Just remember as you watch this, that these are children. They're at an age where approval is paramount to being seen. Their parents have filled them with an idea of right and wrong and alienated them from a society that only wants to be free. What they think they feel hasn't really registered as truth just yet. The text that's coming out of them isn't connected to anything, and the sayings their religious organizations have hijacked, have no history.
"Bully", "Silence", "Freedom".
These are words only. They have nothing behind them. They mean nothing. Even when they speak of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, that pursuit only includes the neighbors that live close by. Ronald Reagan, prayer in schools, history books, these are images in name only. They hold no special meaning for this generation of Christians as what they've learned has been through the bubble of their home and church only. There's no outside force allowed when you're in the middle of an indoctrination. You can't have interference. Not ever.
So try and remain calm and remind yourself they're still children. They're young and they're still trying to assimilate and be seen by Mom and Dad, so they repeat what they've been told. They simply repeat. The frightening thing is, if they don't come to their own conclusions soon, they'll turn into the people they're trying to impress.
And then...nobody wins.
Chrisanne and I have been married since 1996, and nothing; no law, no person and no amendment can change that. But there is a sense of belonging, of legality we both cherish and need. And as it happens around the world, and in our own country, we both hold on tight and keep our hearts open.
The above clip is monumental and historic. It rings of truth and justice and how we hope we will all finally be remembered: as living in a world filled with equality.
The song you here in their National Anthem and happened purely by accident. Watch what happens to everyone. The room changes and the people with it. Everything they thought made sense to them, doesn't anymore. The music fills the room and reverberates through the hallways. Freedom is close, and equality is closer.
My marriage will survive.
And we will be heard.
Just because I needed a laugh and some joy in between rehearsal for my final show at the University, and the two papers I'm writing on the weekend.
This is my weekend. Writing about David Mamet and watching fabulous videos.
One thing goes into another and that thing goes into the next and on and on it goes until we fly off into the really big question. It the middle of all that is a beauty and a magic and sparkly sequins and people who break out into song about love and being loved. I've always had problems identifying what's actually happening with what I believed was happening. My truth was rarely everyone else's, but I don't know that I care anymore. The world I created is much more fun and much more fabulous. Whether or not it's true for everyone else, seems to me, to be everyone else's problem. Not mine.
Life is an MGM musical and it just gets more and more grand the longer I'm on the planet.
I've been on Spring Break for the past week and because I've actually been able to take a breath, I've been able to spend more time on my blog.
Blog, blog, blog.
But as all things do, I now begin the transition into the new Event, and everything changes. I'm passing through Liminal Space and it's just as frightening as it always is. I go back into the fire. Back into the final six weeks of my last two years in Grad School. My thesis ("The Moment Before the moment before: Stanislavsky's Event Analysis and Process of Evaluation through Liminal Space") is defended and over with.
Fancy title, huh? You'd think I actually knew stuff from the look of things.
And now I free fall into what I can only describe as the Final Moments. It's been a fast and furious two years, and much has happened. I'm different and I can feel it. I'm also the same, and I can feel that as well. I don't feel smarter, as that's an old Parrot of mine anyway, the one that tells me how stupid I am, but I do feel bigger. I feel there's more stuff in me. There's more room for more questions and I can't seem to contain all of it. I'm ridiculously grateful. I'm grateful in a way that doesn't seem possible, and I'm constantly walking around the halls thanking people.
Before I came into the program, I noticed people leaving each other. I watched in horror as three people left (one moving to Fresno....talk about getting away), and two couples divorced. It scared me. I knew in my heart my wife and I could survive anything, and I knew in my soul that we would come out of this thing unscathed. I can't say it hasn't been tough, and there was one moment when we both thought one of us ought to think about renting a houseboat and living on it for a couple of minutes. But that passed quickly. And certainly if there's anyone on the planet to truly thank, it would be Chrisanne. There's no possible way I would have gotten through these last two years without her strength, her encouragement and her deep and undying care for me. She ran errands, she cooked, she ran lines with me, she copied manuscripts, she researched and studied and hunted and filed and even spent one night cutting out pictures from People magazine for a project I was doing. And in the midst of all that, she loved me unconditionally, and I spent most of my time weeping and breaking out in hives.
Unless you've gone through this, it's almost impossible to explain or describe accurately, without sounding like a bit of wimp. But in a nut shell: I was never in the house except to sleep, eat and poo: She Did Everything. And when you hate to clean, and you hate to scrub toilets and you hate to monitor every penny in the bank every second of the day, life becomes a series of tiny strokes.
But we survived. And that, among everything else, is the thing I'm looking up and saying Thank You for, the most.
So off I go, into the abyss that is school and soon to be graduating with my hot little degree in my hot little hand come May 24th. I carry with me my Steppenwolf Angels who gave me a voice I'll never quiet down again, and my CSU Angels, who allow me to learn from them and never treat me as though I know nothing. And so most of my journey is done. This part is finished. I pass though Liminal Space singing loudly and proclaiming my spot on the planet, grateful I've had so many teachers and guides. And now, once again, like everything else, I begin the transition into another Event.
And through it all, I make sure I have fabulous shoes for the journey.
I know why I teach. I know what motivates me and I know what it is that keeps me coming back in the rooms with the students every day, every moment, every hour. I can’t stop going. It’s not like performing for me. It doesn't feel the same. It’s unique in its gifts. I learn constantly, and it took me a long time not to feel as though I was the only one who benefited. I still battle with that. I can’t help but feel I’m the only one in the room who’s getting something out of this. I see actors blossom and I see them fly and I see them hurl themselves off the Cliff and I’m always amazed at their power and their courage. But that’s not me. That really has nothing to do with me. I can cheer lead, and I can tell them to go, and I can say Yes to them, but it’s not me that does the leaping.
I’m the one in the room screeching. I yelp. I cry out. I scream to the Universe for us all to be heard. And I've noticed though the years that what I’m screaming the loudest is what I need to hear the most. The other actors in the room guide me towards something and I rage at the wind and curse to the ceiling. And then, I feel bigger. I know in my heart that I’m speaking to my own self, to my Parrot that lies and whispers and tries to veer me away from what’s true and right about my life. I know I’m saying in the loudest voice what I need to hear the most. And I’m grateful to every single Angel I meet and I can’t give them enough that even remotely resembles the life they've given me. It’s never going to be enough, so I‘ll just keep coming back.
I seem them. I want to make that clear: I do see them. They are unique and individual and they shine and they make their own path in their own time. But even though they are who they are and I stand beside them holding on tight and seeing what I see, we are the same. We are two and we are the same and that’s why I can see them. We marry. We are together.
And I know, as sure as I’m writing this and as sure as I’m sitting here, that the men in the above clip were in the same place I’m at now. They were preaching to themselves, trying to save themselves, attempting to speak to themselves, and like most of us: They weren't listening. We rarely pick a time when we sit down and listen to who we truly are when we trust that being in the middle of ourselves isn't lethal anymore. That it can be hurtful and frightening, but that is attached to what is gorgeous and filled with gifts. That center of us is chaotic at best, but there's greatness in that mess. That time we spend in the middle is few and far between and usually it takes another person to shake us and tell us we’re deaf. To lead us toward it. Our silence is deafening and our text is useless. We need to listen to what’s true. We need to hear what’s good. And we need to thank what’s beautiful.
So now when I walk into a room and I feel the eyes of 23 actors, I know I have to speak truthfully, or else I’m caught. I’ll be forever in my own lies and bullshit. I'll be on the outside of my truth waiting for something to happen. I spent most of my life in that place, and I almost died from it. I can only hope the people still trapped in their own silence and in their own self-hatred find their way out and find their way up. Hopefully, there are other people in their world ready and willing to give them a little push toward the truth, because without them, we’re completely and utterly alone.
We need each other.
We are each other.
And thank God for that.
Recently, Michelle Shocked made an appearance on Piers Morgan's evening talk show to clear the air about exactly what happened to her on stage as she spoke to an all gay audience. Here's the entire text:
"It's not too late. You can jump into this Jesus gang anytime you want. But, um, I was in a prayer meeting yesterday and you gotta appreciate how scared, how scared, folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point, and I really shouldn't say ‘their,' ‘cause it's mine, too, we are nearly at the end of time and from our vantage point, we're gonna be, uh, I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method, once Prop 8 gets instated and once preachers are held at gunpoint and forced to marry the homosexuals, I'm pretty sure that that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back. You said you wanted reality. If someone would be so gracious as to tweet out that Michelle Shocked just said from stage, ‘God hates faggots.' Would you do it now?
...They're confounded. Matt, you might need to come back up here. (Male voice: There's gonna be a lot of talking about that.) I ain't scared. I ain't scared. This is not a tribunal. This is one woman's opinion, and it's fun. It's a lot of fun. I am so committed to loving each and every soul in this room tonight that I could not come here and ignore you. I could not come here and pretend that I was above the conversation and I could not pretend that I was beneath it, either. I had to join it. Thank you for that one hand clap."
Years ago Shocked came out as bisexual and then shortly afterward became a born again Christian. It was years into this religious transition that Michelle made the above comments at a gig in, of all places, San Francisco.
Yesterday after seeing her on Piers' show I posted the above clip of her and Morgan on my Facebook page which I titled:
"Homophobic Michelle Shocked says she's not homophobic and then continues to make no sense whatsoever as Morgan tries to reel her back in to a place of sanity."
I received many comments, some from friends, some from people I didn't know, and some from defenders of Michelle's obvious break with reality. Thinking nothing more about it, when I got home last night I checked my e mail, and there was a message from my You Tube account signed by Shocked:
"I'm waving goodbye to censorship and blacklisting just by typing this message to you, Alexandra. I can go on all night about 'reminders' because I have a gig to reclaim on April 24 at Palms Playhouse in Winters CA. What part of 'other homophobic celebrities' did you not understand? I'm not homophobic, and I sure aint a celebrity. I'm roadkill in Big Data's war on content creators but I've got a song in my heart & I'm still singing. Keep your fascist views to yourself. I'm kicking out the jambs."
To which I've replied:
"I have nothing against your need to speak nor your compulsion to sing, Michelle. I don't know that there's any part of "other homophobic celebrities" that I don't understand, other than the entire text and how exactly it has anything to do with anything. What I do understand is that you stood up in front of a bunch of gay people in San Francisco and said very clearly: "God hates Fags". That I understand perfectly. People who work and sing from a place of kindness and courage don't use that kind of language. Not ever. Whatever your belief is about homosexuality I'm sure I don't know, but one thing is certain: I'd take a good look in the mirror before calling anyone a fascist.
I've heard from friends I'm supposed to treat you with great care because you may be suffering from a mental illness, and I've heard from others you may be in the middle of some kind of emotional break down. But you are an irresponsible woman with a dangerous list of priorities. And whether you are breaking down or not, you need to accept your text and the consequences that come with it, for after all, you live in this country alongside the millions of gay people you insulted and ridiculed when you had the spotlight. You certainly weren't treating our community with kindness when you had something to say, were you? And when the younger generation of gay people received you that day, and some of the despondent and spiritually destitute took to heart what you called them, perhaps they swallowed that last handful of pills, or finally took a lethal slice to their wrist, or suddenly leaped out of their fifth story window because they'd heard one too many times, that God actually hated them. And now that you've been caught speaking from your heart, we're all supposed to take into account that you're suffering. And as much compassion as I'm trying to have for you and the true pity I feel for your self-hating religious fundamentalism, I say with all honesty and clarity of spirit: Your suffering is no greater nor less than my gay brother's and sister's.
So have a wonderful gig at the Palms Playhouse. I hope someday you find whatever it is you're looking for. In the mean time, remember:
When you speak your truth, everyone can hear you."
Tomorrow morning I go to an LGBT meeting so my office at the University can be used as a Safe Zone. This way, any student who's in the middle of a journey that's other than, that seems out of the circle of what we know, that's been defined at times as a mental illness, or dysphoric, can come to me and we can chat. And they'll know they're safe. They'll know they will always have somewhere to go, somewhere to breathe, and somewhere to speak.
In my office at my University, I'll have a place with a big sign on it that tells everyone that being gay, being a lesbian, being Transgender, or living near someone who's any of those things, is all right. It's okay. It's fine. We're not as apart as we've been told, and we have the right to be heard.
In my office, I'll have my own place to sit with my own community and commiserate and hold on and learn. I'll have my own safe zone that growing up, eluded me my entire life.
And thank God I'll have people to tell me I matter just as much as everyone else. And thank God we can tell each other we're safe. That way, we can leave that tiny office, go out into the universe, and stand tall and speak loud and live large. Because the safe zone never leaves. Not once it's been established.
And it's everywhere we are.
I was eight years old and staying over night at my Nana's. She was a round woman with bright blue eyes and the softest hands. I remember laying on her lap with my belly on her knees and my head in a pillow. She'd take her fingers and rub my back until I fell asleep. Sleeping for me was always a chore. Getting there was frightening. I never seemed to be able to relax, to breathe, to trust that those nasty voices wouldn't come back. The darkness terrified me, and everything in it. Still does, to be honest. But Nana knew innately how to calm me, soothe me, and let me know I was safe. There were never any bad people at Nana's.
My mom was just beginning to have problems with me. Teachers sending notes home telling her I was spending an "unusual amount of time with the girls on the playground.", and boys my own age following me home, taunting me, throwing things at me, and screaming fowl names as I tried my best to out-run them. My mother didn't know what to do, and since this was the 60's, the best she could think of was to try and turn my attention in, what she thought, was the opposite direction.
She threw away any toy that remotely resembled Female. She banned me from watching anything on TV that didn't either have a cowboy or a policeman in it. And worst of all, I was no longer allowed to listen to my "Mary Poppins" record.
"Boys don't listen to that stuff." she'd remind me.
She was doing her best, she thought. She was doing what she had been taught by the only teachers she had. She was repeating behavior she was given by the people who raised her. And in the interim, she was shutting me down. And the further I went, the harder it was to come back.
And then, one summer night, as I lay in Nana's lap with my head in a pillow and the TV flickering images of Samantha Stevens (who I'd missed terribly) she whispered:
"I bought you a Barbie doll this morning, and when you wake up, we can take the day and brush her hair.'
I drifted off not completely sure I'd dreamed what my Nana said to me.
That night was spent in a haze of joy and terror that when I woke the next day, I'd actually be in my own room at home with my brother and my mother standing in the doorway tapping her foot and frowning. But as the light crept onto the sheets of my bed in the morning, I felt the warmth on my face, and as my eyes fluttered open, I could see the room I slept in every other summer. It was Nana's guest room and it was mine for a week. I remember bolting out of bed and rushing to the gigantic toy chest she kept in the corner by the window. I flung open the lid, and there, propped neatly against the side, was a golden haired Barbie, dressed in a bright green mini-skirt and matching tank top.
My Nana and I spent the day brushing her hair, eating cookies, watching TV and playing "Sorry".
My grandma didn't believe in shame. My grandma tried to teach me that lesson; that shame and guilt were given to us, and we didn't come equipped with those things. We acquired them. We accepted them. We internalized them. But that never, ever made them true.
Nana said to me as I left that week:
"Now you keep her and you tell your Mom that's your Barbie. I gave it to you and it's yours. And remind her it's not nice to throw away someone' else's gift."
And she was right.
As we change and as we transform and become who we truly are, we recognize our own gift. We begin to wake up to what we can contribute. We start the morning gravitating toward what makes us happy and what makes us whole. And in doing this, we have to remember that everyone else is trying their best to do the same thing. And if we can do this in a way that doesn't inflict our own beliefs on someone else's, if we can do this kindly and with grace and wisdom, then we can finally begin to be each other in a way that's pure and begins to shift the world into a more inclusive place. A place where what brings you joy is part of the gift you give away. We have to receive each other to the best of our ability.
So I try my best to remind myself, not to ever throw away someone else's gift.
It's a bit long, but it's worth the watch. Every single performer you see here is actually in the South Korean air force.
And quite frankly, I found it much more entertaining than the actual film.
If I wasn't in thesis hell, I'd still be writing about it.
It's difficult to write about Simone. It's difficult because for me, there's so much to say. There's so much going on. There's a book in every beat of every song that comes out of her. It's almost too much. Simone doesn't simply play or sing or act or paint or wiggle or be gentle or be kind or be filled with rage, Simone thrives in the best and the worst of all of that. She is an enigma that's incapable of conjecture and description.
There's a moment, in the second act of this piece, where Nina allows her fingers to run over the keys of the piano, and from those Gestures comes an anger and a resentment I've only read in Shakespeare. In fact, as she plays, almost concerto-like in it's musicality, I kept hearing the voice of Lady MacBeth, calling fruitlessly down a cavernous hallway in some decrepit old castle. Just weeping openly and calling and banging her fists against the walls, tearing her heart out wishing for a love as powerful as she was.
In the final act, Simone goes into a Pause. This isn't a freeze (as there is no such thing), this is practically the definition of what a true Pause is, and as she does this, the audience applauds. You can see her heart splitting wide open. Nothing has stopped or died or fallen away, if anything, she is more alive in that moment than almost the entire song. She is wide awake, and you can feel it. And then, as if from some other place, she makes a Gesture with her fists, and howls: "Oh!", long and gorgeous...a proclamation to the Universe as her heart aches and comes back together almost simultaneously.
I think though, if you look at the first act, where the song is attacking her from the inside, and she even tells us all how shocked she is that someone on the planet went through something this large and wrote about it, you can see the need to be heard and the need to hear. They are both very alive in her. At one point, her Shape on the piano changes as she turns up towards the emptiness of the backstage, and she Gestures kindly to us as we sing softly toward her:
"C'mon. Feed me. Feed me."
That is Nina Simone.