By: Amani, Karina, Minhaj
By: Amani, Karina, Minhaj
It’s Black History Month. In my school, we celebrated by having performances of poems, dancing music and speeches by both students and faculty of the school. I was one of the people performing, and I would be performing the 3 minute ragtime piece titled Maple Leaf Rag, published in 1899 by Scott Joplin, an African-American composer. What brought me to that moment was my taking the time to learn complex melodies at home with my old keyboard 61 key keyboard. Of course, with there not being enough keys, since the standard size piano is no more and no less than 88 keys, certain melodies that required a larger range of key-playing were off limits. After a while of inconsistently showing interest in playing the piano because of this, my parents finally agreed to buying a complete 88 key digital piano, fully-weighted keys and all! With access a larger range of octaves and keys, I practiced more songs, varying in genre, and became more confident in my playing.
About a year later, in my senior year of high school, even though I didn’t take a music class, I took interest in the school’s music classroom and its mechanical upright piano. Because it was the end of the day, and the room was empty, I decided to play some music on it, both to examine the way it sounded, and for fun. Thinking no one from the other room on the other side of the hallway could really hear me, or really paid attention, I played it, and though it needed to be badly tuned, the ragtime song that I played on it still worked. After finishing the song, and being unaware of any real audience, I was surprised to hear applause from the music teacher and two other teachers from neighboring rooms. The music teacher told me that she was impressed with my performance and asked me if I wanted to perform for Black History Month on her behalf, since she wasn’t going to be able to attend and hadn’t put anything together for her students. Reluctantly, I accepted, mostly because it would’ve feel wrong to just sneak into her classroom to play music, and then decline when asked to perform. But, even though I was confident in my ability to retain the songs on my own, there was still some almost irrational hesitance regarding my confidence with recalling it flawlessly in front of a large audience.
As the day approached, I got more and more nervous about the coming performance. After all, it was a 3 minute piece. 3 minutes of having to play each chord perfectly at about 150 beats per minute. Each day I practiced on my electronic keyboard, I did manage to play it flawlessly, but once in a while, because I was somehow so anxious about the performance, there was a time where I would make a mistake. I would accidentally hit the wrong key, or I would draw a blank on where my hands should go next in the middle of playing. These occurrences, although minor, would feed my fear. It was my own nervousness of having to play it flawlessly, and my fear of not messing up that fed my own nervousness, creating a sort of self-sustaining paradox. Even though I was aware of it, it was still difficult to not be paranoid about it.
Then came the moment. After about a week and a half of practicing with the goal of making sure I couldn’t possibly mess up, the moment finally arrived. Behind me and to the left of me was an auditorium teeming with around 150 students, in front of me was the auditorium’s in tune upright piano, and underneath me were the pedals to the piano, and although they didn’t work, they weren’t really needed for the song I was playing. The air in the room was really warm, but I wouldn’t know if it was really that warm, or it was my nervousness making it feel that warm. I was still nervous, and even though I practiced the song I had already mastered every day for about 10 days, the feeling in my thoughts that I might still mess it up was still present. It felt like there was still a sizable chance that I might mess up in the middle of the song and forget what came next. But telling myself that even if I did, I would try my best to get back on track helped in a way, but not too much.
When the hosts of the performances introduced me, I felt the adrenaline and pressure hit me, but instead of being overly nervous, when I played, it was almost calming knowing that my nervousness, and the adrenaline were helping me to stay sharp, and to not mess up the piece. Getting closer to the end, I started to feel more and more content with my playing, and when I finally finished, it felt like the weight of nervousness that accumulated from this performance was lifted off me, and I felt a wave of the feeling of accomplishment. From that point, I had finally learned to trust that when I’m in the moment of applying skills that I spent time learning and refining, the sense of pressure wouldn’t always impair my ability to perform, but it can enhance it. Rather than doubting my abilities under pressure, I could look forward to it helping me stay sharp in the moment that it’s there.
The Tree of Dreams
The tree, a tree that I care more than anything else, a tree that helps me getting every difficult task done, and remembers me of the most inspiring person of my life, my grandpa. A tree that reminds me of all trips of every Saturday or Sunday, where me and my grandpa use to go when I was back in Italy. That tree, that every morning remembers me of an adventure, past, and the one I take every morning a step over my house door. A tree that will always have the summer smell of the nature, a nature that brings me back in the hills of Sicily, where my grandfather and I walked step by step, admiring what nature has given us, a gift that many planets in the universe do not have, trees. A tree that my grandfather took from the hills, and then plant it in front of my house, so that it reminds me of all the advice that he shared with me. The tree, which helps me overcome the greatest difficulties of this world.
My grandfather a medium height man, but that has the strength and the passion of a Spartan man going against everyone that stands in front of him. Nowadays, his hair are growing whitener than ever, but that is one thing that awaits for everyone in our old journey. He has blue eyes that reminds me of the blue sky that has been on top of us during every day journey with him. He taught me how to be myself to love every second of my life doing what I like to do and not what your parents would like you to be in the future, but to be yourself in everything that you do and to stand for your ideas and for the people that you love. He has and still is a very important part of my life and the only thing that has cut our relation is the distance between Sicily and New York, but that for us is nothing.
Day by day, what I remember is a past time, a time, where everything was beautiful and handsome. Trees is what I remember, then, a natural paradise, where the perception of our sense’s changes, because of the nature that involves you, as if it was the last match of an important team. Sicily, my island, this is what I remember every day, looking at the tree in front of my house, and while I look at it, it takes me back in there, like a time machine, but only the most beautiful memories will surround you, because at the end a life without good memories is not a happy life. Sicily an island down South of Italy, where nature is what makes everyone happy every day, just going out and seeing a volcano called Mount Etna, that can be seen from anywhere in the island. Some times in the year you can even small the smoke coming out of the central hole of the volcano, and as a Sicilian we already know that an eruption will come soon in the day.
Every morning awakening, what the tree transmits to me, are not only memories of the island where I was born, but also the nature that it transmits to the people that live near me, because it is considered one of the most beautiful trees in Gravesend, my neighborhood in Brooklyn. All seasons of the year it transmits a different emotion, but a happy one. During the summer it is always full of green leaves that makes me, my neighbors and even the animals happy. And this is what gives me strength when I have to face days when I’m bored and unhappy and it gives me courage, as if it were the person I would always trust, my grandpa. The tree reminds me of my grandfather, as if he is watching me waking up every morning, he’s what the tree remembers me of, because it was him who gave life to the tree, and my feelings for it. My grandfather, the person that I would never be afraid to say what I think of him, or something that went wrong that day, or just to express my ideas on something. Just so every afternoon I linger in front of the tree, as if I am talking to my grandfather, and say all the good memories that happened to me that day or other. While talking to the tree, I imagine my grandfather, as if I would be talking to him instead of the tree, and it’s this that gives life to the tree, like if it was a person and not a plant. I call it “The Tree of Dreams” because it brings me with him to beautiful memories, like the trips with my grandfather in Mount Etna, where nature envelops you like a burrito. Trips, where the beauty of nature is all you will remember at the end of the day, and where every step counts because nature changes every step taken. From flowers, to majestic plants full of color that gives the nature of the island a beauty, that diversifies it from the others. Every step, where my grandfather explains to me the birth of plants and how they manage to take their fascinating color that not many other plants have. Where step by step, you will have a different memory of the nature that surrounds you, and it is precisely this that makes it unique.
Since the tree has been planted in front of my house, it has helped me so much, overcoming the darkest periods of my new life since I’m here. The most difficult times, were when my family from Sicily are here to stay with us. The moments spent with them are always, and forever, the most beautiful once ever, since I was young. But when it’s time for them to return to Sicily, are always the worst moments, because saying goodbye to my family, and not knowing when I would see them again, it’s frustrating for me, and leaves me a sense of darkens inside me, because the most important thing that my parents taught me are to make a life of our own, and love your family. Therefore, I am so close to my family, especially my cousins. In all this, the tree helps me remember the best moments spent with them and then helps me both morally and mentally, to face any kind of challenge to problem that arises. Every day I spent some time talking to the tree, most of the time I tell it, the craziest things I’ve done with my cousins, like the time we jumped from a 12 meters’ rock near the beach where I live. Sometimes I even tell the tree, my feelings when I was around my friends, where the only thing that surrounded you was happiness. “The Tree of Dreams”, is where all best memories can live, where I can forget everything, and it also helps me to immerse only myself to what nature has to give us, where I can be the protagonist of all my dreams, where I am the key to change the story, where I will decide where it will take place and how it will end. Every day I ask myself a question, “who are we to decide our destiny?”. Only now I understand what the tree has tried to tell me, with past memories, is what my grandfather has been trying to teach me overtime with every journey that we had together is that, we are special, and a special person should not depend on others and try to not imitate no one, otherwise we will be robots controlled by one main mind. So starting from today when someone tells you do to something think with your mind, not with someone else’s.
Dr. Carrie Hall
April 30, 2019
Not as Seen on TV
Coming from a small island into this big country with so many moving parts it was very intimidating; not to mention attending school in America for the first time. School, where I come from, is very religious and really strict. We had our own stuff that made it fun. However, when I watched TV as a kid, school is America just seemed like so much fun. So, it’s my first day of school in America, and I was super excited but nervous as well. I walked in not knowing that uniform was required because on TV they never wore uniforms. I met my teacher and he was kind and welcoming. To my surprise he was also from the Caribbean, but he spoke “proper”. I walked into the classroom, and the first thing I said to myself, in my head was, “this doesn’t look like what was on tv.”
The kids on TV had lockers, cool book bags, didn’t wear a uniform, they seemed very free-spirited, the food in the cafeteria looked good, they had classes like music and dance, and it just didn’t look like school was a lot of work in America. However, in reality, the students looked bored, everyone was wearing uniforms, and the teacher was actually teaching. The food was terrible, there were no lockers, we were locked in a building like we were in a prison. Even the windows had bars. One thing I liked about my school in the islands was the fact it was near to a beach, so I would sit in my classroom with the windows open and feeling the gentle breeze passing seamlessly through my hair. I didn’t expect a school in America to be such a rip off from what I saw on tv, or maybe that’s just schools in Brooklyn.
I took my seat next to the radiator with my back facing the window and sitting next to me was a young lady by the name of Khadijah. Khadijah was very welcoming. She instantly said hi to me and told me what topic we were on. What stood out to me the most was when ask me what my name was. I was surprised because I had a preconceived notion that everyone was going to be mean, you know, because I’m the “New Kid”. Oh, and did I mention she was black. I’ve always thought that I would be in a classroom with a bunch of white kids but, to my surprise, my class was predominately black. For some reason my nerves calmed because everyone looked like me. Darker skin tone, kinky hair, and almost everyone was in uniform.
The teacher got in front of the class and began to teach math, my favorite subject by the way, and then he asked a question. Me, being me and knowing the answer to the question, I raised my hand with no hesitation. He called on me, and I answered. Instantly I felt different. It wasn’t because my answer was wrong. It was because it didn’t dawn on me that I was different from everyone else until I spoke and didn’t sound like my fellow classmates. I didn’t have an American accent. Then I felt the eyes. Almost all the students in the classroom were looking at me. I felt out of place like I didn’t belong. I looked like everyone else, we were all black…. but yet a bit different.
My brother also started school that same day as me but was put in a higher grade. His experience was very different from mine. That afternoon when we were talking about how our first day went, I noticed that the way he spoke changed. His dialect was different. He started to sound and speak like my fellow students and my teacher. Me being me I said to him “wha you talking in style for.” I said this because to me home was our safe haven, where we all spoke the same way, and I didn’t have to be the orange chip is a bag full of yellow chips, because at home we were all orange chips. However, it seemed like I was the only one having a hard time adjusting. To my entire family, I just needed to start speaking “proper.”
My family, who mostly speaks the same exact way as I do, is telling me that I need to talk “proper.” I knew what they meant by proper, they wanted me to speak like my American peers. I didn’t need to look like the kids on TV, but more so sound and speak like them. “Proper” to my family is speaking English with correct grammar and change of accent. Granted my grammar was horrible and to this day still needs improvement, hearing them use the word proper didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t because to me, they were implying that the way I spoke wasn’t right and that wasn’t ok. It made me feel like they forgot that in our home country mostly everyone spoke this way. At this point in was wondering to myself “should I stop being who I am?”
I am a person who takes the time to think about what people say and take it into consideration. The issue was that, I wasn’t purposely speaking with my accent, I just couldn’t turn it off and switch to talking like an American, like I guess my brother could do. I literally couldn’t because I genuinely tried to. I tried because I didn’t want to feel out of place in a place where I would be spending a lot of my time. Then I meet the librarian at my school. When I met her and started speaking the first thing she told me was that she loved my accent. That was something I have never heard before, and I didn’t know if I should say thank you or not. She went on to say, “you should never lose your accent, it makes you very unique.” After she said that to me, I went home and thought to myself, “she’s right, I should be proud of my accent. No one else in this place speaks like me.”
Over the years I have come to embrace my accent, and I love the way it comes out when I’m happy, sad, or mad. My education was never flawed because of the way I speak so, I will continue speaking with my accent, but in a professional setting I will speak “proper.” As a kid, watching TV and admiring how awesome school in American would be, I was naive to the differences that set me apart for those kids on TV. It did not help that TV shows didn’t do a good job of promoting diversity. It should have showed that students who don’t look alike and don’t speak the same way coexist. Especially in a school setting.