Thursday, May 25, 2017

Play on, Playa; or Solace Amongst the Propaganda

It's the final countdown. 

Except it isn't quite yet. 

Government orders? Check. 
 Pack out dates? Check. 
 Plane tickets? Plane tickets? Bueller? Anyone? 

No plane tickets yet. This is a little aggravating, since I did the paperwork in February for orders, got caught up in the government shutdown, waited patiently until May to get said orders, and I've done everything else I can possibly do. I'm just in the queue, waiting for tickets. And waiting. And tapping my foot. And trying not to freak out/scream/blow up someone's email/vent. You know, waiting. . . 

Patience, patience. . . not my finest quality. 

In the meanwhile, music has been soothing my soul. 

from Twelfth Night
Substitute "life" for "love," and you have me.
I don't have a lot of love for either of our two local AFN music stations---one plays top 40, and the other, country music. FYI: I'm allergic to 90% of country music---I grew up riding in the pickup truck, loving the dog, traveling via dirt and gravel country roads, and swimming in creeks---I don't need to relive it again in song. I prefer anything else. And it's the same with the same four or five top 40 songs played ad nauseum. I'm weary of today's music. Is this what my parents thought of music in the 70, 80s and 90s? I don't think so. 

Why? Because our music was better. Of course. 

I listen to the Cuban stations and try to practice listening in Spanish (for me, the hardest language skill) and I'm occasionally blown away by a piece of American music thrown in between "this day in history" (Communist propaganda) and more traditional Cuban music. It's the Whitney Houston and Air Supply and Michael Jackson that makes me laugh. As a result of spending long stretches of life between long travel days back to the States, an American song from the past, no matter how cheesy,  brightens my day. Nostalgia warms my curmudgeonly old heart. 

Recently our NPR in the morning was replaced by some conservative idiot who blames Obama for everything. (Would someone please tell him that Barry left office a while back?). It makes me angry. Even if it's a couple of miles from my door, over a big hill, dodging iguanas and kamikaze guinea fowl, I don't like to be mad when I'm driving. In its place I have found a station called El Taino out of Havana. Unlike the station I've listen to for 4 years that's out of Caimenera, this station has a top 10 list of songs en esapañol in heavy rotation. The propaganda is only news snippets, not folk songs with children singing about The Revolution and occasion mention of El Comandante Líder, the late Fidel Castro. I'm sure they love him there, too, but this station is about music. 

They play themed play lists. One recent day it was all about the beach and ocean.  Today's list include all things "suave" (smooth), which is more of an attitude and less of a physical description. I heard bands from Mexico, South and Central America. There are songs in English I've never heard---mostly from European bands. I love the variety of music in mostly Spanish, and my iPod's playlist has increased exponentially. 

Last week I was leaving work and  heard the unmistakable chords of the intro to "Hotel California." I don't care if you think the Eagles are cheesy, overrated, or even embarrassing---I love them because their music reminds me of my childhood, and because it's one of the most endearing and well-used nicknames (amongst many) for GTMO. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave"---truer words have never been spoken of life on a 45 square mile strip of land surrounded by a fence and a beach with rocks for sand. After the initial shock that I am in Hotel California and listening to Hotel California, I laughed and sang along---loudly.

I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, graduated high school 30 years ago this month, and attended the prom all four years. Purple Rain was the theme one year. A Morris Day and the Time cover band played another year. It was a great time for music for dancing, for singing, and for chillin'. After being a prom sponsor a couple of years ago, I have a newfound respect for any teacher who takes on that daunting endeavor, and I have since sworn to be a chaperone and help any future prom sponsors. This year's event was at the Bayview restaurant, which, if you can deal with the swarms of horrid, painful mosquitos, has a beautiful view of the Bay. 

I was more than happy to realize that I have, in some weird and small way, had an influence, albeit small one, on my students. We start many days with "song of the week" (SOTW) and I basically choose anything I want to hear (the Pixies, the Dead Milkmen, David Bowie, Lauryn Hill. . . the list goes on). This is the beauty of having your own classroom: you get to make the rules, and you get to choose the playlist. 

I make it work with themes, with characterization. We find literary and sound devices. Most importantly, we SING (with all apologies to anyone who has taught next door to me). The students' all time favorite SOTW is Earth, Wind, and Fire's "September." You would have to be a serious GTMO grouch to hate that song. 

So how did the prom end? With a set of songs, all from the set list of SOTW. I was ecstatic to dance with sweaty, goofy, and gahd dang lovable teenagers to "September,"  "Come on, Eileen," and watched in amazement as they sang Every. Single. Word. to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." That night I get in my car and my newly favorite station, 105.9 "El Taino" is playing hits from the 1980s. 

From their website (sorry for the auto-generated weird translation):

(And this, kids, is why you don't use Google Translate to help you with your Spanish homework---it sounds like this, but in Spanish. In other words, a little ridiculous). 

I love to go way, way back to the days of careless dancing (and not hobbling because I wore The Most Ridiculous Pair of High Heels for the second year in a row), moving like nobody's watching (and honestly, I'm PCSing, so I really don't care what anything thinks of my moves at this juncture of my GTMO stay), and singing off-key to "Take On Me," another SOTW that is meant to be annoying in its impossible high-notes in the chorus. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Final Countdown; or, A Vagabond Heart

"WALKER PERCY ONCE wrote that at a certain point in his life a man draws strength from living in some authentic relationship with the principal events of his past. I have often pondered what it was that brought me back to stay [in the South]. I am forever drawn to the textures, the echoes, the way things look and feel, the bittersweet tug of certain phrases: 'We crossed the river at Natchez.' The South is a blend of the relentless and the abiding for me, and an accumulation of ironies so acute and impenetrable that my vagabond heart palpitates to make sense of them."   Willie Morris, from the essay "Is There a South Anymore?" Southern Magazine, October 1986. 

My favorite memoir is from fellow Mississippian Willie Morris. North Towards Home tells of Morris' childhood in Mississippi, college life in Texas, and life as a writer in New York City---and all in an attempt to find "home."  When I read his book in college, I couldn't help but feel it spoke to me. And I love his term "vagabond heart" in the above essay because it encapsulates how I feel. Morris did some wandering of his own before finally giving in to that tug to return to his native Mississippi, where he died in 1999. 

part of my heart---the Mighty Pearl River, MS

In one of my earliest blog posts, I wrote about not knowing where home is and my forever quest to find it. It's been a quandary as long as I can remember. I was a shy, strange child, and moving from the Delta to southern Mississippi was a rather traumatic experience. I didn't like having to meet new friends. I didn't like change. I didn't like people's prying questions, or having to deal with going to school (I had only attended kindergarten part time), and I remember thinking if I were quiet, I could make myself invisible. It's a trick I held on to for several years, until being part of a community over time made it impossible to do anymore. I was part of something. I had become part of the collective memory of my classmates with whom I attended 1-12 grade. My biggest pet peeve of life in that small town is when certain classmates would like to say, "Do you remember in kindergarten when. . . oh yeah, that's right, you didn't live here then." It was their not-so-subtle way of putting me in my place because I wasn't born there. Maybe this is why I never wanted to stay. Or maybe I just never took root and after reversing my original stance and working hard not to be invisible, realized that to some, I would always be. My hometown is not my birthplace, nor my sister's, nor my parents. Despite living there for twelve years of school and countless years of going back annually, I am in many ways still not "one of them." 

And I am totally okay with that. I love many people there. The adage goes, "Home is where the heart is," but truly, can you aimlessly travel from one place to another, holding those you love close, while knowing they live thousands of miles away and you'll be lucky to see them once a year? For me, yes. For others, not so much. 

These are the things I have tried to explain to many of my friends and even family members who have deep roots and love their towns. They have a sense of place I have never had. 

That brings me to this. We have a pack out date now, meaning that for three days in the beginning of June, a moving crew will invade our house and pack up practically every possession we have. We made the choice when we plunged into this peripatetic life to not put anything in long-term storage. Family valuables we left at home. Years of paperwork we finally shred. Many things---linens, furniture, pots and pans that we have had for the majority of our 24 year marriage---we have finally given away. 

Today we took the ferry over to the airport to pick up our son who is returning from college in Spain. The next time we take that same ferry will probably be when we leave here forever. As we left for the Leeward side and watched people jump off the dock to say goodbye to those leaving island, I wondered, who is left to jump for us? Will anyone come out? Teachers tend to leave the day school is out; we will stay another week, probably. So many dear, wonderful, close friends have already left GTMO forever. There's part of me that wants to sneak over to the other side the night before and stay at the hotel there so we don't have to say goodbye. I always get a little lump in my throat watching people jump and swim out to the ferry, even knowing they aren't there for me.

It's been a great four years, six months, and 22 days in many ways. Despite my whining and complaining at what are truly first world problems (no diet Coke, no eggs, the pool is closed---again), there have been rewards that we have reaped and will for years to come. I'm still a little freaked out when I look back and think that in 2012 we walked away from a house, two stable jobs, friends and family, and a community we lived in longer than anywhere else in our marriage (10 years---and for my husband, the longest he's lived anywhere). We took a leap of faith and I have no regrets. The big stuff for those of us here that adds up to low morale at times is still small stuff compared to some of the big challenges of our life living in Texas.

part of my heart, this crazy, crazy place

I'm hoping my wandering spirit and vagabond heart will find a place to call home once we get to Spain. With a son only a few hours away, and the ability to get on a commercial airplane and get to our families faster from Europe than from GTMO, it's already got some things going for it that we don't have here. I will miss those here who I hold in my heart---and I hope they will take me up on our offers to visit. I don't think we will ever come back here to visit, and knowing we don't really have that option, unlike other places we've called home all over the U.S., makes me a little sad. 

The possibility that we will spend the next 10 years or so in Spain make me very happy. Could this be the place? Or, like Willie Morris, will I one day find that pull to the South so strong that I will want to go back to live? 

It is very possible that in six weeks from today, if all goes as planned, we will leave GTMO forever. How will I feel? Relief? Grief? Sadness? Giddiness? 

Maybe a little of all above? 

In the same essay, Willie Morris also wrote, "To escape the South, however — all of what it was and is — I would have to escape from myself."

The South is my home, who I am. As much as I have worked to lose the accent (some find it charming, but it comes with its own set of detrimental stereotypes), I am a southern girl through and through. However, it is not where I live. A wanderer is what I am. That cliche "citizen of the world" is also me. 

And Spain is calling. Onwards to more purging and packing for the next great adventure of someone consumed with wanderlust. 

read all of Willie Morris' essay here.