Expecting To Fly 2 / by Lorraine García-Nakata

I often work on two of my three creative disciplines during the same period (visual art, writing, music). They feed and inform each other. I've been scribing a collection of writings about my early years, not all of them were charming, yet they provide a back story for who I am and what is important to me in my public and private life.

As I considered writing about my early years, I reflected on how fortunate it is that historical works are being published and produced in film documenting key segments of California and U.S. arts/cultural events and movements. We've only just scratched the surface, and even on this historical level, there's much be told. Yet, as I've looked over my own years, and those of others in the arts/cultural arena, it occurred to me (that as a third generation woman of color, whose mother was born in this country in 1920 with me to follow), that our experiences, predating cultural moments of the 60's and 70's, are an important part of the historical record.

In a recent conversation with Justin Torres, (author of We The Animals (www.amazon.com/We-Animals-novel-Justin-Torres/dp/0547576722 ), we discussed our mutual approach to writing chapters as they come forward instead of imposing a timeline order. It made me relax to know this approach also worked for him. Justin's novel is fiction yet fundamentally biographical. I hope you'll pick it up because his back story is important in the way I just shared. 

So as I wrote about my early years, it made sense to also explore a series of large scale drawings depicting the child/young woman I was at related time periods. Below is a detail image of a larger drawing of me at ten years of age. That was an intense period in my life and I wanted to make sense of an often chaotic environment. 

Visit my website to see more work: http://lorrainegn.com/

I'll share a few excerpts of my writing that reconcile with the self portrait series. Excerpt breaks are indicated with (......)

Title: My Name Is

MOM gave me the name Lorraine. I don’t let anyone call me Lori. I’m not sure why really, maybe because calling me Lori takes something away. Small children sometimes can’t say my name, so they call me “Rain. That’s the only time I answer to a shorter name. My last name is García, but it really isn’t my last name.....

This Saturday, Mom and I are the only ones home, moving around doin’ our own stuff. The “kids” are all outside playing, scattered like mice in all directions. I call my younger sisters and brother “the kids.”  I guess because Mom and my older brother drew that line to distinguish the older kids from the smaller ones. I'm ten years old and one of the older kids.

Right now, I don’t’ feel like going outside in the heat and kind of like the quiet, which is rare in this two bedroom house, a house hosting six girls, two boys, and one parent. My mom sleeps on the couch in the living room. She’s usually tired after a ten and twelve hour cycle that includes working a full shift at Rideout Hospital, then going back later for the migrant night clinic.  They need her because she’s the only nurse that speaks Spanish and this way the patients are understood and will know how to take their medication. Kind of important. Once we’re in bed, Mom props up two small pillows on the living room couch while watching Johnny Carson on our black and white T.V. His voice is the only male voice that puts her at ease at night and makes her laugh. She listens to him until her eyes close.  Later his voice disappears into the salt and pepper static buzzing till one of us gets out of bed to turn off the TV.

We don’t see Mom much and most of the time can’t wait to hear her enter the house. Screen door squeaking and slamming behind her, “I’m home,” she enters, her face quickly shifting into a scowl, “Wow, this house is a mess. With all these girls people are always telling me ‘Ms. Garcia, your house must be spic and span.’ So much for that,” she finishes. As mom moves across the wood floor, her frustration cuts through several kids lined up with eyes all big and looking up at her. She’s right. We should be better at keeping things clean. Looking around at dishes in the sink and glasses on the table, I wish I could remember to think like an older person and remember these things instead of doing homework then running out to play.

So, on this Saturday, having time alone with Mom is like having a person catch you without notice in the middle of your regular day, and then sticking a microphone in your face giving you the one and only chance to say or ask things that sit inside you. Stuff that is right in the middle of you, like thick little blobs, things that are used to being swallowed and not said.....

Pushing my crayons aside, I move toward a bookcase, dragging along a chair to climb so that I can reach the big red dictionary. Balancing, I bring it down and onto the smooth wood living room floor. The floors stay shiny because mom encourages us to wrap towels around our feet, which we all do, then we slide laughing and slipping across floor paste wax until we’re exhausted and the floor is super shiny. Mom is also a creative problem-solver.....

My small finger slides over thin worn sheets and I find the letter “L.” Finger stains on the pages show which letters are more popular. Flipping pages, there it is, my name waiting between “lorn” and “lorr.”  My worn overalls press flat between my rumbling belly and the floor as I prop my head up with a small hand. My elbow braces against the slick floor surface. I don’t know any other kids named Lorraine and have been wondering why Mom decided on this name. I figure if I understand my name, then maybe there’ll be some clue as to what Mom imagined I could do to help out. My chipped nail follows each line and shares that my name is “a region and former province of eastern France, ceded to Germany in 1871 and returned to France in 1919.”

Blinking twice, I go on reading, “The origin of ‘Lorraine’ is Latin: Lotharingia from Lothair, the name of a king (825-869). It is a French name having moved in and out of fashion in the few hundred years since it has been used as a girl’s name. It is also influenced by alternate name Joan of Arch––Saint Joan of Lorraine. In German, Lorraine is referred to as Loth-ring-en.

Sitting up, the ends of my black braids swing over my palms, palms whose life line starts out clear then breaks up mid-course. My lips pinch down against each other in disappointment. I don’t’ know these places or the woman Joan and there really isn’t any clue here helping to explain why mom gave me this name. If I could just understand this one thing, why I was named Lorraine, then maybe other things could make sense, other things about this family, my father, or maybe something, anything, about what mom wants me to do. She worries a lot and it seeps through her nurse’s uniform, white stockings, and shoes like invisible radiation. She doesn’t know that I notice and can feel this......
I'll leave you with this for now. Just know that when I write and draw, I don't struggle. I used to think that was necessary. Instead, my hands find their way over computer keys and large rolls of 100% rag paper. I've gotten used to trusting that may hands will continue to find their way.

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