Fire at Dawn

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“Smoke”

My fingertips are the first to wake up. Then, strangely, my tongue, which distastefully notes the staleless of my mouth. Even though my eyes were still half glued with sleep, I am aware, in the neon darkness of the predawn, of Stephen’s shadowy form moving around the room. At the window, he becomes a man again, his silhouette tall next to that of the cactus on the windowsill.

“I smell smoke,” he says again. My sleep-heavy body lets in a new layer of sensation: sirens, many of them, drifting towards us from all directions. Their scream sounds like a red light, flashing and turning, fading and then becoming loud. Stephen comes back to bed, sniffing at the air but reassured that the smoke is not our problem. All I can smell, with my groggy nose, is the bitter perfume of wet cigarette butts. A light flashes by our window, briefly illuminating the cactus’s shadow in red and orange, and Stephen begins to snore. I lay awake with the scent of bitter cigarette corpses, amazed by the confidence sleep requires. It comes back to me eventually, that senseless confidence, and I dream of incessant floods.

Let Go!

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In the past month I’ve seen limpid lakes whose horizons stretched beyond the sky.

I’ve seen the lighters of 50,000 country music fans drifting in the darkness of Tennessee’s stadium.

I’ve eaten brisket, hot chicken, fried trout and fresh picked morels. I drank the cold  turquoise water of Lake Huron with my own two hands.

I’m back in New York, and last night was the best night of all.

At the Park Avenue Armory, Nick Cave’s “The Let Go” is an installation of strips of glittering mylar curtain gliding 100 feet long across an open dance floor. Cave envisions his art to be “a dance-based town hall—part installation, part performance—to which the community of New York is invited to ‘let go’ and speak their minds through movement, work out frustrations, and celebrate independence as well as community.”

Last night Cave and the Park Avenue Armory hosted the Let Go Freedom Ball where we could do just that, and it resulted in a remarkable night of glitter, dance and unbelievable costumes. Participants were invited to enter their costume creations in one of three categories: State of the World, Unlike Anything Else and Dare-Flair. Hundreds of ball-goers arrived in lovingly constructed creations: ball gowns fashioned out of plastic bags; Black Panther-style carnival costumes; sailor-with-a-disco-ball concepts; and really anything you could possibly imagine. As I danced in the revitalizing caress of Cave’s wandering curtain, I was “licked” by the giant tongue of a bouncing ball of gummy worms, and I bumped into a flock of women in futuristic silver outfits who were dancing on the other side of the shimmering strands of moving color.

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The night culminated with a ball-style competition where the costumes were walked, runway style, along an aisle cleared through the cheering crowd. Stylish neon monsters, glass mirror cyborgs, hyper vaginas and political witches each strutted their stuff to win the $5,000 grand prize in each category. Though the competition was fierce, I was struck by the positivity crackling in the air- though the New Yorkers pushed to see the show, they did so kindly, and they didn’t shove, which is the most I can hope for!

It was a gorgeous night of creative letting go. I’m so glad to be back.

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White Girl

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I am a white girl. That is one aspect of who I am, and though I vacillate on how important an aspect it is, I won’t deny that being a white girl, both in my home country of the USA and abroad, has a big impact on my experience of life.

I can’t remember being unaware of the weight that this particular quality holds. The elementary school I went to was the “alternative” public school in a university city that pats itself on the back for its progressive values. My formal education was a funny mix of strong progressive curricula taught by somewhat clueless, sometimes guilt-stricken white teachers (that’s how I understand them in retrospect. As a child they controlled knowledge, though rarely had a good grasp over the classroom). In high school I noticed, and enjoyed, when I was the only white student in a class. As a young adult, I roamed the hemisphere of the Americas, living in Trinidad, Brazil, Louisiana, Colombia and elsewhere. My self, my race, and how these shift meaningfully across political communities has always intrigued me.

In recent years, the way I think about being white and female has been jolted. The jolts come cyclically and sometimes unpredictably, the early contractions of the birth of something new. Mixing metaphors, my self conception, especially as it relates to my race, feels like the little silver orb in a pinball machine, bouncing up against walls, flying up ramps into new realms, and dropping down into the darkness of disappointment and shame.

The thing about being me, a white girl (and I’m not every white girl), is the ease with which I move through the world – sometimes doors are opened in front of me, sometimes hands are held out to help me up. Sometimes people smile. Most of the time I feel safe, at least as safe as possible in this world.

But I think about this ease, and the cost of it. There is experiencing life as an individual and there is experiencing life as a member of a society. As an individual, I want to be known for the qualities I have developed in myself, and for the blueprint my family layed down for me. As a member of a society, I want to be respectful of the lives and the happiness of others, of their families and histories. I want to work for our lives and our collective and individual happinesses. For me, being white sometimes means that the two lived experiences are contradictory.  I think I’ll have to give something up of myself for the health of this society.

But what? Is it my eager voice that I should quiet when I’m in a group of many other white women and a few women of color, shifting my self from expressive individual to listening demographic? Is it my delicacy that I should trash, as I interpret the critics of society as personal affronts? Should I stop asking for answers from people who have their own shit to figure out?

Yes.

My little tennessee

That’s the name of a song that one of my boyfriends bands does. It’s only appropriate because we’re in Tennessee right now. Tennessee is not mine, nor does is appear to be little. In fact, I’ve had a very soul-searching experience of having to confront my own misinformed prejudices while I’ve been here in the great city of Nashville.

We came for the Country Music Award Festival, four nights of country music in a steamy football stadium. I’ve got to sit down and write a computer post soon —not one of these off-the-cuff phone rants. But for now I’ll just say: tonight is our first night after the CMAs where we won’t be going to the stadium, and I miss it! I’ll miss the Dallas couple behind us and the fuzzy haired baby wearing ear protecting headphones. And I’ll miss the moths!!

#cmafest2018 #countrymusic

Great Water

A quick post after a longish trip: My mother and I went on an impromptu road trip around Northern Michigan. We knew that water would feature prominently in our adventures, because Michigan borders on three of the five Great Lakes. But Michigan delivered beyond our expectations!

Here are a few pictures of the great water we saw.

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Kitch-iti-Kipi: a freshwater spring of crystal waters that measures 40 feet deep. You can see straight to the bottom, past the trout and other fish that swim around, where sand puffs up with the water gushing in from the bottom.

 

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Tahquamenon Falls: The state park offers views of two large waterfalls, the Upper and Lower. I love how the water falls in an even sheet over the flat sandstone cliff.

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Huron Lake: I was shocked by the tropical colors of this Northern Michigan freshwater lake. It was so clean and tempting that I soaked my sneakers trying to cup water in my hands to drink (I succeeded, several times. Delicious!)

If I were me

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If I were me…

I have a little book, the collected writings that Brazilian author Clarice Lispector used to publish in the Jornal do Brasil, short little mediatations on the cotidian life of a bourgeoisie woman artist. For some reason, I find them very relatable.

One of my favorites is titled Se eu fosse eu. In other, English words: “If I were me”. Lispector writes that sometimes, if she’s looking for an important paper that she’s filed away and cannot find, she asks herself,  “Ïf I were me, where would I have put it?” And then she becomes so fascinated by the possibilities of “If I were me…” that she entirely forgets about the paper.

“I think that if I were truly me, my friends wouldn’t recognize me on the street because even my physiognomy would have changed.” That unrealized doppelgänger, the true me, the possibilities! Why not just live as her, the “me” who exists outside of time and history? There are no limits to what I would I do, if I were me!

Perhaps we cannot imagine the extasy of life as ourselves, the things we’d do and wouldn’t do. What I love about Lispector is her depth: in a few casual paragraphs, she brings the idea around. She realizes, “I know that, after the first calls to crazy celebration that being ourselves would be, in the end we would have the experience of the world. Better said, we would experience the full pain of the world.” Because what is this me that is sitting here, half undressed in the heat of Saturday morning, writing, if not the me I have created to avoid some of that pain? We learn to position ourselves in ways that protect from the full blast of life as we hurtle into it day by day. A crouch, a slant, a shadow to lessen the blow. And though the protective crouch means I don’t constantly launch into the largest, most graceful grand jeté, the leap is still there, ready when I am.

Love Flash Art

self portrait circa 1991 #beforeselfies 🤣#barbedwire #crosscolor #blackphotographer #soloshow #portraiture #queerphotographer #queerwomen 💕👊🏽💕#reclaimingmytime ✅
Lola Flash, self portrait circa 1991. (Retrieved from Lola Flash’s Instagram account Flash9)

 

Last night I heard the photographer Lola Flash speak with the founders of Women Picturing Revolution. Flash is enjoying a new found, well-deserved success at 59 years old, 40 years into her career. Flash is also a public school teacher, and this career has run parallel to her work as an artist. I say parallel because it doesn’t seem that the photography she creates is directly related to her teaching, though she does describe many ways in which the things she’s learned as a teacher have driven her methods as an artist.

I asked her how she did this. She is so dedicated to teaching, She is such a thorough, meticulous, careful artist. How can one person be both, without letting the two careers overlap? (I would be less incredulous if she were, say, a photographer of issues pertaining to education). She said it is hard. She said that she is very careful about planning and using her transition time: for example, she went to the gym and swam after school yesterday, before coming to the talk, and “left the kids in the pool.” She also said that she is single.

I am a teacher. I want to be an artist. I am also in love, and this love is my great work of the moment: growing the love, deepening it, cultivating it to stand on its own, to breathe without our constant attention. We want our love to be joyful and liberating, not archaic, heavy, not suffocating. Light love is work. It is luck and work. It is health and luck and work, like art. Is love art?

Is love necessary? Is art necessary? Teaching is necessary, I have no question about that. Nor do I have any questions about the necessity of love. And I know that Lola Flash has lots of love because to see her is to love her, and she is so committed to her work, her art, which is love.

 

Samba Journal 2: Practice makes perfect

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The drummers haven’t been showing up. We dancers are ready. In small groups, we flock onto the improvised stage like proud birds, chassé! In position, we face our audience, our reflected images in the mirror- 5, 6, 7, 8: we advance on ourselves, knees higher, arms wider! Spine straight, chest full and proud, I am a vision!

Kick, ball, change, turn- oops! Not yet. I need to go over that part. Stay, knees bent, hand on hip, left hand winding up to the ceiling and down up down up down up reach reach reach reach tuuuuuuurn. Finally!

When the part is over, we twist off the stage, disappearing into the eves and into our ordinary selves.

 

 Know yourself

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I try to sit quietly and find myself. I imagine I am somewhere inside, buried beneath years of social survival. I am like a firefly nestled in the pocket of the haphazard patchwork dress of my life, the pieces sewed together to create planes and correct mistakes, no grand design guiding it.

There is something true about me. Whether I was born with this truth, or if it was forged over time I don’t know. I am trying to return to this truth, because it is awkward living stretched beyond it. I have learned to be loud in a loud world: I am not loud. I have learned to be aggressive: I find no joy in controlling another person. I push the walls of what is true to me. But flexibility without strength causes long-term damage. Instead of stretching beyond, I want to breath into what is essential, stoking the fire.

 

 

 

The Sounds That Inanimate Objects Make In The Night

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A pop in the kitchen when you’re lying in bed. What is the name for space compressing? In this vacuum, the ear travels alone, searching, but there isn’t another sound.

A creak in the hall. Is it the floorboard, moving under a weightless foot? Or the ceiling, sagging a little further towards the inevitable?

If you forgot to close the window the curtain is sure to rustle or beat in a more incessant wind. Narcissism reversed and amplified, until you yourself are still, inanimate, always listening.