Thursday, November 9, 2017

One.At.A.Time.

If I take it one step at a-
one blink at a-
one moment at a
                       time
line by line
will I cut through
                       black tape
editor in session
judge and jury in session
Con-fession
my sweet beloved self-censorship
reminding me just how truly bad a writer I am...
might it make it to a second paragraph?

And I remember the time when I was told I was not a poet.
I remember the moment
my words were stripped
                        from the page
shot down and cut to size
resized my imagined ties
to the image I have of myself.
And I remember the time when I wrote spoken word that never met the inside of a mouth.
That time, this time, my time
for all time -
What is risk?
If "vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage,"
what the fuck is being a mother?
I tell my friend that I have always loved spoken word, I tell my friend how Hamilton was the best thing I have ever seen, I tell my friend how the experience broke my heart.
What was once sewn shut
becomes
unsutured.
What would've, could've, would never have...
and I am lost
an anger at sea
all churn and no wave.

I want to believe that it's still inside me.
That bravery to put myself out there
and not give a fuck.
One step at a
One blink at a
one moment
one word
one breath
one letter
one
time.







Wednesday, November 8, 2017

An Open Letter to Lin Manuel Miranda

It's been a long time since I've felt inspired. It's been a long time since I've felt that rush of feelings come flooding into my nervous system, the kind of thoughts that make me question all of my life decisions and though I hate to admit it, for a moment make me doubt and wonder if I have made, not necessarily the right choices, but good choices. In 2003, I graduated with awards and honors and grades from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with a prestigious BFA degree and a compliment from my teacher who said to my father, "She's got it." It is now almost 15 years later and I do not have awards and honors in writing. I have a defunct blog I quit writing on the minute I had children, a new career as an early childhood teacher and two young daughters all under the age of 3. I can't blame my absence from writing on the girls. It didn't start with them. But something did happen when I found out I was pregnant. I became exposed.

There are thousands of mommy blogs and Instagram accounts and twitter feeds and there are books and television shows and movies, but for me none of them get motherhood right. For me, motherhood has meant stepping into an abyss. I have never felt more alone and more connected, more joyous and more fearful, more vulnerable and more ashamed and typically these couplet feelings are wedded in the same moments of excruciating, beautiful, time. I have always written what I thought was the truth. I have tried to write with guts. I have tried to live a brave life. I have led a life with my heart. I have quit jobs I couldn't stomach. I have imprisoned a man who wronged me. I try hard to forgive my mother.  I have moved across the country for love. I have traveled the world and I have continued to make art in any way I could whether it be a documentary or a play, an essay or a photograph, a blog post, even if it was a private Instagram account with tiny letters to my daughter, I have always done something to try to move the conscious of the world into a place where I would want to raise two girls. Becoming a mother has cracked me open like a motherfucker and yet, it has zipped me up just as tightly. The fear of what you so beautifully name "the unimaginable" always feels like it has its fingers around my throat.

When Ava was born, I would sleep with one hand on her belly just to make sure I could feel the rise and fall of that tiny breath, inflating her body with life over and over and over again - the reassurance that she would be there tomorrow and because of that, so would I. For someone who has lived my life successfully avoiding putting down roots, I have become tethered in the most profoundly terrible way- five fingers wrapped my thumb. I had already lived through Sandy Hook and the Isla Vista mass shooting (an old stomping ground of mine) my own grandparents murder-suicide by gun before having children. I had already stated I was a one-issue voter. I signed up for all the gun-control websites. I donated money. And then I had Ava and I froze. And then it was November 9, 2016 and I cried. And then I had Violetta and I held my breath. I have been holding my breath for quite some time and tonight I finally exhaled and the pain took my breath away. My stomach cramped. The tightness fractured, sending loose parts of tension knocking around my nerves settling in tight knots in my back, wrists and ankles. When I breath, I want to cry so I stop short. Every breath, I stop short.

A couple months ago, I found a deal for cheap Dodger tickets and my husband and I went for an impromptu and rare date night. While standing in line for a hot dog, something inside me started spinning. It always starts as a stomach ache. It always starts with that fear that I am about to throw up and then is quickly replaced with the wish that it was that simple. Anxiety, panic, fear, distrust...I furiously whip out my phone and shoot off a text telling my friend that this email serves as an official record of who my girls should go to in the event that their dad and I are killed at a public sporting event. Tonight at your show, I found myself feeling that same dread in the middle of an incredible song. I suddenly desperately looked for the exits. I imagined being stuck in the great center row orchestra tickets we had and wondered if I would try to play dead or claw my way to an exit. I do not think about foreign terrorist attacks and I lived in lower Manhattan during 9/11. I think about being at the grocery store with my girls and an active shooter walks through the automatic sliding doors. I think about being at Disneyland or at the mall or the park and wondering if I would fight back or if I would flee or if I would freeze and just lay my body on top of them. I think about getting my own gun and I fucking hate guns. I hold my breath a little tighter each time news of a mass shooting airs as I await some impending unimaginable doom that feels like its one step closer to my door even though it has already been at my door, even though its at all of our doors.

I cried tonight when I watched Eliza Hamilton say goodbye to her son. I cried when she forgave her husband. And I cried when her husband died from a gun shot. It is all so fucking unimaginable. I long for the days when I could march in the streets and take risks without even thinking of them as risks and donate to causes and cures and rights and freedoms without any pulse on the fear and pain so many have suffered. And yet if I were given the chance to go back in time and undo motherhood, I wouldn't change a damn thing.

I feel fucked up after your show. Inspired and raw but mostly fucked up and exposed. I bought a pen they were selling that says, "Pick up a pen, start writing." I'm hoping that somewhere that "it" is still inside me. Life is too unimaginable without it. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Greatest Lesson

Kas, Turkey
It's been almost two years since my husband and I returned from 9 months of travel around the globe that included 20 countries and 5 continents. I wish that I could say I came back with a renewed sense of spirituality after spending two months in India or a healthier body being away from the American diet and living in Asia for almost three months or a positive uplifting message for humanity after teaching English to Tibetan refugees for three weeks. I wish that I could say that I immediately came home and made slide shows of all our adventures and told harrowing and hilarious stories to all of our friends and families and that we hung our souvenirs and tapestries and framed our panoramic photographs and read through our weathered travel diaries. I wish that I could say that the experience was completely transformative and we both came back inspired and ready to start careers with newfound passions and a greater sense of purpose. I wish that we could say we now walked the earth with a stronger connectivity to our fellow man.

But, I can't.

What I can say is that traveling fills my soul in a way I cannot describe. It pushes me to become the best version of myself - trusting yet discerning, open yet skeptical, adventurous yet cautious. When I travel I feel in balance. I feel happy. I feel sad and outraged. I feel scared. I feel empowered. I feel confident and excited. I feel because I must. There is nothing to escape to when I feel all the feelings. There is no home to go back to that is mine, there is only one discomfort displaced by another discomfort. There is no comfort zone when you set out for long-term budget travel. There is plenty of food poisoning and sleepless nights and running to catch any form of transportation. But there is nothing comfortable about it. Because of this, you are exposed all of the time. You are invigorated and inspired, but tired. You are faced with your fears every single day and because of this they become very small, so small that you might just show up in a new town without a single reservation and just know that you will find a place to sleep that night. You will start to see humanity as friendly and actually very helpful. You will also see how terribly flawed we all are. 

I did not come back from world travel changed. I came back informed. I came back with a different lens through which I view the world and I came back sad... and relieved. Sad the adventure was over (for now) but so relieved when I heard the American accent of the custom's officer who was from the same neighborhood I was from. I felt overwhelmed returning to American supermarkets for groceries. Do there really need to be hundreds of choices for bread? Tens of choices for pickles? I went wedding dress shopping with my soon-to-be sister in law a couple days after returning and I was astonished at what we pay for wedding gowns and veils and shoes, even though I happily paid my price just a year and half earlier. Within days of moving back, we also decided to leave New York and move to LA, my hometown, and days later learned my mother was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Our travels were put on a shelf, a bag of souvenirs and mementos (that only recently was unpacked) thrown in a closet. Our thousands of pictures saved on a hard drive, packed away inside a drawer so we could make the most of our tight living quarters as we tried to get back on our feet in our home country.  

What we thought would be an experience that connected us with humanity on some deeper level, turned out to be isolating when we returned home and sometimes even embarrassing. No matter what your tone, talking about that time you took a balloon ride in Cappadocia or rode camels in the Moroccan desert or went blackwater rafting in New Zealand comes off pretentious. People asked us three questions: What was the weirdest thing you ate? What was your favorite country?  Did you get sick anywhere?

The answers: Unknown meats in Cambodia. Vietnam for me, Tibet for my husband. Yes - Morocco for me and Myanmar for my husband.

But a month ago, a friend from Colorado came to visit. As she bounced my 5 month old daughter on her knee, she asked me, "What was the greatest lesson you learned traveling?"

Without hesitation, the answer flew out of my mouth, "That the world hates women."

Her mouth dropped open and mine dropped a little, too. I followed it up with saying, "I also learned how happy I am that I was able to return to this country because it is my home." As someone who produced a documentary entitled Dear America that captured a portrait of post-9/11 youth, to find this gratitude for a country I spent many years criticizing was no small lesson. I am not one for patriotism or nationalism. I do not think Americans are better than other citizens of other countries. My life is not more important or more special than another's anywhere. I am just grateful that I am a woman in this country, even with its failings in parental leave policies and gender inequality and sexism and racism and homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and so on and so on... I am not saying there is no work to be done. But I am saying that I am grateful that here I have the opportunity to fight for these things, even though there should not still be a fight for basic human rights. 

When I found out I was pregnant 7 months after returning, I knew it was a girl. I knew it was a girl because I wanted a boy. I was terrified of having to raise a girl, and yet, I knew she would be the gift I was given. How would I tell her about the statistics on sexual abuse and assaults on girls and women in this country, let alone the rest of the world? How would I teach her to love her body when I have struggled my whole life to truly love mine? How would I prepare her for the day or conversation when all of her achievements will be dismissed and she will be judged by her looks? How will I teach her to be open to new experiences but skeptical, discerning, and cautious? How will I teach her to protect herself in a world that that will not value her the way her family does or even her flawed country does? How will I save her from the pain and hurt and experiences women have been suffering around the globe for all time? 

I can't. And the weight of that is crushing. The world will keep being the world. The bigger question becomes, how can I teach my daughter to love? How can I teach her to choose love always, no matter the experience, the pain, or the loss? How can I teach her to love her body and her mind? To love the people she shares this planet with and this planet, too? How can I teach her to find love for those that hurt her and not let those that hurt or harm her become her teachers?  How can I teach my daughter to love, love, love - no matter what?

Practice, I guess.

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