Sunday, June 6, 2010

a calling, and an answer

the ol' man tells me there's a new spirit sitting right in the middle of my back. new, 'cause he aint never seen it there before. funny how somebody else gotta see what's already decided to claim me. guess it's too many of 'em rotating seats right up on my spine like they playing musical chairs. i need ol' man to alert me to shift changes. he says this one is a real bonafide african but not born from the kongo, which aint really saying much considering africa is a whole damn continent. hell. i been to ghana. all the way up to paga through kumasi and on down to elmina and cape coast, where the atlantic don't hardly play with silly tourists wanting to swim on they backs. nah. that big water roars. bones and the souls what owns them beating out a rhythm gonna force you to surrender. and all up and through that country, you can't even count how many peoples and tongues roaming the land. so, i can hardly focus on what this spirit's name could be or how it should sound coming off my lips. that's the least of my concern.

right now, i want to know what she come for, 'cause since my cutting and the oath i been negotiating since that night, i am almost completely certain that any spirit come 'round me come to work. those that's sent for mischief get tight pretty soon as they catch light up in here. them ones ... they don't have much truck with me. but the others, the ones that come of their own volition, they definitely come to work. and while that might make some big head conjurer excited, quick to doctor up some new gris gris, pot, or mojo bag, it gives me caution. i know what it means to be called, to be a door-way and safe haven for souls what still got work to do in this world. they see you got a strong back, and get to plotting how to get you razor sharp and ready for some serious business. it's best to go slow.

i know some folk get it easy. spirit choose 'em and find it sufficient to give 'em good luck at shooting craps or attracting easy lovers. but not a single pact with a ghost has let me travel a road so simple. nah. used to be i would feel all special and righteous for the company, lighting plenty candles and sitting in the dark, trying to decipher what they talking between my own voice and the bare silence in my living room. got so i would let 'em run me ragged, doing whatever they missed out on when they was wrapped in flesh without considering whether i really wanted that mission to begin with. but now, i'm straight up. i want to know the deal.

if you somebody called to know a spirit's whisper from the wails and shimmies of the wind against a wood shingle, you better know how to bargain. and well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

mama's a rock and a riddle.

i was scanning through my blog posts this morning, thinking on why i can sometimes be so maudlin and other times so raw, when i realized that i have never written anything about my mother. we're close. closer than many mother-daughter pairs i've known. not in an "oh, i need my mama to hug me" kinda way. i don't think my mom and i hug very often. she doesn't really like a lot of close body contact. to her, its invasive and generally indicates someone wants something from you. there was a time when i didn't get this, but at 37 years old, i realize that most hugs are completely unnecessary. why you gotta get all up on me? just say, "hello," or whatever makes sense in the moment. and please don't perform undying love when ya know you'll cut me up sideways soon as i'm gone. this might seem a bit tangential, but it's crucial to how i understand my mother's love. it is not syruppy sweet or romantically nostalgic of first baby steps, and "my how you've grown; i remember how you used to sleep, looking so cute." more like, "i remember when you used to throw tantrums every time someone looked at you." and, "you were hell as a teenager." yeah. my mom keeps it very real. she can laugh about it, but she's certainly not going to sugar-coat the difficulties of motherhood or the stone cold ways you have to love folks sometimes. she's over the "blondie" phase some mother's think they want and deserve. and she would totally consider "baby mama drama" extremely tacky.

despite her seeming detachment and less than "hey, sweetie. i miss you." stance, my mother never hit me. there's not a single spanking or open-palmed slap in my memory. sure. she could give me the most incredulous stares and chew me up with a few select words if the occasion warranted, but she really practiced a non violent and free kinda love during the years we lived together. she gave me space. she expected space in return. she accepted me for who i was becoming, and it often seemed as if she was happiest when i diverged far from her own path.

when i became a mother for the first time, she told me that i'd better prepare myself to do it alone. and she was serious. she didn't descend upon my home with bags of groceries or prepared meals during my first daughter's infancy; she told me the ingredients to the spaghetti sauce and let it ride.

see ... my mother gave birth to me while she was in dental school after deciding against a career as a classical pianist (a choice i don't think i would have made). she finished school and went to work while i was less than a month old. she was present for my dance recitals and special school assemblies, but she never stopped living her life. she became an example for me ... she lived the walk of a woman who understands that her self image is not bound to her children while accepting the responsibilities motherhood brings with consistent energy and force. she has always been there for me with real questions, "what do you need?" and she has always tried to provide that within her means... be it some financial help, an ear for the sorrow songs, or the most insane laughter over the absurdities of life. and in the most painful moments, she has only inspired me to keep walking, come hell or high water. and she never lied about what that hell or high water might include. she would only remind me that i chose it.

folks who know my parents often think that my father is the most radical of the two. he talks more. he's louder. he loves to be the life of the party, smiling and joking and "holding court" during any discussion. but if my mother chooses to grace you with some conversation, you will find that it is she who holds the most progressive view points and rebellious stances on politics and being. my sister has said that if dad would give mom the room to talk more, they'd likely be on the government's most wanted list. i'm not sure about that. i don't think he takes words from her, or refuses space for her to share them. i think that she chooses to speak less and say more. and i am lucky to be one of the few people she talks with at length ... about everything. this continuing dialogue has taught me that she is one of the most intelligent, free-thinking women i have ever met. this should really come as no surprise. she comes from a lineage of powerful women - educators, business owners, and community pillars stretching back into the early 19th century.

she doesn't need a chorus of people backing her up to know that her truth makes sense. she only looks on society (and family) with an amused eye when the trouble comes, as it often must, wondering, "what the hell is so-and-so doing now? you know, some people are really certifiably crazy. and it won't do you any justice to understand that crazy, 'less you want to become that yourself." and she doesn't keep a large group of close friends. i have recently taken a page out of her book in that respect. she says that things are simpler that way. and really, how many people are truly capable of loving you intimately in the ways that you need and want it, and why should you expect that? people are messy.

that doesn't mean you become bitter; that means you love loose and free. you love with the understanding that such a path sometimes means distance. and that's okay. that's healthy. the ones who get the up-close view are the ones who get to see (and sometimes minister) YOUR mess, YOUR brilliance, and the stumbling, fumbling, crazed step-step-pause we do on a regular. those folk ... those are the ones who'll be there when it matters. and that's cool, 'cause who wants a whole chattering army of people feigning some version of proper concern when you just down and out? can we all have some privacy please?! and beyond that, you sure gonna have a hard time keeping up with your happy, if you are parceling it out to everybody and they cousin's sister's brother. measure the emotional shared space. in that sense, she has taught me that moderation is crucial to a life beyond obsessive extremes and luke warm survival, and that learning to be comfortable and appreciative of one's solitude is urgently necessary for the living.

yeah. i love her. and i am thankful to have her in my corner. rock. riddle. beautiful woman, and ride or die friend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ONE: art, sex, freedom, and the divine

i have learned that there is no distinction between the creation of art and freedom ... both are journeys closer to the divine, both require an awareness that is often met with human imperfection, a bumbling about for lost keys just found beneath a stack of boxes. and sometimes, you gotta craft keys with teeth and fingernails. there are bags coming undone and ugly. loose change at the toll booth. maybe all pennies. but you get there ... with no shortage of fierce courage and stubborn will.

each time i set out to write my way out of a cluttered landscape ripe with possible stories, i also find myself inside a thick quest toward some intimately crucial and inherently spiritual process of becoming more liberated, more giving, more open ... i write my way out of the hard spaces, the bitter juice life squeezed out of me, the often oppressive and less than truthful ways of knowing. i write myself into a transformation and healing with the knowledge that i am always and only getting closer to god. i surrender.

i have learned that there is no distinction between the creation of art and the sensual awareness of my body, it's hunger and full expression. this too is a walk closer inside god. when i get free inside the touch of my lover, we are creating a boundless space of divinity. i come with intensity and often. i receive what my lover gives back to me with gratitude. and i take that energetic exchange as seriously as i take the pen inside my hands, and the words that strive to reflect light born from the depth of our universal womb and its flow. there is god there. and there. it is all one.

when i am considering the culture of violence and the many lives we have bartered at the expense of global freedom, i am also writing myself closer to sanity and god-love. i am creating the antidote for the deathly blows against my body ... this body, which is inextricably linked to the world. and i am loving m(w)e out of silence, transforming hurts into awareness, because violence imposes silence. it depends on our consent. and we give that consent, submitting to murder and becoming murderers of self, soul, and world, whenever we do not speak, whenever we do not dance, paint, sing, whether the song/story/dance be one of sorrow or glory. it is all one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

how to write a play in 3 or more years ...

writing a play is tough. you have to create an entire world. sometimes a universe. and let me tell you, it takes longer than 7 days, unless you're susan lori parks. and i'm not. clearly. i can't imagine how she did that ... a play a day? what? anyway, i know some playwrights who seem to write really fast (not at ms. parks' speed, but still ...). i mean, they just churn them out. a particular type of genius. i am not that type. and i'm not claiming genius either. i just love writing plays. i need to see the words come to life on stage. i crave a director's vision ... not my own. i get enough of that living inside the play as a writer. and actors ... really brilliant actors are invaluable to me. i hunger for production. there's nothing like table work and rehearsal. for now, i am one of those playwrights who actually wants to be present for all of that when i can be. i've been lucky enough to get one play on stage. or maybe lucky isn't the word. i mean, i actually incorporated a non profit to get it up. and i know that had it not been for that choice, the folks who would eventually put my work up would never have known about it. so ... i won't credit luck. more like sweat, tears, near-fist fights, a run-in with cops in an alley, a broke down rental truck to transport props and set. you know ... the usual guerilla tactics for seeing the baby live.

and i've survived the new york debut ... the applause; the mean-spirited, does this woman know that my life is on the front line while she sits there doubled over 'cause my work makes her body too conscious and her mind too awake, preferring elevator music to the raw and funky we living, didn't even stay 'til the end, critically limited and less than astute "review" by linda armstrong of amsterdam news (thank you amiri baraka for telling me that if everybody loves your work, something's wrong. but i still gotta call it out, sir.); the unflinching support of woodie king jr and his new federal theatre company (many thanks for the lessons); the actor, who shall remain nameless, who walked off the stage mid scene; the production team and cast who became a journey inside love and the thin lines that cross over to elsewhere; the pure joy of seeing it through ... and i survived the hives and swollen limbs that came after it was all said and done, too.

i emerged from all of that still in love with writing plays. not blogs. and so, i am going to record my process here, because i have nothing else to blog about. let's consider this a walk inside the mind of a playwright who exists to the left of center, radically left of center, and determined to keep writing BIG plays with many characters, even though the damn economy tells me that i should write like a black woman, which means write a one woman show inside a kitchen (i have written scenes in a kitchen. even had a character give birth on a stove, but you know what i mean.) yeah, write like a black woman. write from the knowledge that few people will fund what you do, because you are black and a woman, and what's worse, you don't write pretty. you write raw and funky. so, write more easily digestable one woman shows. and then you might be making a good choice. maybe. but no ... i take the hard way. i'd rather write the truth as it comes to me, and it is rare that my truth is one voice, one body, one story, or one song. i'd rather write what my imagination dictates onto the page, despite budget constraints. i figure doing anything less is a walk through my own personal hell. and as far as i'm concerned, there's enough hell to walk through that i didn't create. why be a sick puppy and create my own?

so, i was talking to one of my colleagues at work. what? oh, yes, i do have a job right now. i teach college students. and that has to be attributed to luck, considering the economic crisis. but less of that ... back to the point. i was talking to a colleague, and she asked me about my process. not many people ask that. in fact, not many people ask how you write a play at all, unless they're trying to write one. and then, i usually look at that person side-ways, and say, "just write," or "read some plays. go see some plays." none of these responses make any sense, by the way. but that's what you say. that's what we say. because how do you explain what must be magic? but this colleague, she asked about process, and she was asking because she has one of her own. and when i told her, she said, "wow. you are really a playwright. i wonder how many playwrights do all that?" now, i have no idea how many playwrights "do all that." i just know what makes it work for me.

first off, i write SLOW. for some reason, my gestation period can be 3 years. and that's before i actually realize that a play is being written. i have to live, journey, go through some spiritually death-defying experience that leaves me ripe with discoveries. and all of that generally takes me about 3 years to digest and recognize as material worthy of the stage.

but i am always writing. currently, i am writing inside the second draft of a 2 act play i call, "gypsy in the bronx." but before that, the title was "renegade centro," and then it was "there is no river on girard street." i wrote the first scene in 2006. i started the first draft in 2009. it is now 2010. and i am officially in love. so, that's four years. not three. damn.

here's what i must do to write the sucka:

1. go insane ... and then decide to write your way out of it, or further in. either way, you must go a little crazy, or more than a little. much more. that's my preference.

2. create drawings of characters, maps, and themes (yes, i draw these myself)

3. create collages, pastels, and micro pen drawings of spiritual realities i'm going though (obsessive? maybe. so what? what artist isn't obsessive about her work?)

4. figure out what music informs the life of the play and listen to it while writing, working, playing.

5. journal constantly ... about every single aspect of my life. i even record all dreams.

6. write whatever comes out and save it on the computer. this is before i am officially writing the play. so, these are usually scenes which seem to be random. i write them anyway. sometimes they sit for years ... like 4 years!

7. tell a friend. you've got to tell someone that you are at least TRYING to write. not just your landlord, or your boss, or your lover (unless your lover happens to be a writer/artist, too. and then, you're damn lucky. i guess i am. hmmmm). anyway, you have to tell someone who will hold you somewhat accountable. i have a director who loves me. he must be nuts! i also have one playwright friend who likes to listen to me talk. i think she finds me absurdly comical. but if you don't have any folks like these i've mentioned, join a good writing group. i have no idea where you find those. but they do exist ... i've heard. and if there's still no one to tell, tell your imaginary friends. they'll listen. maybe that will help. not so sure.

8. once you're ready, and you'll know when you're ready, commit to writing at least one scene a day. give yourself a deadline to have the first draft done. and if you've got at least one of those dope people to hold you accountable, have them give you a deadline. you have to find ways around the excuses, distractions, and real life dramas that can often get in the way.

9. read. i don't know about you, but sometimes i feel like i am losing words. so, i have to read to get inspired by language. i don't really read plays. i mean, i have my demi gods: kushner, pinter, mamet, kennedy, wilson, shange, shepard. but i don't spend most of my time reading them. i take them in small doses. very small. i'd rather read fiction, and a little poetry. but you're not me. and i definitely aint you. just read what suits your tea kettle.

10. listen to EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY. plays need dialogue. so, you need to pay attention to how people speak to one another. i even listen to the life passing by my window (i live on a first floor apartment on a busy street in the bronx. perfect. sometimes. and sometimes, i wish i could just get some sleep!)

11. drink (rum)

12. live precariously (often)

13. have courage

14. don't listen to the haters. hell, what's a hater? just a lover completely outdone with your courageous walk.

15. have fun! or struggle really hard, and have fun later.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

other versions of stuck i consider noteworthy

i am hungry - a ravenous beast clamoring, rocking my soul self into an oblivion that i call, "stuck." i want this hunger, this ravenous clamor and soul-rocking in your absence. it reminds me of what i become beneath you ... stuck: the most awesome submission inside my heart.

i've been warned of loving too strong. the evidence: a retreating parade of people i once knew, a memoried crescendo of lonesome wails most kindred to a haunting, a ritual of bags and boxes stacked at the threshhold of an abandoned memoir, my flurry of fingers strumming my woman's heat good-bye,please ... damn. good-bye. a circus of debt playing my ass ... the drum; i dance its rhythm in spite of calloused feet, working for what big business collects in monthly cycles.

i've been warned of loving too strong. but i am hungry for this awesome submission inside my heart. you dictate, i note, every rebellion with the most deliberate kisses. sweet. i consider the meaning of each my name. thank you. i was beginning to unlearn it 'til you spoke the two syllables between our lips' touching ... nina ... it's better inside your mouth.