I Believe We Must Write It on the Wall
Walls. What to do with them? If they’re treated as something more than sheetrock, they may get a homey picture or two. If they’re treated as symbols, they are typically approached with either an ideological wrecking ball against social divisions or visited with tears or vigil candlelight, neither of which can erode enough the solemn stone of memoria.
But these thoughts are not on my mind as I press another hot pink Post-it note to my bedroom wall. I do not think of Frost and wish the wall down; I do not mentally slip between the cracks like a prayer tucked into the Wailing Wall, hoping my one small act will yield recompense or universal reconciliation. It is simply a 3”x3” patch of memory from the other night when my mom told me she used to regularly order, after a long day of teaching, a pink squirrel drink, “stiff enough to support its malted milkball nuts.” Chuckling, I look to the note’s nearest neighbor: a lime green Post-it that cryptically reads “Recognize storytelling as a geopolitical act,” followed by “African woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize found the story of the importance of trees and water conservation by listening to locals’ concerns. Echoes Wendell Berry.”
As my eyes drift further down, they scan in notes on Aztec sacrifice rituals, PCB chemical levels in Florida dolphins, and favorite lines from Willa Cather. And then, as if searching for a lost beacon, my eyes light onto the notes that hold snippets of keepsake conversations with my grandma. This lavender note triggers the time she witnessed a homeless man fashioning a life-size Christ figure out of the clay mud beneath a bridge in rural Owatonna, Minnesota during the height of the Great Depression. “The man had no shoes, but he had his hands.” And this yellow note mentions Eddie Belina, the seventh grade boy who bought pencils that could be sharpened at both ends just so he had an excuse to stand longer by the pencil sharpener to secretly pass my grandma notes.
If I step back after a few moments’ meditation, the fluorescent Post-its blur into something resembling a patchwork quilt or a psychedelic wall of words shimmering like strings of doorway hippie beads. Each note transports me into a slightly different dimension of my life. Each smile of recognition or whispered “Oh yeah” is a synaptic bridge to a part of where I came from and a reminder of where I wish to set my sights on next. My wall is like a stunning graffiti art mural on the side of a dilapidated building in the “misjudged” part of town. Amongst the slings and arrows of living, people may not expect such vitality to survive, but the enduring beauty in a wall of expression is the courage it takes to be so vulnerable, so open. It is a rampart for the spirit.
While the current economic stimulus plan may call for fixing the infrastructure of our outer world, I believe in claiming a piece of wall to paper with the small bits of conversation, quotes, stats, or questions that surprise in us the wonder that a wallet will never provide. Yes, there are online bulletin boards and chat rooms and blogs, but they are ephemeral and limited to the size of the computer screen. As I see in my students who share their writing during open mic time, there is power in going public; there is communion in the face-to-face gathering. As I hear from colleagues involved in posting lines of poetry on roadside billboards for the enrichment of passing motorists, there are ways to connect beyond the buzz of a modem. Even the sidewalks of St. Paul reflect this creative drive, as local residents’ poems are cemented into walkways.
October 20 this year is declared as a National Day on Writing—a chance for people of all ages to send in samples of what they write to be posted on an online National Gallery board, hosted in part by the National Council of Teachers of English. What if we extended that spirit of community into our physical communities? My bedroom wall is a gallery of my mind; each walk past it is an exercise in the art of remembering. Instead of wailing walls, why not wishing walls or wonderment walls lining city halls, parks, or highway sound barriers? What if our hopes were etched in stone with as much national reverence as the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall? And, hey, President Obama, even FDR employed artists as part of his national recovery plan.
I believe the landscape of the heart starts at home, and a heart that remembers is fertile ground for growth, even if it comes from scribbling a sprig of thought down on a Post-it. At least it is there to return to and tend. After all, as one of my Post-its reminds me, if Oliver Wendell Holmes warned us about verbicide—the power of misused words to degrade truth and ultimately people—surely our words might also be the taproot of what can raise us up, beyond barriers, to the heights of our better dreams.