a little bit with each encounter, but some change us forever. i'm thinking of people, themselves, as well as the words they share with us. and the stories they invite us -- move us -- to share with them.
I begin this passage not just as a citizen of the world and earnest observer of life, but as one who has visited the site of one of the wonders of the world: The Taj Mahal. It was strange actually going there, though.

last week i attended one of three racial literacy roundtables being held at tc, coordinated by the lovely yolanda and a group of earnest and thoughtful graduate students. one of the facilitators for the evening ventured forth a story by way of introduction to the evening's theme of stereotypes. (the word immediately takes me back to a moment from my childhood when i first heard the word "gandhi" used as an insult hurled toward me... and i was confused then, as i remain now, as to why the name of this icon of non-violence would be insulting to me. ah, youthful ignorance!) this young women noted that it was only upon entering graduate school that she realized that all of her friends were just like her, they looked just like her, shared her life experiences. so, when it became my turn to introduce myself, i wondered aloud, whether we don't all look for a glimpse of familiarity when we connect -- not only within presumed "sameness" but also across differences.  that is, might we not see something familiar in someone who does not share our phenotypic makeup and yet be "just like us?" and perhaps i am keenly aware of this as most of the people who have and continue to leave footprints in my heart look nothing like me, but they are my twin skin, nevertheless.

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