Near the end of every quarter, my students write their own manifestos. I mentioned in another post that they read examples from Italian Futurism, the Harlem Renaissance, and Modernism and then write and perform/present their own. This past quarter I found them particularly moving. I had one of those teaching moments where I looked around the room and realized something sacred was happening and I had nothing to do with it. My students were the ones who showed up and sanctified our classroom with their words. One manifesto was about tagging and a gunned-down friend; another was about being male and overweight. There were tears and solemnity until my chattiest student piped, “Where’s yours, Hope?”
Where was mine? It never looks good when the teacher herself comes unprepared.
And so, with apologies to and gratitude for F.T. Marinetti, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Jacques Derrida, here is my manifesto:
We stayed up all night, my friends and I.
In my youth, I would have started it that way, definitely (students: note spelling). Defiantly, if you prefer that spelling. We were defiant in the streets of San Francisco. The chemicals kept us up all night—the California kind, Anchor Steam, the glitter on our faces, the gel in our hair—and we strutted through the Castro, claiming it as our own. It wasn’t the hanging mosque lamps and their radiant electricity that enabled and emblazoned our nocturnal reverie; it was the darkness itself. We pushed against it with our collective youthful zeal. And—take heed my promising, willful students—the night won.
I’m not a morning person, but I can see that morning cleaves the night, that daybreak is a drawing up of the curtain. This induces me to welcome the dawn, the labor of light. As Thoreau admonishes us, “only that day dawns to which we are fully awake.”
As you get older, you split. Night/Day, Woman/Man, Rural/Urban, Body/Mind, Donkey/Elephant, Herbivore/Carnivore, Here/There, Nature/Nurture, Us/Them, Who I Am/Who I Was. Who are you? Now?
Remember, it’s only the language that can string ideas together over time and place. Only the language can you remind of who you were meant to be. And who you were, when you marched around fine cities with your legion of friends and bewildered pain with your unrelenting wildness.
To make their strings strong, I want my students to know words like advocate, manifest, magnanimous, temerity, dexterity, deduce, intuit, and perseverance. Consciousness. Oppression. Gratitude. Integrate. Ponderosa, piñon, loblolly. I pine for you.
One morning in San Francisco, I woke up on the couch, sitting upright, fully dressed from the night before. That’s when the spell broke. And I became a mourning person. Let me tell you what I learned that night and from the dawns that have since followed:
I believe that there is no right answer
I believe we focus too much on the end product in our culture
We have lost the knowledge of our bodies
We have lost the knowledge of our land
We have squandered the process
I believe intellect and heart are not at odds
Odds are, you need them both to make any goddamn sense of this world.
I believe that we know what compassion is
When we inhabit the body of another
Writers, actors, and all other artists do this
With their characters, their subject matter, with you and me.
I believe there’s something out there
But I believe it is so beyond our comprehension
That it could never fit under the umbrella of a name, a word
An approximation of being
I believe that the story is all we have—the utterance of a guess—because:
<Nothing is permanent>
Falling to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
The seminal adventure of the trace,
Missing me one place, search another
The consecutive wrong turns that complete your circle,
Unite your story—
—I stop somewhere
This—and a certain amount of requisite suffering, stemming from thinking too much and breathing too little—is for certain
waiting for you.