HauteLit from HotLanta: Latin American Boom
My ideas can be too big. Finding time to actually condense and refine them is difficult. I experienced this most when I was teaching. I wanted to take all of the ideas surrounding a particular style or period of visual art, all of the history, all of the elements and principles, all of the hidden meanings, all of the techniques that went into it and just teach it. I felt as if I could box up volumes of knowledge into a few lessons so that my students, who had been shorted an excellent education, could catch up. I wanted my students to have it all and I was desperate to give them more knowledge all the time. It’s the same with my writing. I come upon a particular piece of literature, or an idea and I just want to give you all of it. Things hold us back, though, don’t they? From really sharing what we want to share with the world, namely: responsibility.
I have many regrets from my years of teaching, but the one that haunts me is never doing a unit revolving around the art of Frida Kahlo. I resisted teaching her because she was edgy. Sure, many artists I taught were edgy, but Frida’s images are raw. There’s no hiding her boldness, her ideas or her personal life. I lived in a pretty conservative environment and worried that the ideas in her art would be too difficult to temper in my lessons. How would I field questions from a middle school class about her eyebrows, about her painful paintings of miscarriages or about she and her husband’s nontraditional relationship and infidelities if my kids were to Google her outside of the classroom or if they actually interpreted her artwork accurately as I had taught them to and saw the underlying themes? In fact, in my heart I didn’t want to temper the ideas at all. I felt this would be an injustice. Why not teach kids to be responsible with information, why not explain things to them instead of censoring everything in the classroom? When they experience things they disagree with or confront something that goes outside their norms, how will they know how to talk about it or how to disagree respectfully if we don’t first explain and teach them that people are different, there’s diversity in the way people choose to live life that can add to our experience. We can appreciate the differences without having to personally embrace them ourselves. I wasn’t as bold as I should have been. I had misinterpreted my responsibility as shielding as opposed to empowering the kids.
Frida didn’t censor herself. She used the lifelong pain resulting from a freak bus injury to fuel her art and her persona throughout her career. Her artwork is notably fearless, the kind of fearless that only a desperate person can exhibit. I can’t speak for Frida, obviously, but throughout my life I’ve also experienced debilitating pain in my hip that could never explained despite the many doctors who poked and prodded at me. This status of being impossible to diagnose only exacerbated feelings I already harbored about “not being understood.” They and others wrote me off before figuring out where the pain was coming from. I can imagine Frida, like me, felt she had nothing to lose because pain consumed her on a daily basis and if expressing it through her art could release her for a moment, than she must. When I’m sobbing uncontrollably because I can’t move without feeling excruciating pain, the only thing that helps is to write. I’m in pain anyway. So, I let it all out and I don’t care what anyone thinks.
I wish I had taught my kids about Frida so that they could use her as an example too. Many of my students experience far worse pain and difficulties in their life at ages ten and twelve that I can’t even imagine as an adult. They know life is difficult and I wish I had shown them an example of fearlessness through art, a conquering of pain through pencil, paint and ideas. We have physical responsibilities in life like jobs, families, houses, children or animals to take care of but we also feel this innate responsibility, at time, to hide our pain from others, to “be appropriate,” or only say what we think others want to hear. If we keep bottling ourselves up into the glass jar of responsibility we’ll just be tightly compressed watching life through a window. I don’t want to be tightly compressed and I didn’t want my kids to feel that way either, as artists or as people. I should have been bolder and stronger like Kahlo and instead of sheltering them from ideas outside their comfort zone. I should have taught them how to appreciate ideas different from their own.
Literature in high school opened my eyes to different cultures and I’ll never forget the teachers that didn’t censor and taught even through the uncomfortable topics like the day we had to decide whether or not to read aloud the word we were taught never to say in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened my eyes to a new way of thinking I was not accustomed to through the style of magical realism. It confused me at first. I didn’t understand why there were so many different names and it spanned so many different years. I hadn’t lived enough life yet to have my eyes opened to the idea that a family, or a town, can carry out a story across generations. I admit at the time I read the book I thought it was stupid but that’s probably because I was so Western-centric in my thinking. I hadn’t yet learned to be open to ideas outside my particular norm. Later in life, I lived in a place where relationships and families were so strongly tied that everyone seemed to know about everything before I did. I was on the outside seeing, but not feeling the collective consciousness of generations past and present. So this week, I’m craving cultures outside of my own and will continue to diversify my aesthetic to include HauteLit from as many diverse places as I can because I really believe diversity of thought makes for a more rich life experience.
I’m traveling back to Clarksdale, MS this weekend where I taught for two years and that has caused me to think about my experience there and to relive mistakes and regrets. I know that they have taught me to live fearlessly and to be responsible with my life by not letting responsibility get the best of me. As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida.”
“And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.”
Pablo Neruda, Canto XII from the Heights of Macchu Picchu
Latin American Boom Culture Crave Roundup:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
Julio Cortazar, “Hopscotch”
Sergio Mendes + Brasil 66, Mas Que Nada
Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Girl from Ipanema
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, Sugar Man