Thursday, August 25, 2005

Soltera PART II

While at a club in Barcelona, I experienced a particular frustration related to my aloneness. (The distinction for me between "loneliness" and "aloneness," which I'm not even sure is a word, but will serve here, is something I may explore later) A man began furiously dancing near me and several other women. He made contact with several women as they walked by or were standing near. Automatically, I wen to that place I go emotionally that turns everything off. I close down the openess that is so familiar to those who know me and become withdrawn. And angry. I feel upset that I feel forced to go to the closed place, since the open place may leave me vulnerable to whatever this other person is dishing out...a far more scary prospect to me. He didn't come any where near me, though he came near to several people around me. Then there was a guy approaching women who leaned into their ears and asked them to dance. Each women was very put off by this, some ran, some pushed him away. He approached just about every woman around me, but avoided me. My guess is because I had closed myself off then too. Next there was a guy who caught my eye at one point. I tried to look at him rather neutrally and he just stared. He then placed himself across from me. Later I moved to go talk to someone and when I had settled in my new location, he had moved right next to me. I moved again and this time he moved to a location not far from me, but well within my sight. Again, I could feel myself closing off, and feeling less and less like the fuller version of myself that I love and enjoy. So what are the alternatives to the hard looks and closed body posture? Telling someone off? Staying open at the risk of letting someone in who I'll propbaly have to reject later anyway?

The next day in the mall, a man who is walking toward me says hello. I say hello back. He changes his direction and begins to walk with me. He asks me if I want to go to a bar. i tell him know. He puts his hand on my shoulder and holds it tightly, I wrench away and tell him I'm not interested. He grabs my hand and tries to kiss me. I pull away forcefully and tell him no, almost screaming. I felt very alone then. I told God immediately that I did not feel safe as soon as I could catch my breath and that I wonder constantly how to balance my openess with the fact that there are some people who want something that I don't want to give them. I think of that scene in the book of Luke where Jesus runs away from a crowd of angry people who want to throw him off of a cliff. I remind myself that it is not only ok, but necessary to protect myself. So why does it make me feel so crappy? If it's a natural part of the human cycles of interaction, why do I feel so imposed upon. To further agitate the system, I saw the man, seated across from me on the train the next day. I couldn't look at him, though I could feel him look at me, then look away. The power that this man has, who gave it to him? Did he take it? Did I give it to him? Do I want some? All of these things were flashing through my head for 5 of the longest train stops. Do men ever feel threatened like this by women? Why or why not? Part of my anger stems from the sense that I feel like the imbalance is unfair. But there is also this worry that by embracing the feral, instinctive energy that rightly seeks to protect me, I may lose touch with the openness that is also sacred. I want the two to be in a rhythmic balance with one another, and for each to be at my disposal. I should be angry at people who use negative energy to impose and intimidate, I should also be able to recognize my own fear without being crippled by it. It's not like I'm afraid for no reason. Stalking and physical agression are serious matters. But I want to sidestep the trap of "what did I do to deserve this" or "how could I have let this happen" or "now I'm stuck here" or whatever else that chimes in where indignance for the other's lack of respect should be. I have every right, like Jesus to make the choice to leave a situation like that, or stay and deal if I feel like there's something important I can get out of it, and if I feel safe.

Not having the support system I talked about in the other entry certainly amplified my emotional state about them. On the other hand, the quality alone time helped me find another kind of peace & quiet. I am grateful for both, the friends that have been so undersatanding & empathetic, as well as the continued development of a discipline that allows me to find peace in myself.

peace from within,

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Soltera en Barcelona

It´s a strange experience, traveling alone. Truly I love it, and must insist upon it every few years. But it is not easy. The alone part is the easy part, the part I enjoy most. But the unsolicited interactions, especially the negative kind, bring out things in me I´m not often forced to confront alone. Usually, if something awful happens on the street or on the subway, I pick up my phone right after and call Elana or Deb or Mona. At the very least, I know that when I get home I´ll have someone to release with. But here, alone, it´s different. I have no mirror in which to see my reflection. That´s tough for a girl like me who learned at a young age that things like anger were unlady like. So it has been foundational to my growth as a human being to have women who could be a mirror to my inner goings on with statements like "he did what!" or "you want me beat er up" with an assurance that only your sister can deliver. Thinking now, my feeling that anger was not appropriate for a polite friendly open girl (a sort of morphed looking glass version of myself...I´m all of those things, but not at the expense of forgetting that I´m also picky, ocassionally impatient, and yes, angry at the things that make me angry) probably led to an overattachement at the "wrath of God" in the Bible. God was necessarily harsh in proportion to my innability to approach and accept anger within myself, even if, and especially when it was appropriate. I grew up thinking as a young Christian that God ws constantly angry at me, having misunderstood anger so intensely. I have to stop here, cause my internet Euros are up, but I´ll leave this here for a while and revisit it after a few days. Please excuse the typos, there are about 6 faded letters on this keyboard...

peace from Barcelona...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Barcelona: Like I´d Never Seen the Sky Before...

Cheesy, but accurate. Among the highlights-
· The cab driver who insists I must stay until I find a husband, then move to Andalucia, it´s beautiful out there.

· The rudest vendor known to man who insists that America is poor, my bag is too big to not spend money in his store, boasts that his family owns 47 tiendas on the Ramblas (and they do, but who cares!). Elana insists that this was flirting which reminds me that back in the youth of my Christian faith, I used to tell guys like him that my boyfriend Jesus wouldn´t appreciate the way he was treating me. I´ve come a long way from throwing my man´s name around, but whoah, if I ever wanted a bodyguard it was for types who flirt like a bull fight. Needless to say, I purchased my gifts elsewhere. For more money, I might add.

· Speaking of money, here´s one of those SAT like analogies (which have since been banned)

EURO: T-bone steak, prepared by 5 star chef
US DOLLAR: Wendy´s hamburger, thrown in the street

BANK of AmErica, YOu are BANK of NOTHING!!! NOTHING!!!
(the feds are for sure gonna get me for this)

· I am all paella-ed out. Almost

· So far I´ve been to Casa Battlo, Sagrada Familia, Vila Olimpico, Museu Picasso, The Ramblas, and tonight I´m seeing Flamenco. Tomorrow Montjuic, and Tuesday, my final full day, Parc Guell. (forgive all the missing accents and stuff, I still don´t understand these Euro keyboards..)

· I am all Fanta-ed out. Definitely. I forgot that Fanta is supposed to be on my no no list. It has caffeine. How did I discover this? I drank half a litre of KAS limon (Kas is to Fanta as 7 Up is to Sprite) and had the most absurd dreams I´ve had since childhood. So what am I going to do with the other half? mmm...maybe more dreaming, yeah, I think so yes.

· Is there a Kas/Fanta addiction recovery group for when I get back? Wait. Did somebody say Sunkist?

Monday, August 08, 2005

From the Connecticut Valley...

When you last saw our heroine, she was starring as Essie in the play ROBESON produced by ASC/NYC. Since then I lost a few students to graduation, lost one friend to the heavens, taught for three weeks at the best summer camp EVER, ( produced a show in Hartford (Drink To This 2005!) and will be leaving post haste for Barcelona, Spain. Can you imagine why I haven't had time to BLOG? So now I'll try to practice a little discipline and write every two weeks. We'll see what happens.

I have been having a very difficult experience with one of my poems. It's called Sonnet for the East St. Louis Massacre, 1917. Inspired by Fish's Emmett Till study (a series of poems) and my own research of Jesse Washington's lynching and Ida B. Wells Barnett's account of the East St. Louis Massacre, a poem finally materialized. I've seen Without Sanctuary, read David Margolick's Strange Fruit, the biography of the song, and of course listened to versions by Holliday, Simone, and others. So after writing the sonnet, I set it to music. A blues.

I performed it once at Acentos. It was the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I think it spoiled me, because they listened so intently and respectfully. They heard the message and not just the song. I had great convos after.

Then I sang it for my friend Julia. Softly, while she sat in my room, I strummed my bass, and almost whispered the song. The anger was a tight stream, threaded through the needle of my voice. I wasn't directing the song to her, she was not my audience, she was a witness. I wanted to share it with her in a gentle way. It changed the performance.

The last time I performed it was at Bar 13. Throughout the performance I felt deeply dismayed. There was so much responding to the sound of my voice, which I hadn't prepared for. Of course I know that people enjoy the voice and the performance, but with the go 'head girls, and the ooh she can sings rattling from various places in the room, I was afraid that the message had been missed. The more I sang with passion, the more response there was to my vocal choices. I felt gross, as if I had betrayed the song. Could I imagine someone screaming as Billie sang Strange Fruit, "ooh that girl can sing!" It probably did happen, and it took many singings of that song for people to realize what was really happening. And some people still don't in spite of his historical (maybe histo/racial)significance. Well, I wished that I had said the poem instead of sung it.

But something incredible happened that washed away the dirty feeling. A man stopped me on my way to the back of the room and explained that his grandfather had played a role rebuilding the city after the massacre. I wanted to know more. He said the song was to close to home. So I politely asked if we could talk about it someday, and not then. I thanked him. We embraced. It was meaningful. All of a sudden my insecurities about my voice obscuring the song didn't matter. I had sung for the most important, immediate reason in the room, and for several other reasons that may not materialize for many performances to come. The experience belonged to those who enjoyed the sound of my voice and those who understood the weight of the message. He wasn't the only one. Others began to talk to me not just about the voice but the message.

I think that I will continue to sing it, and maybe sometimes recite it. I think I may gravitate toward singing it as simplly as possible to preserve the words. It may not FEEL right at first. But I remember the simplicity of Billie's Strange Fruit. I remember singing to Julia in my room. I've decided to perform the song whenever I feel it. Walking the street, at an open mic, in the shower. The message is too important for me. It is part of my skin. This song's journey has just begun. And I think there may be another sonnet/verse still to come.

If all people ever know about me is that I love palm nut soup and I hate lynching, that might be what they need to know. Inside of those two things stand the seeds for my history. Palm nut soup means, I love reds and oranges, family is all hands in the same bowl, it means I love the song of seeds, the music of a fufu pound, I love the wet air taste of Accra, I love hands, creation means the collaboration of elements, and I am a fusion of elements hand picked by a creator, emotions and food should move through the body and not get stuck, I love to call & respond. Hating lynching means I despise arrongance & cruelty, I want justice against oppressors, I want to recognize death, revolutions begin with music, no life is static that is remembered by a loved one, and the evil that men do lives after them.

Sonnet for the East St. Louis Massacre, 1917

Where head was crowned with pavement, brick and stone
Where teeth like reddened jewels glittered the street
The hum and crack of thrice exploded bone
The bleed and split where fist and child's jaw meet

bend limb, break knee, crush mouth, scream loud, tear skirt
Take singing tongue and cut it at the root
Push down, kick fast, make eyes flesh 'gainst the dirt
White mouth gapes wide for taste of poplar fruit

Who watched the Eckford boy get stoned and flayed
Whose sister lay in black and scream and blood
Who dipped his hand where black bloodbath was made
Whose fourteen year old hope was dragged through mud

The risen stench of East St. Louis shame
Shouts forth from heaven, calls us each by name.