Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

“Thank you for the opportunity to read and edit your very amusing sample, amusing even to someone who is almost wholly ignorant of the political machinations going on here right now,” said the delightful message of a potential editor concerning my last week chronicle. I’ve been shopping around to enlarge my company’s staff by putting my own ass… oops, my own writing on the line. And I must confess, submitting my personal work to competent American professionals is a very sensitive experience for me — many would call it “fear of rejection.”

As an ESL writer, I admit, I’ve been also looking for a way to break into the American psycho… oops again, I apologize: American psyche. And if you think I’m just trying to be funny, you got it exactly right. The pressure has been too much on my side.

The editor I mentioned above also got it exactly right: Although I’ve been working hard on being amusing in English — which, in fact, is my “natural style” in Portuguese, no hard work necessary — I’m also almost wholly ignorant of the political machinations in the U.S. Between you and me, how could it be any different? Even if I can’t resist the temptation of writing about it, so much so that, after almost two years immersed in “the American experience,” this ignorance turned out to be my subject matter, something I know quite intimately, to say the least.

This has been a pivotal week. I even — “even” being the key word in today’s piece — went viral on Twitter, imagine that. Viral in my own terms, of course, but can you grasp the importance, for a mere pretentious foreigner, to have her tweets liked and retweeted more than 50 times?

I should have considered that my keen observation skills wouldn’t have just vanished over a few thousand miles, although I have been insistently encouraged to think of myself as someone inferior, second-class, with some kind of defective, irreparable outsider consciousness.

And it all starts at home, of course. I have to accept I’m still far from understanding this country, and I’m mostly ignorant of its history, and traditions, and linguistic subtleties. After all, English has more than a million words, not to mention its spelling is “random.”

Paraphrasing President Obama in Dallas this week, to be an immigrant in the first world is most certainly a “humbling experience.” And humbled I am; moreover, I feel repeatedly crushed, truly humiliated most of the time. My American husband, for instance, who is truly brilliant but not equally compassionate, makes a point of emphasizing my weaknesses, which makes me seriously angry. Daily. At him. At myself. Live with it!

All around us, these last few weeks, there has been a dangerous feeling of fear, of anger, of revolt, whether justified or not. And I have a firm belief that all this reactionary fever that infects us through social media just reflects the emptiness and neediness in our personal lives. In my case, at least, this is mostly true, or perhaps I just feel that way. Anyway, I got a taste of it this week on Twitter: It suffices to expose yourself to a certain extent in order to touch a nerve.

I am not the exception. Keeping things in proportion, I have not killed anyone yet, my current “sore spot” being the building of our Paris Mountain house. As you may well know, besides being a writer and an editor, I’m also a trained architect — although a Brazilian one, therefore… utterly incompetent. So I get really crazy when my husband tries to convince me that “I don’t know how to talk to people in America,” and the more the time passes, and the construction hardly progresses, I get increasingly prone to frustration and violence in my own terms. Earlier this week, when he told me I shouldn’t attend a meeting at our lot “in order to avoid bigger problems,” I lost it. I yelled at him, and cried, and sobbed some more, and then threw a butter knife over the breakfast table in the direction of his forehead. And I hit him! Poor thing!

Who the hell was this disturbed woman? Where did all this physical violence come from? This could not be the highly educated, sophisticated me. I was so ashamed of myself, a possible collateral effect of all this humbleness forced upon my shattering proud self, if you know what I mean (“Come on, don’t write that, you diminish your intellectual acumen by using these kind of hackneyed expressions,” my internalized husband advises, sounding horrified).

Meanwhile, as I was breaking my back to make this text flow, we had the following conversation, as Alan consistently tried to distract me with the usual plethora of overwhelming information that always follows every little doubt I might express, despite my protesting that I needed to focus:

“What I’m saying is genius, what you’re writing is ego!” Quod erat demonstrandum. What a pompous ass.

Now back to success: My 15 seconds of Twitter fame (and a few new followers) finally came after I made a harsh comment — “The hate is strong with you,” someone tweeted — about the erratic behavior of President Bush at the memorial last Tuesday, a funereal ceremony where dancing was not allowed, I suppose. He was trying his best to carry Laura and Michelle along, but it wasn’t working. They were not exactly in a jazz funeral procession, much less in a touching Kurosawa movie about a funeral, and the imposing circumspection around #43 — aka “George W.,” the eldest son of #41 — certainly confirmed that impression.

“I wonder if Bush was drunk in the memorial service in Dallas. He was dancing to ‘Glory, glory, alleluia,’” I bravely tweeted, without restraining myself. Et voilà, my patriotic ignorance shone through these brilliant 140 characters, which backfired immediately: “@nogasklar (the stupid, ignorant immigrant was barely implied), it’s ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic!’”

Let’s face it: The daily workings of a recent permanent resident’s life are an island of insignificant achievements surrounded by humiliating responses, no matter if you are in the supermarket, awkwardly talking to a contractor on a construction site, or worse, much worse, writing in English as a second language. So I humbly googled it, to reach the interesting conclusion that, not only the song in reference is also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” but it has also gone through a couple of versions, including a racist rambling entitled “John Brown’s Song.” Okay, I’d better “get off this train” right here, before I fall off the wagon (thank you for the idiom, fellow tweeter).

It was curious to see how conservative-sounding tweeters quickly reached the conclusion that I was a leftist, an enthusiastic Obama supporter with nothing nice to say about our last Republican president. Let’s leave it that way for today, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

At the end of the day, I learned a thing or two about America, the greatest. Literally. Late that same night, I watched a PBS documentary about the White House, and was truly humbled — not ironically, this time — not only by the courage and the importance of the United States, but also by its talent and indisputable capacity to show (should I say “sell”?) America to the rest of the world, something that, unfortunately, we seem to be somehow losing in the so-called Obama Era.

Long live the American dream, because we all need it. Globally. And I mean it.

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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