“it is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began”

There’s a picture circulating on Facebook right now where someone has taken photographs of President Obama and Dr. King with their hands in the air and synced them so that it looks like they’re giving each other high fives. I like that picture. I also like what Rev. Jesse Jackson had to say when he was asked what he thought Dr. King would say if he were here today. “There is unfinished business in our land.” Towards the end of his life, Dr. King was speaking out for more than just the black community. He spoke against the Vietnam War, stood up for Hispanics, marched for the poor.

Joshua and I are doing a play called “Struggle For Freedom: The Life of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.,” so I didn’t feel bad for spending most of the day laying in my hotel bed watching the Inauguration on TV. Civil Rights are very much a part of my life right now, as it’s my job right now to research it and teach children about it. But I’ve had to re-learn almost everything I was taught. I can’t tell if I’ve forgotten most of this stuff, or if I never really listened and part of me is very ashamed about that. But you only learn so much while you’re in school, and whether or not you take it home with you is something that your teachers can’t control. That’s something I didn’t learn until the end of college. I know that when Joshua and I are performing much of what we are saying is falling on deaf ears- and that’s okay. There’s A LOT of talking in this play, so after a half an hour it’s not surprising to look out at a couple hundred kids and imagine you’re seeing seaweed floating in the ocean.

Our very first performance of “Struggle For Freedom” was exactly a week ago today. It was in Richmond, VA, and the audience was mostly comprised of black students and teachers. I was in the minority. And truth be told, I was a little scared the kids weren’t going to like me. There were points when I did hear laughter, and when I talked to Joshua about it after the show he told me that that laughter most likely came because they were uncomfortable too. It’s tough stuff. And it’s confusing for kids.

When the show in Richmond was over, the principal made her way down to the stage and looked out over her students. She was an older black woman, and when she began to speak Joshua and I immediately stopped packing up to listen to her. She thanked us for the play and told her students that she hoped they were listening. And then, with the aggressive elegance and rhythmic urgency of a preacher, an educator and a matriarch she silenced the room with her story. “I LIVED through that. I LIVED through that. I didn’t understand it. We had to STAND at the Woolworth’s counter. And I would ask my mother “WHY,” and it was because I was BLACK. And I didn’t get it.”

Moved me to tears, that’s for sure. Mostly because I’ve never heard anything like that in person. I suppose it’s maybe the closest I will ever come to hearing Dr. King speak about his dream. But I could also sense her frustration with these children. Frustration that nobody she was speaking to “understood.”

But when the kids are older, and they’re ready to learn, the show is SO rewarding. Last week during a Q&A after one show, we were asked questions like this:

“Why did the black people have to use cheap stuff, while the white people got all the fancy stuff?”

“What about the mixed people? Where did they have to go?”

“Wasn’t segregation just selective bullying?”

“Why did the police decide to use fire hoses?”

“What happened to the black people if they used the wrong drinking fountain?”

“Why did they kill Martin Luther King?

We answer these questions as honestly as possible. Of course, we don’t tell them the brutal details. Examples of things like how during sit-ins at lunch counters, while Black Americans were peacefully waiting to be served they were only arrested or verbally abused- but in many cases, they had food and hot water thrown on them, they were dragged off stools, beaten violently and thrown into the streets. We do tell them that during the Civil Rights Movement black people were arrested, beaten, and killed for standing up for their rights. And most importantly, we tell them that even though segregation doesn’t still exist, at least not legally, ignorance does. And that’s often where bullying comes from.

Children are not stupid. Tell them the truth and let them go. I’ve spent the past few years trying to figure out why I’m pursuing Theatre. This is why. Because there are some people who will listen.

come back mary poppins! i’m only 25!

Last night while I was on the New Jersey Transit heading back to my hotel from my second ever visit to New York City, I realized I was surrounded by high school aged girls who must have been heading home from a day in the city. The two young ladies in front of me chatted at an electric pace, waving their small hands adorned with turquoise tipped fake nails to emphasize topics about things like how the guidance counselor is “more like my brother than my teacher. I mean, we’ll be friends for at least 20 years. He’ll probably come to my wedding.” The girl next to me who couldn’t have been older than 19, had flawless makeup, an army of shopping bags from Forever 21, and shuffled through songs on classic albums such as Christina Aguilera’s “Stripped,” The Backstreet Boys’ “Black and Blue,” The Spice Girls’ “Spice” and TLC’s greatest hits on her iPhone. I’d like to make that sentence shorter, but I didn’t want to leave any of those great artists out. I mean that with a nearly unconditional sincerity, because while it seems that I am judging these people, I realize I am actually describing myself as a teenager, and it is true that I still listen to all those albums to this day. Of course, there was a part of me that was mildly offended that someone 4-8 years younger than me was listening to the hits that I shared with my middle school friends in the late 90s, but hey, the music is still around for a reason. I guess.

So what. I regarded these girls as frivolous maybe. Sophomoric, perhaps. I was like that at one point. And still am I’m sure. (Case in point by admitting that I still love the Spice Girls). Sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I’m around women in their 30s. Like I’m talking about things I don’t really know about. And I’m sure when I’m in my 30s I’ll observe women in their 20s and feel the same way I do right now about girls in their late teens.

Eventually I directed my attention away from the girl next to me, so that she wouldn’t catch me staring at her iPhone, and looked out the window. Then, through the reflection, I noticed yet another teenager. This one was seated directly behind me, and she was writing in her journal. The cover of the journal said “You’ve CAT to be KITTEN me right MEOW,” and as she wrote, she smiled.

And then I thought about the first time I went to New York City, just four years ago, and how between the moment I bought my plane ticket and the moment I made it to the hotel in SoHo, I was nearly MURDERED by own anticipation. A week of pure ecstatic impatience. I flew in with my friend Spencer, and there we were, two kids from Iowa who hadn’t spent much time outside of a landlocked region without an adult. We wrote a lot of poetry. I’ve got pages of it. We would write a sentence and then hand it back, completing each other’s thoughts. When I left I couldn’t wait to get back. Yesterday I stepped out of Penn Station and looked around at all the buildings, and the traffic, and the people, and immediately felt a great sense of dread. So I bucked up, acknowledged that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid certain hassles and headed south on Broadway. I met up with some friends, and they took care of me and I had a great time.

When I was a teenager, I looked at being an adult as something I could conquer. Material things I could check off a list. Car keys, cell phone, credit card, birth control. Check. Everything I associated with being an adult could fit in my purse and the future was simply an errand. Now my life is filled with errands and I understand why my mom never wanted to go grocery shopping.

Sometimes I relate anticipation with a feeling of relentless exhaustion, and I don’t know why, so I chalk it up to “aging.” Sometimes I have to fake it til I feel it when it comes to looking forward to something, because I just don’t get worked up the way I used to.* I’m trying to climb my way into adulthood, but at the same time, I’m scared to get out of the pool. So I guess the only thing to do is grab my purse, find my confidence, and stay humble.

*Unless I’m about to go experience some nature. Then I’ll get all worked up, because nature is the shit.

my friend.

I needed to get out of Chicago for a bit. I was feeling lost and claustrophobic. Feeling accosted by opportunities rather than excited. The ambition was there, but every time I acknowledged it, I was mowed down by overwhelming anxiety. Here I am right now, just outside of Philadelphia, looking back at that and wondering if those feelings ever really did exist.

It’s nice to escape. I’m lucky to have the chance to just… go away for a bit, I guess.

There was always one thing though, that made me feel as though I was holding on tight to the reins. The theatre workshop I facilitated for adults with developmental disabilities through Still Point Theatre Collective. It’s been just over two years since the first time I walked nervously into the gymnasium at Esperanza Community Services and landed on an entirely different planet. On this planet, Big Foot eats dinner with the president, you can buy laughter at the store,  and the aliens just dance, and dance, and dance. A planet where dying is sometimes referred to as graduation. And it can be viewed as a gift.

On my first day at Esperanza as I was getting to know everyone somebody said “let’s do the scarf dance.” I followed the clients back to a circle of folding chairs and took a seat as Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” began to play, and a woman with a golden scarf took her place in the middle of the circle. She draped the scarf around her shoulders, and over her face. Swept it on the ground, and waved it through the air. A woman with a beautiful body perched atop stiff, avian legs. Her face frozen in a look of stunned concentration- eyes wide and unfocused, lips puckered. Later she would smile at me and I would notice she was missing one front tooth. At first her movements seemed ossified and slow, but as the music picked up, she began to spin. A cyclone of petrified gracefulness. The scarf rippled through the air. And as she really got moving, she laughed, delighted, eventually moving her way out of the circle of chairs, spiraling through the gym.

Her name was Sherice. And it was possible that on the days she didn’t get to do the scarf dance, she would bang her head on the wall over and over and over. Some days she would scream and curse. Throw out the middle finger. And weep. Sometimes I would take her out into the hallway and sit with her while she cried. The few soft tufts of hair she had tickled my face as she lay her head on my shoulder. Her hair was the only soft part of her body. Her hands were like hard blocks of black wood. Dry and cracked, and pinched in at the joints so much that it seemed possible you could squeeze them too hard and pieces of her fingers would fall to the ground.

Word on the street was it was a bad case of frostbite. Word on the street was that someone found her in a dumpster when she was a baby. I don’t know the real diagnosis, I just teach theatre.

Sometimes, when she would bang her head on the wall, or throw her body into it until someone pulled her away, I wanted so badly to know what she was thinking about. Because to me, it seemed as if she was just trying to find a way to escape. We’d never know what she thought, because she couldn’t really speak. Except for at the end of class, when she would sit back in the circle, and point at every single person and say, “my friend.” One day she got ahold of my phone and managed to record herself walking around class for about 10 minutes. It’s possibly the only time I’ll ever really get to see the world through her eyes. It’s actually a fascinating video.

I wanted to sit down and write about how things are going here, in the present. But today I found out that Sherice has passed away, and it’s been on my mind. The idea of escape. If I had to guess, I’d say she lived a lot of her life in pain. However, in order to touch on all the joy and pure happiness she exuded, I’d have to write another 715 words, at least.

It’s just that I can still hear her saying “my friend,” and it’s a nice voice to have inside my head.

gone with the wind fabulous.

I jolted awake at 4:30 this morning, afraid I’d missed the sunrise. Joshua and I are at a Holiday Inn in Virginia Beach. The breakfast isn’t complimentary, but the ocean is. There’s a balcony in our room, so we slept with the door open, lulled to sleep by the sound of the raging Atlantic. An hour and a half later, I am still waiting for any sign of light on the horizon.

Within 15 minutes of meeting Joshua last week, he asked me what my sign was and I knew we were going to get along. He’s a Cancer, I’m a Virgo. I think that means we’ll both enjoy this sunrise, if it ever comes. But to set that shadowy topic aside for a moment, I must tell you that upon entering our hotel room last night we immediately rushed outside to the balcony and howled with a puerile excitement typically demonstrated by children waiting for dessert. I think the bottom line is we’re both big ole romantics. But come on, who doesn’t love the horizon and its endless entourage of metaphors?

Then Joshua said “OOH CABLE!” and I remembered how very different we are. I will admit, I was briefly entertained (but mostly horrified) while watching one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta stars kick off her singing career with a song called “Gone With the Wind Fabulous.” Now when people talk about “twirling” I’ll know what’s up. So that’s a good feeling.

Today is our first official day of touring. Getting two shows up on their feet in less than a week is grueling,  and now we get to see if it was worth it. So far it totally is, thanks to the sonorous ocean and the dark pink clouds draping the horizon. But now we’re off to face a more vocal force of nature: children.

Thank goodness we watched “Bravo” last night! If the kids don’t like me I now know to speak-sing, “You think I’m boring, I say I’m fabulous,” and twirl out of the building with all the confidence of a reality tv star.

PS: Joshua just woke up, immediately looked out the door and said, “Ohhhh!!!” And then he said, “I was gonna work out this morning, but it’s a long day.” We’re going to be great friends.

porches are for daydreams. and cigarettes, if that’s your thing.

There are a lot of mountains around here. I’m in Asheville, NC. From the front porch at the house where I’m staying, the mountains in the distance look like big blue shadows. This porch is empty with the exception of a small wooden bench, a sun-beaten loveseat, and an ashtray. A perfect place for someone who misses college. The loveseat, by the way, is actually a rocker. It’s supposed to be outside. I truly have no way to describe it. Perhaps when I’ve finished this pot of coffee, brilliance will kick in and I’ll come back and edit this.

The point is, the porch is great. At night there is absolutely no sound. The sky is so black and wide, it appears you could be eaten up at any moment. And if the sky doesn’t swallow you whole, word on the street is there are black bears in the neighborhood who may be capable of the same thing if you’re standing too close to the garbage can.

It’s 11:30 am here. I just came back inside from the porch. I was barefoot  and my feet were warm. It’s January here too, but the lack of snow and the abundance of sunlight seeping into the dead grass and bare trees makes it feel like summer is on its way home from vacation. The birds are singing peacefully. Peace! The space in my brain reserved for creating expectations of a close-to-perfect lifestyle has spoken. It said, “I’m gonna get up at sunrise and do yoga on this porch.” Ah! The stuff that daydreams are made of. The truth is, I drank a lot of incredibly cheap, amazing locally brewed beer last night, ate buffalo rabbit tacos for dinner, and ended the night on that porch shivering next to the ashtray.* If opposites do indeed attract, then maybe I’ll work my way into downward dog out there someday.

*I’m good company. Feeling the need to clarify that for all you moms and dads out there.