My Other Tribe

My Other Tribe
She Loves Color by the Deep Tour Guide, 2006, oil enamel on canvas, 40" x 36"

 

Last week, in posting "Renaldi's and the 1st Snow of the Season," I referred to Chicagoans as my tribe.

I wrote:

It's said there's strength in numbers. Over the past year I've realized just how powerful a team effort can be. With the support and encouragement of my tribe I've had the most prolific creative year of my life.

Then I went on to write:

When I left town all those years ago, I left more than Chicago. I left belonging to something larger than myself, and I became a lone wolf. Now that I'm back with the pack, I don't ever want to stray again.

An artist needs more than his studio, because art doesn't become art until it's appreciated. For that you need others. So, I thank you.

All this is true. But I was remiss in not mentioning that I have another tribe. While I was away from Chicago I became a member of another social group. I became a Miamian. Interesting how both cities are Native American names. They're Indian names. Real tribal stuff, man. There it is.

But Miami, and especially South Beach, where I called home, is such a cut-throat culture it's hard for me to call it a tribe. It's mostly a collection of con artists and thieves with a common understanding, which is: Do unto others before before they do unto you.

Not the best team spirit credo I've heard.

No, when I mean my Miami tribe I mean the educational community of which I became a part. That would be my students, their parents and guardians, as well as my teaching and administration colleagues. Since I also taught workshops, I include those students and faculty members of the schools and organizations where I did my thing. With only a few exceptions, these folks are truly like family. Because like my old Chicago pals, even when we became separated our love endured.

Facebook has made separation almost impossible if you're real about your tribal duty. You can't say you've lost contact with your peeps if you really want to remain in contact with your peeps. I don't care if your job takes you to the Arctic or a spiritual crisis takes you to the Himalayas, if you want to stay tight with your tribe all you have to do is log on. So in spite of moving from South Florida to the Midwest, I'm still in the classroom with my kids and my comrades. And it's a beautiful thing.

My Miami tribe regularly visits my FB wall. I post a ton of artwork there. I'm freaky prolific. I make art in litters. I just don't make 1 or 2 things after I conceive. I make 9 or 10 things. Which makes FB a far better place to show my stuff than a website. My creativity is so fluid it renders a website obsolete within weeks. I have a website, but rarely do I direct anyone there. It was updated and redesigned only 3 months ago, but as productive as I am, it could just as well be 3 million years ago. It's already Stone Age Jon Christopher.

So my kids and my colleagues visit me on FB to see what I'm up to. They love to watch me draw and paint. Sometimes they Like a piece I've posted, sometimes they Comment, but most times they silently observe me at work, just like they did in my classroom. Well, my girl Preana Wilcox, who was never one to keep silent for long, came running onto my Wall out of breath recently, much they way she used to run into my classroom when she was a student of mine. Now, 21, she's a woman in the world.

I've not physically seen Preana since 2005. The painting of a young lady above is a portrait I did of her in 2006, the year after our school closed. She's never seen it. She's not even been aware of its existence—until now. Surprise, Preana!

It's in the Expressionist style. It's in the visual art language that best fits my raw emotional experience of teaching in Miami's inner city. It's all about fundamental passions in the 'hood. It's all about keeping it simple, baby. Thus, my hand complied to urban law.

And it's in this tradition I now offer a verbal portrait of Preana. As I said, she visited me this past week with an urgent request that I read a poem she'd penned. You see, I not only taught visual art, I taught the verbal arts as well. I taught creative writing. I taught drama. I taught poetry. And my kids were incredible poets. The streets had made them adults before their time and writers beyond their years. So, of course, I eagerly agreed.

Below is our Message conversation on FB over the course of a few hours. It's written verbatim. Preana apparently uses a mobile device for Facebooking. Except for the poem,  her conversation is in the language of texting. I've italicized myself  for the sake of clarity.

 

HEY MR.CHRISTOPHER. IM KYNDA SAD N I CAN ONLY THYNK ABOUT WEN I WAS IN UR CLASS WRITING POEMS... I HAVE ONE BASED ON WAT IM GOIN THROUGH. WULD U LYK 2READ IT?

Preana, you're one of my all-time favorites. I taught hundreds of kids, but you're one of the few who really got inside me. I love your style, baby. So, sure. Give me what you got. My heart and my mind and my time is open to you.

can I call u

It'll have to be tonight. I'm tied up right now. Around 9 PM. My number is ***.***.****

ok I will u mr Christopher

HERES MY POEM!!!

"LIFE"

I WONT CALL IT PAIN

IT'S MORE LIKE LIFE

IT'S NEVER FAIR

BUT IT'S UNPRICED

EVERYDAY IS A FIGHT

ITS WORSE THAN THE DEVIL'S BITE

YOU TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE

BUT ONLY YOU GET HURT IN THE LONG RUN

YOU SMILE TO HOLD BACK TEARS

BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU'LL BE IN THE UPCOMING YEARS

YOU BLAME YOURSELF AND DOWN YOURSELF

BECAUSE YOU FEELS NO ONE CARES

YOU'RE SCREAMING YOUR PROBLEMS

BUT EVERYONE IS DEAF

SO YOU SCREAM ABOVE

BECAUSE HE CAN ONLY GIVE YOU EVERLASTING LOVE

NOW THAT YOU'RE ALONE

YOU HAVE NO PLACE TO CALL HOME

YOU STARE AT THE WALL

WHILE YOU'RE CRYING IN A BALL

YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT HOW YOU PUT OTHER PEOPLE FIRST

AND NOW THAT HEART YOU HAD FOR PEOPLE JUST BURST

YOU WANNA RUN AND HIDE

BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO MORE PRIDE

YOU BEGIN TO RUN BUT YOUR FEET WON'T BUDGE

JUST THAT MOMENT YOUR HEART LET GO OF THAT PAINFUL GRUDGE

THAT GRUDGE THAT KEPT YOU TEARY EYED

THAT GRUDGE THAT KEPT YOU UNFOCUSED AND DEMOLISHED YOUR SUCCESS

YOUR HEART HAS FINALLY PUT THAT GRUDGE TO REST

SO AS YOU WIPE YOUR TEARS FROM YOUR FACE

YOU REALIZE THAT LIFE IS MORE THAN A RACE

LIFE IS WHAT U MAKE IT

BUT YOU THINK ABOUT HOW OTHERS WILL TAKE IT

SO YOU SCREAM TO YOURSELF

AND YOU REALIZE NO ONE IS DEAF

THEY ALL HEARD YOU'RE SCREAM

BUT THEY THINK ITS A DREAM

YOU SHOW THEM THIS IS REALITY AND THE NEW PERSON YOU ARE

YOU SHED TEARS KNOWING THAT YOUR COURAGE AND SELF DETERMINATION WILL TAKE YOU FAR

SO YOU SMILE THE BRIGHTEST SMILE YOU EVER HAD

BECAUSE YOU WON'T CALL IT PAIN

ITS MORE LIKE LIFE.

PREANA WILCOX

 

This is powerful, Preana. And it's really soul smart. Damn, girl, how old are you? 20? 21? You write like you're 1000! Really beautiful. Really wise.

Now, I can tell someone has hurt you, baby. Hurt you bad. And I've been there, too. Believe me. I've been whacked loving and trusting people who betrayed me. But here's the silver lining in the cloud, Preana.

If you're smart, you'll take notice of what's happened. Your focus will sharpen. Your awareness will run high. And you'll realize--just as you have--what you were unable to before. And you will become enlightened. And you will become stronger.

I'm sorry I missed your call, honey. I've been tied up with stuff until now. But I'm glad I read your poem first and wrote you back, because reading and writing is sometimes better than listening and talking. It allows thought.

I love you for sharing this with me. I love you for still trusting me.

Mr. C

aaaawww mr.Christopher!! thank u so much, but yea, I've ben hurt by love, but I recently got fired Friday from my job!! :( n I'm 21yrs old! lol

Well, as tough as getting fired is, it does beat being left by someone you love. So things aren't as bad as I thought. Yes, lol. Silly misunderstanding.

But damn, girl. It was the way you wrote. It was your poem. It was so beautiful and so... well, poetic. I could only assume it was love loss and not job loss.

You write really well, baby. I strongly urge you to continue. It brings light to the world and fulfillment to yourself.

Mr. C

THANK U!!! I C U STILL LOVE PAINTING

Preana, may I publish your poem in my blog? It's beautiful, baby. I want the world to see it. I have many readers who I think would appreciate it.

YES!

Good! I'm posting Sunday. I'll give you a link right here.

ok sir:)

 

That's my girl, Chicagoland. That's Preana Wilcox. Alive and well and a proud member of my other tribe.

 

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