Friday, August 19, 2011

Seeking counsel -- our greatest obstacles as human beings, as writers...

My real college counselor -- not the mustard crusted cardigan sweater guy who told me to minor in computers so I could one day get a real job -- was a security guard named Ricardo. He was in charge of safety and walked patrols. He was maybe forty, African-American, tall, lean, often tired, working the night shift, and he confessed to me, later, when we'd gotten to know each other, that when he wasn't working, he wrote his own music, played the piano.

I got to know him because he'd sometimes make sure I made it from (I almost wrote the library but my time there was limited, to be honest; my only vivid memory being a clandestine meeting to sort out some messy relationship; I became addicted to libraries post-college so I'll say) one part of campus to the other. We talked about stuff -- what we wanted out of life, the future, childhood ... Our conversations roamed and scattered. They were broad. Philosophical. Ricardo gave me advice on my future as a writer, as well as my relationships. He told me the greatest obstacle to love was pride -- he wasn't afraid to make proclamations and I was in a place in my life when I wanted to hear proclamations and turn them around and around in my head.

During my last semester, I was heaping on my classes to graduate early. I was in love with a Frenchman doing his mandatory military service in Antarctica and I wanted to be finished when he was free. Plus it was cheaper. And, moreover, I was restless to get going -- though the Frenchman and I didn't work out and I ended up teaching at a Catholic school come spring and pined for college where all my friends were blowing off their last semester in high color.

I ran into Ricardo in those final months while working late in one of the buildings. I told him that I'd be gone soon, and I said that I wished I'd heard him play the piano just once before I took off.

Well, he was a security guard so it wasn't a problem to unlock one of the classrooms that had a piano in it. He knew this classroom well and, I imagined, had spent some of his work hours playing it. I didn't expect much. My mother was a classically trained pianist. Ricardo was a campus security guard. I was being class-ist, was overly invested in the idea of formal education at the time.

He sat down and played me the songs he'd written -- melancholy, sad and sweet, nostalgic songs that, I'm pretty sure I'd recognize today if I heard one. They were good, as good as many of the melancholy songs that have snagged and stirred the music industry ... They choked me up. Granted, the whole thing choked me up. I was leaving school. I was heading out. I'd likely never see Ricardo or any of these friends and teachers again. It was a blurry, choked up time.

I did keep in touch with Ricardo for a while. I remember calling him when I got into grad school. He was happy for me and sure about me and my future in a way I couldn't muster. He was still writing songs though, as I recall, reluctant to perform (as my mother had always been); and there's something here about the greatest obstacle to performance (that exposure) being pride... maybe. Who am I to say?

In any case, we live with blinders on. We miss people who have things to teach us. I know I do. I know I'm so rushed and overwhelmed that I don't take the time to talk to people who might change me in some elemental way, for the better. And I don't mean those assigned to my case -- in whatever way that can now be perceived. I mean the people you pass by. In fact, I think one of our greatest stupidities and, in some cases, sins is our ability as human beings to keep passing each other by.

And it's particularly stupid of writers who need as many angles on our humanity as possible.

Okay then, that's all I've got to say ... go forth.