EZRA, more and more, as a black immigrant of more than three decades standing, as a citizen for a good long while now, I wonder about what exactly it is I am doing here. I am hard-pressed to produce an answer other than it is here, in this country, because of its resources, that I am able to do my work. But I do wonder about the price. Often. In several moments I do not know how to ward off the sheer immensity of the helplessness that overwhelms me. I am bitter to my core. Helpless, as I said, trapped in my inefficacy. I write to keep from dying. At least, I write to you to keep my helplessness in check. I doubt that I succeed to any great degree.
And so, consider this letter to you as the call for you to think in dual registers. I need you to do this in order that you might, in your own way, be able to imagine the world as you want it to be. I write this letter to you as conceptual map that signposts the limits of representative democracy while not refusing its strategic function.
You are not only an athlete, my son, a thirteen-year old who loves basketball. You are also a musician and a wordsmith. Already you live in many worlds. You practice the guitar, with great reluctance, daily. But always, when you practice, you strive to improvise. Improvisation is how you imagine new styles of dunking.
Does your basketball mindset carry over to your guitar playing? Are they of a piece?
Imagine the radical possibility, to borrow from the philosophical vocabulary of the saxophonist, composer, violinist, and trumpeter Ornette Coleman, that now is the time for “harmolodics.” Coleman’s harmolodics is that mode of making jazz in which no single musician dominates, in which they all are free to take their imagining as far as they can, building on the playing of those alongside them, improvising (“free jazz” it is also sometimes called) as they feel inspired to, but always, in turn, creating the conditions of maximum possibility for those who will succeed them. For those playing with them.
Nip, you are succeeding several generations.
“Tomorrow,” says Coleman, “is the question.”
Play, my son, the guitar, basketball, as if you have everything to lose.
Because, as you surely intuit, that is the only way to play.
Play as if possessed by the will to answer the “question” that comes from “tomorrow.”
Reach for it with all your might.