Starting a blog is a daunting matter. Not because I fear writing, or even writer’s block, but because I have pondered for days as to where to start. The obvious, predictable route would be to begin with my current disillusionment with the big ‘O’. I must say, it is certainly tempting to begin with words like democracy, equality, privatization, accountability, pedagogy, plutonomy, aristocracy, corporations, hedge funds, vouchers, charters … village idiots.
I’m always in the mood for a good game of connect the dots… but, I won’t.
Instead I will start at the core, at my core: a fragile yet strong, stubborn but forever changing, Puerto Rican grandmother. I knew her as Gaga although others called her Connie, Tati, Madrina… mi abuelita. She is my core. She taught me the basics of life and she always started with education. Throughout my whole childhood, during my college days, and long after until she left us, I was warned over and over that if I failed to get that Diploma, or that Bachelors, or that Masters, she would surely spend her eternity stuck in some purgatory due to my apathy. She would claw my hand with her rosary, tight in her grip, and remind me over and over to study hard and learn all that I could.
She was a special sort. Born in 1911 on a tiny island now part of Puerto Rico, she had seen the world for nearly a century before she passed on. She spent over eighty years sewing. Day in and day out, she’d wake at 4 am, ride three buses, first across New York City, and then later in life across Miami, to the garment district. She would sew until long after the sunset. She’d then begin the long ride home. I spent many long hours on those buses with her. She passed her time reading. She read anything and everything she could get in her hands. She carried scissors and cut articles out of newspapers and magazines. We learned quick with Gaga not to leave important papers around.
What strikes me now, looking back, is what she did with all those cut outs. I never thought twice about her behavior until I made my way into the world of social media. You see, mi abuelita, lived in the days before computers. Her information came from print. She absorbed books by the chapter. She read many international newspapers, sold by the old Cuban man in the fancy shirt who stood on the corner of Calle Ocho. She also read the NY Times, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and, yes, the National Enquirer. Reflecting, I realize now, she was not just reading. Every last scrap of cut out writing contained tiny, cursive notes… scribbles. In English, Spanish, and French, she wrote on everything she read. She circled words, silently argued with the writer, or left herself precise notes. At least, I always thought she was writing to herself.
Now, I realize, she was calling out to whoever might read. She was arguing politics with the world at large on a tiny scrap of paper. She was etching out her opposition in every word, fighting a revolution in print. She taped articles up on her walls in the kitchen, in her sewing room, around the toilet. They were everywhere, creating an interesting wallpaper. She gave out clips of articles to the mailman, the bus drivers, to anyone who came near her, and to me. She always insisted that the recipient read every word and study the clip. It was always ‘muy importante… muy importante’.
Decades later I realize that I have become her. That is, I am the 21st century version of her. I may not cut articles or even own a pair of scissors, but I am the queen of cut and paste. I may not buy world news from the trusted friend on the corner, but I turn to trusted new sources, friends, and blogs for information. I may not scribble in tiny cursive writing, but I have become pretty good at expressing myself in less than 140 characters. She taped her cuttings up on door frames, I post my thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.
Though different, we are strikingly similar.
She taught me well. She chiseled into my core the need to read, analyze, synthesize, create, recreate, and transform. She knew that there were pieces of puzzles in the articles that she cut. She saw problems and she knew she had a duty to make note of those problems, be it the economy, social issues, or politics. She had misgivings about any power misused. Considering the trials of her 95 years, she had good reason.
Most importantly, she made sure to teach me how important it is to stand up to wrongdoing, to voice dissent, and to see through the smokescreens. Her cut out puzzles of thoughts were my first dots…
I have been connecting ever since.