Friday, February 09, 2018

No Answers, Only Questions


It’s ok to not know where you’re going. Say yes. Action is greater than laughter. You are playing. Believe that you have something to say that is worthwhile.

These are all words of encouragement and reminders that I wrote for myself, and taped them to the window above my desk where I see them daily. The post-its are starting to block out the tree and the squirrels that entertain me with their acrobatics. Any more personal pep talks and I'll completely block out the backyard. I’m in the process of rebuilding a show, Alonely, for a performance at the Ware Center in early March. It is tempting to say what the show is all about, to sum it up neatly in a pithy paragraph, but since it is shape-shifting like a Berserker, I really can’t. If pressured, I would say say it is about the creative process.

Yesterday a friend and I discussed the complexities of describing our art forms. She and her husband are puppeteers and filmmakers, builders of magical worlds that entertain kids and adult alike. See, even those words miss the mark of the vast landscape of all that she and her husband create.

When people ask what I do, I say I am a performer and a poet, and I tend to avoid the word clowning because it conjures Pennywise (thanks, Hollywood, for all the coulrophobia), and there is no way to describe how the things I create converge. If I do bring up clowning, and follow it with “not the birthday party kind of clown,” I am passively (and rudely) suggesting that all the birthday party clowns out there aren’t doing worthwhile work, and still leaving a giant blank in the inquirer’s head as to what sort of clowning I do. What do I say? European clowning? Mime? Not really. Each time I try to give someone an answer about what I do for a living, I feel like I’ve been given opportunity for a free line throw to the basket, and each time I try to make the shot, the ball morphs into gelatin in my hands. Cue the trombone's iconic wah-wah.

What I want most is to be an honest person, and I create from that. It’s a messy place, not knowing where you’re headed. It’s scary, even. Yesterday I spent several hours in my living room with my set and props, words and movement, and I woke up from my trance under the watchful gaze of a plastic Viking helmet. Berserker, indeed.

I am playing, and I don’t know where I’m headed, and that is uncomfortable. I am in a constant state of discomfit, trying, really trying, to get at a message that is worthwhile, that makes a connection.

I seek to build connections and relationships, to add some beauty to the world. Let's leave it at that. Maybe that's enough.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

You Can't Learn Anything Without Failing

Yesterday I was sitting on the floor next to my mother after reading a letter to her, and I was struck with the urge to rest my head on her lap. I really wanted to. It was a super instinct flash that I considered, and ignored. I didn't do it because I didn't want to make her cry. I didn't want to cry.

Instead of listening to my instinct, I listened to the bullshit narrator in my head who wears a top hat and carries a cane, and pokes at my ribcage on a regular basis to tell me to sit up straighter. That narrator tells me I have to be strong. He likes to remind me that I'm doing most everything wrong, in the wrong order, most of the time, but I can be better if I just try harder to be the best. I can't be a child anymore. I need to have answers instead of questions. I have to respond with intellectual insight rather than emotion. Fuck that narrator. He's a total jerk. I'd like to kick his top hat in the swamp. Why did I listen to him yesterday, at that moment, that perfectly clear opening for a beautiful mother/daughter connection?

Ugh, did I ever fail yesterday. I'm tired. At least I get today. I hope.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Everything Is Subject To Change

We count on the constancy of story. Freddy Malins arrives drunk to the party, Desdemona drops the handkerchief, Nell flees home with her primer and then leads a tribe, Rumplestiltskin tears himself in two. When we close a book and shelve it, we are assured of its beginnings and endings remaining the same, and that the story will unfold as it always has for us, as consistent as taxation.

Oral stories, however, migrate and are ever-changing. They are shapeshifters in a world that has no particular cover, back matter, or organized chapters. Morphing across cultures, through time, they live in the breath and memory of the person sharing the story. The listener may attach her own meaning to a detail, and in the retelling, alter the plot or the ending. Oral stories escape boundaries. They are clouds.

When we tell personal stories we are almost always the hero. Hyperbole starts to expand our stories as we age. The plots get twistier, the details juicier. The arc takes longer to travel because we love the audience, the attention, and that someone cares to listen. Our stories tell us who we are and how we’ve changed. They connect us to others. Without them, what happens? Who are we?

My mother has a gold locket that has been in her possession for almost sixty years. When she wasn’t wearing it one day during the 1970s, I discovered it was empty, and was bothered that it had no contents, so I sneaked a large green sequin inside. Lockets were supposed to contain stories. I had no photograph that fit or seemed fair enough, but I had the sequin, a little glint of cheer.

I don’t know anymore which family stories are true. I doubt my own memory of them. Photographs have allowed me to remember or fill in the blanks easily. My sister’s account of a shared story is often a completely different perspective from mine.

There are days now when my mother starts to tell a familiar family tale, then turns to me with a performer’s panicked look to her partner of “take it!” The plot, lost in the details, has shifted course and is flying to another island.

My memory of the gold locket story of my mother’s earlier telling is that it was a nursing school graduation gift from her parents. Yesterday she told me and my sister that she and two other classmates bought them for themselves, and she was the only one out of the group who kept hers for all these years. Is the truth in this story that her parents gifted her money to buy the locket, and she and her friends all got matching ones? Does it matter?

My mother has faced a lot of loss this year. Among the losses, her once reliable memory. She’s becoming the abstract expressionist narrator of her life story. The shifting narratives sometimes bother me, because we once shared the “truth.” What I’m learning from all of this is that maybe there is no truth.

We fear losing ourselves, losing our minds and memories. Genetics play a part, so this could be my fate too, the sureness of erasure.  We talk about dementia with verbs of thievery, and rarely with verbs of generosity. It is difficult to write with the additive when there are so many subtractions. There are moments of grace in dementia, like an openness to shifting narratives, the abstract, a letting go of time, allowing the self to be the self as she is now. To just be.

I put a large green sequin into a locket once to stave off what I perceived as emptiness. The story, when I opened the covers of that little gold book, seemed to be missing, but maybe it was just being written in invisible ink. A mystery-romance-thriller-fairytale-fantasy of a life being lived.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Pickup of My Truth

My truth is that I know nothing.

One day I will return to chlorophyll
and it’s easy for me to face this
while I still remember my own name,
can write these words with my hand
on this piece of paper that was once a tree.

The body of the Marquis de Sade
became a tree after he died.
His request was to be buried
with acorns, and their little
green horns nosed
into his flesh,
nourished.

To be greening!
Or green!
A fresh lawn!
An oak!

To dream of joining the chorus
of twig, bark and root,
the mysticism of up, up, up.

Maybe you know everything then,
have all the answers but can’t speak,
how poetic, forced to watch others
make mistake after lonely mistake
in their crosswords and delegations,
negotiations lost.

You unfurl your tiny green flags
and they wave. You change
them all to red, a warning,
and finally just give up, your truth
on the ground for others
to rake up into piles, thrust
into paper bags and park
at the curb for Wednesday pickup.

Your heart is a nest of squirrels.
Birds mate in your brain
and then there are more birds,
and don’t cardinals carry the souls
of the dead?

I know nothing,
but can speak,
today.
It feels dangerous,
reckless,
to be alive.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No-Brainer

A hand other than your own
covers your mouth.

You think about the haphazard way
that prayer works, miracles,
wishes.

The obvious choice
is to stay put. Don’t move.

There is no form for this —
you ought to know it by now,
instinct, the body’s language,
a total no-brainer. Not some
second grade teacher’s 5-7-5
relief during the poetry unit,
an easy formulaic response
to growls of cherry blossoms.

Oh no. This is full-on, redoubled,
wheeling epic free verse —fever dream,
old-bones- rocked-to-sleep-on-a-razor’s-edge-can-of-soup-
there-is-not-enough-Vicodin-for-this-armada.

A ship is pulled underwater in your chest.
Cows graze in your head.
Your feet have no imagination.

You should know this one.
Don’t speak. Leave it blank.
There’s your control.

You stand up. You raise your hand,
fail the test over and over again.

The obvious choice
is to stay put. Don’t move.

A hand other than your own
covers your mouth.

You host the barbarian,
you are incendiary,
you are the reason
we have no way
to grade this.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

For My Dead Classmates

You miss so much
by being dead.

The stirred up embers
of a recalcitrant argument,
Virtue and crime
in the same narrow bed.

You miss so much —
a space to find yourself
breathing in again,
a heart full of beehives
and inquisitions,
the sometimes friendly sky,
and a glance in the mirror
on a good hair day.

Nostalgia. Who owns that,
the dead or the living?

Perhaps you miss that
or maybe there’s no memory,
all of it just a juked up Polaroid.

Hey, there’s no history then,
or race, or belief, and lucky you,
no war! There is no truth
other than that of being dead.

A sureity.

You miss teacups, or beer,
tindered fires,
eccentricity,
the 2 a.m. dust-up
with your landlord
for having a man
in your apartment.
Are we living in the 1950s?!
you shouted, wielding
a Rubik’s Cube.
It’s all you had.
The first thing you picked up.

The first thing you remember
having. You miss that? Possessions.
Gone now. Some relegated
to antiquedom, others nothing more
than apple core and lint. As if your love
for a particular ballpoint pen
kept it alive, would make someone
else desire it.

Music and desire.
Throng and thrum in your ears
and chest, a throne of rhythms.
The Clash,
Bronski Beat,
Van Halen,
Hüsker Dü.
Some of us will hear
tinkly versions of our favorites
in the dining rooms of the retirement homes
where we find ourselves living. We
will look for your aged faces at our table,
expect you to flop down with your
lunch bag full of potato chips
and Farmer’s iced tea.

You miss so much.
Assertive heels.
Peach juice.
Long insomnia.
Garlic, onions,
an open stage
or a quiet corner.

Your own name spoken
by someone you loved.

Who loved you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Trapeze

Lostness bursts into the day
like a bright trapeze
and you grasp it on the upswing,
howl through the air.

Fine. You’re more acute alone
anyway, striking a match,
stalking a cloud, trying to align
your functional body
with all the stories it still
wants to tell.

Expectations trill and purl,
sweet beasts that belong
in cages. Let them pace.

How violent and heartless
you are up here, how led
by your own blindness.

It is impossibly gorgeous
to slice the sky, to let go
with potential and swing
to stillness and fictitious force.

Your body now an exclamation mark,
full stopped in a shout:

I am not here!
No, I am here,
I am here,
see me.