Not a Newspaper Blackout Poem

This is not a newspaper blackout poem, as obviously, there was no newspaper, just a journal entry from a couple weeks ago, but that was my inspiration.  And I liked it.

newspaper blackout poem
not a newspaper blackout
Not a newspaper blackout poem
Not a newspaper blackout poem

This Day: In Rememberance

I wrote this a decade ago, as part of a contemporary dance solo.  If I ever update the copy from VHS, I’ll share it.  Until then, only the words…

This Day

When my grandfather died, I had my hands on his feet.
The feet of my father’s father.
Father Thompson at the foot of the bed,
This day you shall be with me in Paradise.
The first and only time in my life a Catholic priest
Has made me feel God in my bones.
This day.

A Datoga tribeswoman in northern Tanzania once told me,
That when a person dies,
Their spirit goes into the Earth.
Goes underneath our feet.
This day you shall be with me in Paradise.

A Native American woman from northern Arizona once told me,
That the eyes of the soul
Are on the soles of our feet.
This day you shall be with me in Paradise.

I have heard from many people,
Many times before,
That the eyes are the windows of the soul.
I wish I remember my grandfather’s eyes,
In those moments before he died.
He had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.
But all I remember is my hands on his feet.
My aunts had given him a pedicure.
This day.

The day my grandfather died
I lay my hands on his feet.
The feet of my father’s father.
And this day,
This day you shall be with me in Paradise.

This day you shall be with me in Paradise

Dr. William Alexander Roy
Nov. 20th 1914-July 18th 1998
Rest in Peace

The Stars as I Remember

I smelled Tanzania in the morning dust of Marfa, Texas.  A rush of memory inhaled.

It was the morning after the night I realized that the stars were no longer available to me.  Not in their fullness at least, not all that I know are up there.

When you have a slow-progressing ailment, you get surprised sometimes.  You go so long without trying to do something, that you don’t even realize that you can’t do it anymore. Slow decline is sometimes imperceptible. Until you’re at McDonald Observatory for a star party, and it hits you, that obviously night-blindness would hinder star-gazing, but it’s been so long since you’ve been away from light pollution that it hadn’t even occurred to you.  And then that which is lost begins to sink in.

stars

Image: David DeHetre on Flickr

And with these surprises, there is a choice to make.  How low do you let this new information push you?  How long and how much do you let yourself be crushed?

I can still see some stars.  And planets are still clear and bright.  But I will never again see the stars as I remember them.  But I do remember, and that becomes all the difference. What I can no longer see, I have seen.

I have seen the stars in Tanzania.  The whole blanket of the Southern Hemisphere sky.  I have seen the stars from the floor of the Grand Canyon and from a glacier in the North Cascades.

And I can remember the first time I saw a shooting star.  I was on Icehouse Lake in Northern California.  It was clear and perfect and unmistakeable, and I realized I’d been wrong every other time I’d thought I’d seen one.

I saw a shuttle re-enter the atmosphere once, as it made its way back to Houston.  And I saw the Northern Lights once too, with my mother in Montana.

All these memories came back to me, sitting in the dark at McDonald Observatory.  I focused on the brightest stars still visible in the night sky, and I chose to feel grateful.  I have seen, and I remember.

This thing that I have, Retinitis Pigmentosa, isn’t going anywhere.  It will be here, with its gradual, unwanted surprises.  But my memories will be here too.  All the moments of wonder and beauty. They belong to me, even if everything else fades, even if on the surface I lose track of them.

The imprint remains.  Like dust.  Like morning.

What is Art?

I have to begin here with a public service announcement for anyone who will ever find themselves in the act of public speaking in any capacity.  Please listen carefully.

Do not quote yourself.  As in, I’d like to end with a couple of quotes.  The first is from Plato and the second is from me.  

No.  Really, no.  Unless, of course, the title of your speech is I’m a Gigantic Douche Bag, then by all means, quote away. Otherwise, it’s really not a good idea.  It makes the audience want to hurt you.

And I don’t mean that hypothetically.  I was that audience, at a professional development some weeks back.  I should also say the speaker was an actor, so you know, that explains, if not excuses, the situation.

But before he lost me with his unbridled self-love, he actually said something meaningful to me.  He offered up a definition of art that I quite liked.  Something along the lines of, art is putting things together that you care about.  (Sorry buddy, I don’t remember your name to give you full credit here, and quite frankly, I don’t care enough to find out. I trust you will credit yourself enough in the future for the both of us.)

Anyway, a nice definition, I thought.  And it stayed with me despite my wanting to wash my brain after the self-quote debacle.  And it got me thinking, for the zillionth time, about the nature of art and how we define it.

One would think that after an extended Liberal Arts education and years as a creative movement teacher that I would be completely done hashing out questions like what is art?  But I guess when something is important to us we can chew on it forever.

But this time, I thought I would try something new, so I put it out there on my personal Facebook page, to see what sort of comments I would get with the prompt Art is…

And it went a little something like this:

Art is…

…deeply missed by my body and soul
…an essential part of being human
…a new adventure in abstract
…everything
…the best umbrella in a shit storm
…hard
…connection
…life energy honored
…emotion conveyed
…when you create something from nothing

Beautiful, isn’t it?  And what I was left with, beyond the feeling that I’m friends with some awesome and poetic people, was the perfect reminder that quite simply, art matters.  Definition and construct aside, whatever it is, it’s worth it.

So go make something.  Or see something, share something, touch something, feel something, create something, do something.  It matters.

But don’t worry, I won’t quote me on that.

what is art

 

The Cultural Myth of the Epidural

I got the you’re crazy look again.

I told someone I birthed Hooly naturally, without an epidural or other pain medication, and I got the look.

But the look is neither here nor there to me.  It’s whatever.

What does give me pause is the comments that sometimes accompany this look. Comments like, I don’t know how you did that, or the more telling, there’s no way I could have done that.

Why the self-doubt?

I don’t actually ask that question during these conversations because I typically try not to be socially weird, so I pose it here instead.

Comments like these, though tossed around casually, are suggestive of a larger issue at hand–the cultural myth of the epidural.

I’m not referring to the debate about the safety or associated risks or side-effects of getting an epidural.  That is a separate issue, and one that people typically form an opinion on first, then find research to support their feeling afterwards.

What I’m talking about is the perpetuation of the idea that women cannot actually handle childbirth without being medicated.  This subtly pervasive notion that the pain is too great for us to bear, that we can’t do it, that in the moment of childbirth, our bodies deceive us.

Intended or not, that is the implied subtext of comments like there’s no way I could have done that.  And it’s a script that is reinforced in our culture time and again. It is in the movies where the laboring woman grabs someone by the collar and demands drugs in some freaky poltergeist voice.  And it is there when an epidural is repeatedly offered to a woman in the hospital who has previously refused one.  The underlying message here is, you’re not going to make it on your own.

The myth of the epidural likely has its roots in the heralding of science over nature. Hallelujah ladies, the triumph of modern medicine has saved us, and we no longer have to endure the pain of childbirth.

But along the way that don’t have to has become twisted into cannot. As in, we cannot endure the pain of childbirth.  We are unable to.  We are not enough.

And the impact of that twist is more than just semantics.  It is a passive relinquishing of control that helps pave the way to all manner of legislation governing women’s bodies and reproductive rights.  Saying we cannot handle childbirth is inadvertently saying we cannot handle our bodies and the decisions therein.  And that is a dangerous admission.  We cannot give up our power in this area while expecting to maintain it in another.

I’m in no way suggesting that all women should birth naturally, or that there is a superiority in doing so.  If you choose to get an epidural, great.  Do what you want.

Doing what you want is actually the whole point.  It’s about choice.  And choices regarding childbirth need to come from education and empowerment, not from bullying by so-called care providers, and not from the inferred pressure of cultural rhetoric and societal norms.

Choosing to receive an epidural is completely different from feeling like you can’t do it without one.  It rejects the myth and changes the narrative to, yes of course I can handle my body, and though I could labor unmedicated, I have made the decision not to. 

Making informed choices about childbirth represents a reclaiming of power, an assertion over our domain.

So how do we dispel a myth that is culturally ingrained?

Like anything, it starts with admittance–recognizing that such a myth exists, and that it is, in fact, just a myth, a falsehood.

Beyond that, it occurs as all cultural change does, slowly and from within our inner circles.  Change is in the stories we share with each other.  It is what we tell our daughters about themselves, and what we teach our sons about women.  It is educating ourselves and supporting one another.

And at the end of the day, it is women’s voices speaking with conviction.

Yes, we are enough.

The Oscar Wilde Memorial In Merrion Square (Dublin)

Image: William Murphy on Flickr