“If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” Author: Marcel Proust
Looking at this old photograph I found of myself while packing up the picture albums, I am struck by this young girl’s clear-eyed serenity. She is me. I am she. What did she know, I wonder, and when did she know it?
I believe she knew, even then, that the best imaginary places are to be found by staying fully awake to possibility in this transitory, sweet, unimaginably life-like existence. Thanks to her imagination, I have lived, am living, and shall continue to live my dreams as I am dreaming them.
I come from a birth-well of dreamers. My mother’s imaginary places were dreamed while leaning on the handle of a hoe in the sweltering Mississippi sun, or while washing dishes in the chaotic night, babies clinging to hip and leg, waiting for the screen door to slam, lower lip caught between teeth. Hers were all escape scenarios. By the time my father came along with his passel of dreams, taking her faraway to the sun-drenched shore of her imagination, to Miami Beach, long gone from the cotton fields, Mother’s wounded psyche had fermented behind her grateful smile.
As for me, the only stick I was ever hit with was a lucky stick.
From birth, my older sisters and others coddled me, spoiled me, and took care of me; teachers encouraged me up and away from the dark tides of tragic events, floating me into a slipstream of possibility, of “I can,” of a life lived in the best imaginary places.
As a young classical piano student, learning Broadway show tunes became my reward for long hours of practice and memorization. That engendered a love of singing, my thin, reedy, quavering voice notwithstanding. The show tunes opened worlds within words, and taught me a new, expressive language, a language with an emotional range unknown in my otherwise narrow, repressed life, a life bound and circumscribed by the strictures of regular doses of Sunday School, Training Union, Prayer Meeting and G.A.’s (Girl’s Ambassadors) at the Brandon Baptist Church.
One of my favorites, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for the television production of Cinderella, was “In My Own Little Corner.” I would play it at the piano, or walk around singing it. Sometimes I would pass by a mirror, catch my own eye looking at myself, and know that, unlike the girl in the song, I could indeed venture forth into the world and be whatever I wanted to be.
“I’m as mild and as meek as a mouse
When I hear a command I obey.
But I know of a spot in my house
where no one can stand in my way.
In my own little corner in my own little chair
I can be whatever I want to be.
On the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere
and the world will open its arms to me.
I’m a young Norwegian princess or a milkmaid
I’m the greatest prima donna in Milan
I’m an heiress who has always had her silk made
By her own flock of silkworms in Japan
I’m a girl men go mad for love’s a game I can play with
a cool and confident kind of air.
Just as long as I stay in my own little corner
All alone in my own little chair. . .”
from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version of Cinderella