Saturday, March 26, 2011
Staring at a patch of reflected light on the red brick and black detailed facade of a building's fifth floor across the street from the room I sat in, perfectly still, the sweep of blond streaked bangs slowly made its way into my line of vision. I don't really SEE the patch of light, but am listening intently to the old ladies who are scratching on easels clustered in a semicircle around me. They are describing the tones of my skin, the arch of me browbone, the perfect red to make the shape of my hair. They are discussing with the teacher my gesture, the length of my limbs, what parts of my body line up with others, of overlaps, that I am thinner, my hair more multi faceted, my shoulders broader, eyes larger, mouth more unique. I am hearing myself be constructed out of visual references and colors, through the words of teacher student interaction, and I am stricken by how exotic and strong I seem in their word choices. Gorgeous, the teacher tells them, and I am excited for these elderly folk, to be acheiving brilliance at something so late in life. Inspired, she says, and I feel like I have brought a gift to these folks in the uniqueness and earnest quality of my pose. For the first time, I am curious to see what they have produced, as I never am ih classes where my years of learning make me keenly aware of deficiencies in their training and ability to reckognize what is actually present before them. When my break finally arrives and I unwind myself from my pose and nocholantly wander to the opposite side of the room...
I am horrified. They look as all paintings do at this stage of learning and age, like they are painting for the first time. The painting closest to me shows a figure with heavy breasts that are both larger than the sad little head. My "gesture" looks in most of these painting like I might vaguely be related to Quasimodo, in others, my prominent nose and poise reflect the features and stance of a gargoyle that might grace the sloping facade of notre dame. In classes before, I have been asked if I was a dancer, I how overwhelmed students with the intensity of my body's natural curves... but I never expected their work to be brilliant, or even necessarily informed, so I was never quite so taken aback by the performance that I witnesses during critiques.
When my break was over and I climbed back into my pose, my eyes finding the patch of reflected light across the street, I remembered a similar, but more devestating reminder of the difference between perception and truth, a lesson sharply taught during a recent first-time excursion to Boston.
"History is everywhere" I had been told, by US History professors and past lovers, friends and books I read about what Boston had to offer the curious individual. Quincy Market, after being talked up on the food network and previous boyfriend as a culinary haven was little more than an extended fast food network that seemed to me to descrate the idea of what it had been to the first american citizens, the city's center and central market for all goods and necessities, the major port for political discussion, influx of new ideas, and intimate instigator of the crown, as taxes on imported goods were caustically realized in this arena. The Commons, where everyone grazed their animals, and later revolutionary soldiers practiced, home of the Liberty Tree before the symbol of freedom of speech was torn down... well since it was February, it was empty, and the snow so deep that everyone just circumvented it. I know it must be different in the spring and summer, but everything still smacked of a social propriety, and after the intense feeling of community that Central Park in NYC inspired in me, I feel nothing but disconnected to the purpose of this sprawling little space, in the shadow of its IDEA.
After three days of stomping around in the freezing cold, desperately searching for whatever it was that moved the people I spoke to about Boston's wonder, or to FEEL the revolutionary spirit that made this the birthplace of America, and home to an incredible amount of Ivy League colleges that should be housing America's next leaders... I was hard pressed to find anything that wasn't commercial, let alone a single bookstore. After passing my third Urban Outfitters and Crocs store in the university district, my travel companion finally begged me to do "something historic".
Nothing horrifies me more than looking at the jacket of an individual who existed at some important point in time, like there is some permeating remnant of their soul and ideas in the decaying fabric. Museums remind me of tombs, holding on to the flesh and material existence of something, when the important part that suspends it in history, the animation and the idea have moved on. Just because I saw a bayonette, doesn't mean I know what it is like to insert it into another human due to the intensity of my belief of a cause. Just because I saw a moth eaten and shabby red velvet jacket that may or may not have belonged to John Hancock, doesn't mean I know why he was significant, why he was even remembered. That jacket is no more real to me than Prince Charming's red velvet costume piece in a parade of Princesses at Disney's Magic Kingdom. But, obviously, I consented, and we explored the old State House, where the Boston Massacre happened outside in what is now a busy intersection in the business district of Boston.
But I did learn something in the walls of this building, and it had everything to do with ideas. It also sparked in me strong emotions, which I had never expected. This tiny, boring museum, as average and typical as they come, unabashadely explained the reality of the Boston Massacre in a way that I have never understood it from US History loving professors, and the US History loving historians that wrote our textbooks. I have discussed the power of context before, and again, it strikes me like lightning that I am slowly beginning to compile truths underlying the development of our nation. Nothing is so profound as when you are physically present and are faced with your expectations of something greater than yourself, and come to awareness that everyone has misunderstood the reality. The events leading up to the Boston Massacre were fully provoked by an abusive crowd, and was an act of self defense, the kind we would vehemently fight for in this day and age... and every article written and conversation started by a "patriot" in the days following, completely lied about the foundation of the altercation, and it was upon this lie that the final spark of revolution was kindled. We came together as a nation, based on a lie we wanted to believe justified our urges, we took action on an emotional reaction that was not founded in any sense of fact, and that is the basis of this great nation.
If this was the founding of America... how has it lead us to what we are today? It is all there, presented without humor or chagrin, but with simple honesty for anyone who travels forth to this mecca to witness. But why is no one else fearful of what that means about the legacy of justice in our country? About the truth of man, and our willingness to confuse our emotions with what is right and wrong?
The idea of Ben Franklin's "Join or Die" statement fascinates me, as I have a deep respect for the idea of loyalty... but I do not confuse loyalty with outdated doctrines and ends justifying means. I am no longer innocently accepting of the ideas our nation was founded on, because there is little truth in any of it. I do not say the pledge of allegiance, but it has nothing to do with the fact that God is mentioned... it has to do with the fact that I do not believe my leaders to be infallible, and I refuse to give away my freedom to disagree with their motives. My loyalty is to justice, and to basic human rights, but I will not overlook them when my government finds it expedient.
I pledge allegiance to my own sense of morality, my ability to see right and wrong, and will never willingly give up my ability to act as I feel is right. But I am a lone individual, just another face in a sea of tourists who press their faces to the glass enclosing John Hancock's jacket, and take pictures of a sad, dusty white wig that used to mean something, but what it is, they don't care. They have a picture that proves they were there, that they ate at the Red Lobster in Boston, and it was just as good as the Red Lobster in Times Square, NYC, and just as good as the one in their hometown.
And somehow, that is enough for them.