July 13, 2017
Don’t get me wrong. I got no
beef with Odysseus. Great guy. Tough.
But why can’t girls be epic?
July 13, 2017
Don’t get me wrong. I got no
beef with Odysseus. Great guy. Tough.
But why can’t girls be epic?
July 12, 2017
Homer doesn’t give her much credit: Penelope
mentioned briefly and only for her beauty. But
Odysseus, deserter of family for foreign wars, is melodiously
honored and pitied. Our poor hero, captive in a nymph’s love cave.
Calypso, just one more vessel for beauty and manipulation. Even Athena
gets reduced to “clever” in our collection of treasured verses, taught
in every high school. “Women learn to manipulate
because it’s the only power we’re allowed”
Sarah said once, trying to explain mean girls to me. Never
good with bullies and too quick to cry, eventually I learned
my own woman’s work. Patience like Penelope at her loom,
lying only a little. Trying to keep her boy alive, and strange
men from sneaking in the door behind her, taking
what they want. Her fear and her rage woven
tightly into a shroud for some drowned memory
of an old idea that sends no word.
July 11, 2017
Our mayoral candidates
wear spacesuits and vape onstage. I love
Seattle. We are so weird.
July 10, 2017
Overnight at JFK. Owls wearing lab coats
on tv and three little boys in shorts
riding their parents rollerbags
in and out of the men’s bathroom.
I think we might all be here all night.
The earliest departure reads 7:30am and
wow it’s only 11. The guy at the ticket counter
has his head in his palms while children scream
their conquests in the play area brought to you
by amazon.com. Oh Seattle. Espresso
from the fake French bistro isn’t bad. Only
a quick nap and nine hours til home.
July 9, 2017
Just couldn’t go home yet. Drive
south to the all-nite ice cream
place. This feeling is familiar. Too beautiful
a night to sleep is how I started smoking
two packs a day. To keep mosquitoes away
while I sat under this wide upstate sky.
Only a kid parked on the Stuart Road bridge
but already restless, even scared, to go home
or relax. Funny how we heal. So many of us
sober now and grateful to grow old.
The land, too. Eighteen acres that grew us
up wild and violent, newly owned and coaxed
into an organic farm. Loved, healed, though
still overgrown in places. Like me. I turned
forty and returned to the epicenter
of my quake, expecting ruins. But it’s peaceful
here even the thunderstorms push gently
against my windshield. For the first time
in a long while I feel tilted forward
toward the future, rather than back
on my heels in a frozen past. The road
soft beneath my acceleration.
Introvert on Vacation: A Haiku
Marathon writing day. Long
slow run beside the river. Luscious
dinner alone. Paradise.
Waves crashing every forty seconds
interspersed with electronic birdsong and a piano
refrain borrowed from the Beaches theme pulsed
behind my ninety minutes of deep tissue pressure
at Linda’s Drop-in Massage in Rochester, New York around ten thirty on a Friday night in July.
Once or twice the piano suddenly crescendoed a dark minor chord
foreboding tragic twists. “Why your shoulders so tight?” asked the small Asian woman
with muscular hands and round, warm elbows.
Could be the day I spent wandering my hometown looking for clues
hinting where I’m from and the exact nature of my escape, and stories
tracing lines around who my brothers were
before they died. Or it could be the car I backed into this morning
with the gusto of someone who used to know her way around here. Glad I buckled
and got the extra insurance on the rental. “Your shoulders tight, but you very strong,”
she gave me a thumbs up across the dark room, “You sleep good tonight, okay?”
writing isn’t public i think it happens alone
what real writers create. yes but it makes me
feel accountable, like someone is listening. maybe
try writing a poem, a poem a day. hide in metaphor.
that leaves me less nauseous, he said. and after a year
you’ll be a pretty good poet maybe. you’ll get tired
of writing the same poem over and over again. sherman
alexie said writing poetry is a treat for prose
writers like polishing a small distilled gem, words
smithed to a shine. okay okay you’re right. poetry
is always a good idea even if it’s rough at first.
Below is an excerpt from a short performance I created with a small group of artist friends earlier this year. We have been meeting over the last several months to examine how the construct of whiteness, white privilege, and white supremacy function in our lives, as an intentional step towards dismantling the unjust systems we are a part of. We talked a lot and read some and cried a little and then put together a performance we shared with a small audience. This is that.
Toward Love: Unearthing the Whiteness I’ve Grown
I am descended from neighborhood butchers and chemical engineers.
Fighter pilots and nightschool mechanics.
I come from a daughter who dreamt of being a mother as she helped care for her fifteen syblings in a two bedroom house.
I come from matriarchs who built a grocery store empire and brothers who bullied themselves through Jesuit school. On my mother’s side, I am a diaspora of blood that traces back to England, France, Ireland, and Germany.
But on my father’s side, Poland. Only there.
Last year my sweetheart and I took a trip to visit that land where I know I’m from.
I tried to pack what I knew. Vague stories of farmhouses and stepmothers. Big families without enough to eat. I tried to research where exactly. What towns did we know? What names did we carry? I tried to find stories and facts to stitch a path back to where my people came from
And nobody could remember anything. My only uncle couldn’t remember his great-grandmother’s last name. Somehow these names, towns, stories didn’t survive my great-grandparents migration from Poland to North Philadelphia in the late 1800s.
Why? Why this extreme, almost willful forgetting? I can only speculate…
My father’s people escaped a world of great violence and constant occupation.
Situated between Germany and Russia’s vast and hungry empires,
Poland was the crossfire of Europe for centuries. Used
as a chalkboard to draw and redraw property lines between vicious
neighbors who wanted their own shortcut to the Baltic Sea.
The conquering nations of Europe united to try and obliterate Poland many times and succeeded in some ways. Burning our vast libraries, looting our wealth, dissembling our magnificent castles, slaughtering our women and children with impunity.
And then they named us idiots. Polacks.
Because we arrived on horseback to face German tanks,
and stayed to fight rather than turn to run.
There is a saying in Poland:
“A Pole is born with a sword in one hand and a brick in the other. After the battle, we rebuild.”
But, of course, some things cannot be rebuilt.
These are the circumstances, the history, my great-grandparents fled when they fought their way into America four generations ago. These are the stories they relinquished, these are the mantels of identity they gave up to become American.
The culture that was not burned, buried and willfully taken from my Polish family, we seemed to surrender upon arriving here. In favor of the Dream, I think. Of the promise, of a land where we would not be the cursed and the conquered.
We became American. And white.
That is where my whiteness truly begins, I think. And it persists through my privilege. Through my habit of talking first and loudest. Through my righteousness about how I’m treated by the clerk at Rite-Aid. My whiteness assumes I’ll be able to ride the bus for free when I forget my wallet at home. That I will be taken care of. That my grievances will be heard and addressed. That this great nation is built to work for my benefit. That a police officer won’t shoot me if I turn my back on him. That as long as I align with the ordered status quo, I will be safe.
It’s hard to define
I’m beginning to know it when I see it because it claims the best of everything. The nicest cut of meat and the most beautiful songs, the richest plots of land and the most innovative ideas. If they’re not already ours, we claim them, keep the profits and revel in our smarts. We build empires well: a network of images stretching around the globe and deep into history, telling the stories of our victories, our beautiful perfect women, and our fast genius ideas.
Whiteness is hard to define, as much as we are trying today.
It resists it. Being defined. Named. Pointed at. Preferring to be invisible and ubiquitous.
Preferring to be the definer, reserving the right to define others and to execute
Those definitions. Sometimes in atrocities and sometimes in subtle suffocations.
The same white culture that has smothered native song, driven out the old gods, mannered wild expression… This same culture has smothered me, quieted my limbs, left a hole for some god to fill, made me inept at ritual and really bad at sharing.
This culture smothers me too.
And has made me the smotherer.
I have not killed a person’s body, but I have been complicit in the systems that do. I have diminished a person’s spirit because it didn’t fit into the shape of politeness. I have killed their participation and left no room for difference. I have associated myself with the victor lest I risk being conquered like my ancestors, and left without a library of my own.
I have been the smotherer of whatever did not fit into this order.
When my brother committed suicide many years ago, I needed to learn the distinction between regret and guilt. Regret, I learned, is accountable and awake. But guilt is secretive and frozen. Guilt builds a house for shame, the most evil of the emotions because it is vicious and sworn to silence, first isolating us and then eating us whole. Guilt wants comfort and absolution. Regret wants another chance.
I have been the smotherer.
I must say that with deep regret but I must say it enough times to wring out the guilt and exhaust my shame. Because I cannot be silent. This is one of the things I reclaim today with all of you. I reclaim my accountability and I relinquish my shame.
And I think of my great-grandparents and the miracle of their survival.
I am inspired by how they made the best choices they could,
in what must have been hard, hard times.
I reclaim that courage, and vow to honor them by making the best choices I can now, in these hard, hard times.
I choose to be accountable and clear. Unsilent.
I push further back and reclaim their swords and their bricks,
And all the culture I can unearth.
I reclaim ritual. I reclaim prayer. I point at my whiteness and vow to turn this weapon into a tool, to use my privilege as both sword and brick to join in the battle to dismantle these histories and systems that smother us still.
Three years ago my brother Frank ended his time on this planet with a gun, and I went into hiding. First artistically and then completely. I moved to the beach and went underground, stopped performing and making, studied solitude, nursed a terribly battered heart, and tried to find a new way through the world without the creative appetite that had guided me up to that point. And it worked. I healed on my own, walking on the break without wrapping it in the bandages of public witness. I did my best not to attract attention to myself or my whereabouts and learned a new way out of the chair, through the door, into a serene world of long views and solitary commutes. Two years of keeping my own company, hiding, and healing. That time is ending now, I think.
With these moves. Into new projects. And back into the city.
I’ve spent the last two months directing – workshops of new plays and, opening this week, Ellen McLaughlin’s devastating Iphigenia and Other Daughters at the University of Washington. And I have not felt so good, and full, and inspired in a very, very long time. This time of robust collaboration and good making will be punctuated at the end of this month with my move away from the beach and back into the heart of the city. I feel like I am returning, heading home after an arduous and solitary journey. Home to the theater and home to the city.
And, of course, underneath the plotlines of all of these projects and transitions has been the melancholy chords of October’s score. October 5th was my brother Frank’s birthday, and my body quaked for most of the day, feeling the violence of his absence. And fourteen years ago today, October 17th, we lost my youngest brother Adam to his own single gunshot that I hope couriered him softly into the next place, gentler and brighter. I’ll never forget that morning. The strange voicemails from my aunt, the red capri pants I was wearing when my knees gave way with the news dropping me hard on the damp pavement. I’ll never forget that jagged week in my old hometown sleeping in a guest room and trying to draw my mom and Frank as close as they’d let me, while migrating geese sounded taps overhead. That was only the second time a gaping hole had been blown through my heart, shuddering the aorta loose from its fasteners and tangling my veins so the oxygenated blood mingled with what had been suddenly used up, pooling in a dark, deep purple melancholy. An ocean of grief that is still part of the topography of my body. You can find it on the back page of the map of me, out beyond the mountains of my ambition and the dirt roads and desire lines I’ve carved and still wander to each of the people I’ve known and loved. Beyond my great lakes of talent and privilege and across the vast fields where I plant and harvest huge crops of new emotions each year — barrels of rage, bundles of tenacious hope, silos filled with small kernels of love. One for every stranger and small thing. One for every good try and terrible fail. One for every tiny memory I can muster of what my family once was like — all in tact and breathing and expecting to sit at the dinner table together forever. Out past all of that is this ocean of grief that laps at my edges, dark purple and dangerous, so deep and very vast. It is a hard road to reach it, plagued by bad weather and fallen limbs of old, dry promises. But still, I like to visit it sometimes and always in October. I sit on the cold beach, damp with an expansive sadness, and listen to it come in and out, crashing and receding, reminding me of the mysterious places I can’t see, far beyond the horizon, where my brothers are waiting for me.