by Paloma Spaeth
There's a girl I'm calling Z. Z is short for my middle initial, not my middle name. Z's been appearing at the center of my work lately. Sometimes, I find it's her voice speaking, when I meant for it to be my own.
But Z is me, sort of. She's a part of me that I don't usually focus on. She's a more daring, more perverse, more shameless version of me. I'd call her an exaggeration of myself, but let's face it, sometimes when we exaggerate ourselves, it just comes out looking more honest than we're used to.
I guess Z is not really a girl at all, but a woman. I forget sometimes because Z can remember her childhood so well - or, should I say, she remembers my childhood. So, I may think of her as a girl-woman, but Z has no question that she's left girlhood behind.
Z tells stories that aren't quite my stories, or so I think at the time. She goes places that can make people cringe, make them approach me after I've read my work, bringing wide eyes and the question, "Wow, did that really happen to you?" I shake my head, and I'm halfway through my no, no, nos when I realize that yes, that is my truth, in a way. They're the same places I've been, just called by different names. The same colors I've seen, cast in different shades. But I continue shaking my head, and draw out my chuckle so it doesn't halt as a lump in my throat.
Z feels what I feel, only she lets herself show it. She even gets angry. Anger, the emotion I fear the most, swells in Z like a beat that won't hit until it courses through all of her veins. She's like me in the way that anger makes her tremble, makes her feel like expressing herself will set off a cannon that can't be recaptured, only Z wants to make a sound. Her biggest fear is, sometimes, my biggest comfort. Silence.
I'm not sure what to do with Z now. Sure, I could set up some long-term goals for her, all the works, with a book series deal and a reality TV gig and all, but I'm talking right now. I don't know how to finish her poems. I don't even know how to finish this post.
In a way, that's why I like giving up some control to a raw character like Z. I think I could learn from stepping back and listening to her memories and insights. It may be a messy process, one full of surprises, but with Z's truth, mine comes stumbling forward.
I was really happy to come across the following video. It was one of several created by ReachOut.com
, which is an excellent website, as you can gather from its description
: "ReachOut is an information and support service using evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues. All content is written by teens and young adults, for teens and young adults, to meet them where they are, and help them recognize their own strengths and use those strengths to overcome their difficulties and/or seek help if necessary."It's really empowering to approach the hurdles of tough times with the idea that our own strength can get us through. And even though ReachOut is primarily for young folks, it's a lesson that all of us can find hope in. This short film shows a young woman finding hope by writing poetry. She says, "I noticed how writing out my emotions could affect how I felt, how others felt, and ultimately, how others treated me. I discovered that through my writing, I could create change." It doesn't mean that life will be perfect for her, now that she's picked up a pen. But it's true that she's found her voice, and that's something nobody can take away from her. You can watch all of the ReachOut films at their Youtube channel here.
Around this time last year, I began posting about Good for the World holiday shopping
. The truth is, I absolutely hate shopping around holiday time. There are plenty of reasons for this, plenty having to do with crowds and greed and anti-gratitude and the larger picture of how consumerism hurts the world, but really for me it all comes down to this - Christmas is no longer as magical as it was when I was a child, and I bitterly blame every holiday Wal-Mart commercial for this fact. Never mind that whole growing up thing. How can one believe in magic with the message that we can only be happy if we add the season's must-have material item
to our collection of...stuff?But I believe
it's not too late to get the magic back. Or, at least we can create a new version of the magic. We don't have to buy into the idea that we must gain material things to celebrate one another. We can hang on to the more real, less tangible things that make life worth celebrating.
So, my first suggestion for Good for the World holiday shopping is to participate in Buy Nothing Day
. You can participate today, or tomorrow, or hell, you can make it a whole Buy Nothing holiday season if you want. Instead of shopping this weekend, why not make an extra effort to spend time with loved ones, or to relax alone? And if you feel like you're falling behind in the season of gift-giving, why not spend the day creating something new? Personally, I'd prefer a thoughtful, handmade gift to one purchased at Wal-Mart. Know anyone in your life who may feel the same?Buying nothing doesn't mean we have to do nothing. It means we can take a moment to remember that the true value of things isn't determined by how much they contribute to our credit card debt. Our most precious gifts are our hearts, bodies and minds. At least, those are the holidays as I remember them.
It's that time of year again. The stars are shifting, at least in my sky. I like where my birthday lands on the calendar. It feels as if I turn a new age, then go into winter hibernation, a time of reflection, so that by the time the new year rolls around, I know where I'd like to focus my energy in the next year. At least, that's how I'd like this to go. Looking back, it hasn't always happened quite so smoothly. A lot of what I've been wondering about has come down to the same question - the question of whether or not to take a chance.
I don't like looking back with regret, and around birthday time especially I prefer to look forward, and to remember the good things about the year that's gone by. I have to notice, though, that when I look back this year, some of the moments that meant the most to me were the times when I took chances. And it makes me look back to those times when I held back from taking a risk, for whatever reason. Fear. Self-doubt. Perhaps because it was the sensible thing to do. Or maybe just because I managed to convince myself of that. Not every chance I took worked out in an ideal way. But how co
uld I regret doing something, really, if in the moment, heart thumping and all, I truly felt alive?
That's more than I can say for some of the times when I stayed in my hole, buried in fear.
Today is Wellness Wednesday
, a weekly gathering of LGBTQ survivors of violence at CUAV (Community United Against Violence
). When I agreed to be a part of the Wellness Circle coordinating this event, I knew that part of the reason the staff had reached out to me was that I am a queer survivor of violence who has sought support through CUAV. CUAV is all about empowering survivors to heal and spread growth and healing throughout communities affected by violence. So I knew, also, that being a member of the Wellness Circle meant taking a chance each week. It means being out, essentially, as a survivor, standing up each week not just as someone teaching others how to heal, but as someone welcoming other survivors along with me on my own healing journey. It feels like a big risk for me. It feels like more than I would've ever risked before. And it feels great to know that I'm moving forward. Of course, I can only take one moment at a time. There are reasons we hold on to certain sources of safety
, and I don't yet feel ready to risk everything. But I think it's okay that I'm just taking one chance at a time. I don't always know what waits for me after I leap, but someday I'll be sure of my landing.
Tomorrow is a special day - it's my birthday! But it's also more than that. I'm glad that my special day coincides with a day that's very important for LGBTQ communities - scratch that, it's a day that's important for all people, everywhere. It's the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance
, a day for all of us to lend a moment of our lives to honor those who have lost theirs due to anti-transgender hate. TDOR is just one day on which we memorialize those lost to anti-transgender violence, but it's also a reminder that this violence is happening all year long. In this piece in the Huffington Post, actress and transgender advocate Laverne Cox writes of the daily struggles of transgender folks who are just trying to live their lives, but who must live under the threat of violence simply because of who they are.
Now is a chance to examine how all of us contribute to this culture of violence, everything from our words and expectations to our silence or blindness to the hate. Now is our chance to explore how we might transform this culture of violence into one of love, support, solidarity. And now is a time to show that nobody is dispensable. Those who suffered at the hands of hatred will never be forgotten. Since my birthday falls on this day, it's the perfect opportunity for me to raise awareness about anti-transgender violence and to support those organizations and individuals working so hard to bring it to an end. That's why I've been asking friends and family to donate to CUAV (Community United Against Violence) as a gift to me and to our communities, to contribute to the essential work of helping our communities grow in our tools to respond to and prevent violence. Any amount of donation from you would
go directly to helping CUAV continue to do what they do, empowering those affected most by violence to create a world without it. Visit the CUAV website at www.cuav.org for more information on how to donate
. And let me know if you do - I'll send you a personal thank-you for this wonderful gift.
The San Francisco Transgender Day of Remembrance will take place Sunday, November 20th at 5:00 pm at the Ark of Refuge. This event is open to everyone in trans communities, including all families, friends and allies, and food and beverages will be provided. Come out to hear powerful words from Carolina Morales of CUAV, as well as other members of our comunities. Click here for more information on this event
. Also, please visit the Transgender Day of Remembrance website to learn more about the day, find other events throughout the country, and read the names and stories of
the people we memorialize this year. For more trans-related resources and support, visit Susan's Place
, Gender Spectrum
or Gender Advocates
. And before you go, here's a quick and dirty reminder that I'm reading tomorrow afternoon, at the Clattering Loom, an event that will include music, food and poetry. Visit my events page for details.
has won the National Book Award for poetry. The awards ceremony was held last night, and on a tip from Patricia Smith, I watched her acceptance speech. Wow. Talk about the power of words. As host John Lithgow said when Nikky was finished,
“That was the best acceptance speech for anything I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s also the loudest I’ve ever heard anyone cheer for an award for poetry.”And it's enough to remind a poet like me of why I do what I do. And of the fact that the obstacles before me have been stacked for centuries. But that didn't stop folks from writing, even way back then.
The legacy I'm following is a bold, courageous one. You can watch Nikky Finney's speech here, starting at the 2:20 mark. Here's the transcript: We begin with history. The slave codes of South Carolina, 1739. A fine of $100 and 6 months in prison would be imposed for anyone found teaching a slave to read or write, and death is the penalty for circulating any incendiary literature. The ones who longed to read and write but were forbidden, who lost hands and feet, were killed by laws written by men who believed they owned other men. Words devoted to quelling freedom, insurgency, imagination, all hope. What about the possibility of one day making a poem? The king’s mouth and the queen’s tongue, arranged to perfection on the most beautiful paper, sealed with wax and palmetto, tree sap, determined to control what can never be controlled – the will of the human heart to speak its own mind. Tonight, these forbidden ones move around the room as they please, they sit at whatever table they want, wear camel-colored field hats and tomato-red kerchiefs. They are bold in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best, their cotton croaker sack shirts are black wash pot clean and irreverently not tucked in. Some even have come in white Victorian collars and bustiers. Some have just climbed out of the cold, wet Atlantic just to be here. We shiver together. If my name is ever called out, I promised my girl poet self, so too would I call out theirs. To: Parneshia Jones, Marianne Jankowski, Northwestern University Press. This moment has everything to do with how serious, how gorgeous you do what you do. A.J. Verdelle, editor partner in this language life, you taught me that repetition is holy, courage can be a daughter’s name, and two is stronger than one. Papa, chief opponent of the death penalty in South Carolina for fifty years, fifty-seven years married to the same Newberry girl, when I was a girl, you bought every incendiary dictionary, encyclopedia, and black history tome that ever knocked on our Oakland Avenue door. Mama, dear Mama, Newberry girl fifty-seven years married to the same Smithfield boy, you made Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays out of foil, lace, cardboard, papier-maché, insisting beauty into our deeply segregated, Southern days. Adrienne Rich, Bruce Smith, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, simply to be in your finalist company is to brightly burn. National Book Foundation and National Book Award judges, there were special high school English teachers who would read and announce the highly anticipated annual report, even as it was stowed way down deep in some dusty corner of our tiny, Southern newspaper. Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles, great and best teacher of my life. You asked me on a Friday, 4 o’clock, 1977, I was nineteen and sitting on a Talladega College wall, dreaming about the only life I ever wanted, that of a poet. “Ms. Finney,” you said, “Do you really have time to sit there? Have you finished reading every book in the library?” Dr. Katie Cannon, what I heard you say once haunts every poem that I write. “Black people,” you said, “were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden to become literate.” I am now officially speechless.
-Nikky Finney, National Book Awards, November 16, 2011. Watch Nikky Finney read "My Time Up With You" from her award-winning collection, and talk about the poem's inspiration. Gives me chills.
If you've been reading this blog recently, you already know what's up - it's Wellness Wednesday at CUAV, and this week I'll be helping facilitate as LGBTQ survivors of violence gather for food, games, and art. Visit www.cuav.org for more info. Wellness Wednesdays are new to CUAV this fall, and so far, one of the best things about them is that they're so much fun. You might say that we have so much fun playing games, sharing food and creating art that we forget it's all for the sake of healing. But it's not so hard for me to believe. One big lesson I've learned from working with everyone from the community movers of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) to the young folks of The Beat Within is that creating social change can, indeed, be a whole lot of fun.
At CUAV, we're building community power and helping each other heal, all with smiles on our faces. It's a beautiful thing.
I love knowing that you can change the world and have fun doing it.
Having fun reading at
The Living Room Reading Series
Laughter is a big part of my life these days, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I've been feeling free to write with more humor, and that work has been showing up at readings such as Saturday Night Special and the Living Room Reading Series. In fact, I think doing readings is part of what's been pushing me toward humor. It's great to feel the audience respond, and if that response comes after the reading in the form of applause or compliments, that's great. But it's even better in the moment to feel the room on a journey through the work, and hearing laughter is one of my favorite ways to feel that. And I've been engaging more directly with humor through the Hermana Sisters, the comedy duo I've created with my good friend Elaine Gavin.
While preparing for our debut performance at That's What She Said!, Elaine and I tackled some hard questions - How can we challenge what's offensive through humor without being offensive ourselves? Where do we draw the line between censorship and awareness? And what's more funny - Viagra or laxatives?We ended up taking on some of the subjects most important to us, all while laughing, and without crossing those lines we believe shouldn't be crossed. The most important thing, we reminded ourselves nervously as our debut drew closer, was that we were having fun. Still, there was a sense of something larger than that, an awareness that we would be both laughing with our audience and sharing perspective. Our tentative version of what the show's feature, Morgan, delivered in this hilarious, poignant stand up set from her point of view. See how we did as the Hermana Sisters here
. It's easy to think that doing hard, heart-breaking work, like trying to help improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable people
, would be a downer most of the time. Sometimes it is pretty sad. But the thing about creating change is that we're creating positivity, spreading the good news of better days just like we spread our smiles. Looking forward with laughter.More fun this week - Tomorrow, November 17, I'll be attending InsideStoryTime Twists and Turns, featuring an amazing lineup of Ishmael Reed, Frances Lefkowitz, Sona Avakian, Kenton K. Yee and Matthew James DeCoster. And on Sunday, November 20, I'll be celebrating my birthday with an afternoon reading at The Clattering Loom!
I owe this blog a recap! I've been keeping busy with a variety of events
, including some exciting new projects, so here's a quick recap of all that's been going on. Deeper reflections to follow.
Regie Cabico reads at
Lit Crawl for Matrices
- Matrices Press. Matrices Press debuted during Lit Crawl 2011, the final night of the literary festival Litquake, with a reading by the writers of Matrices: Origins. Writers included myself, Regie Cabico, Laura Wolfe, Willy Lizárraga, Antonio G. Fernandez, and the anthology's editor, Rajshree Chauhan. I mentioned that I needed to have fun that night, and it was indeed a fantastically fun evening. And even more than that, it was an event that made waves.
As co-host and collaborator of the next Matrices anthology, I felt unbelievably honored to be there as the event unfolded. The other readers' work was just breath-taking, and the sense of how vital this work is resonated throughout the audience. And the waves are continuing to flow. So far, we've received submissions
from Canada, France, Africa, and throughout the United States for inclusion in our next anthology. It's going to be amazing. Catch some video from the event here
, and visit the Matrices website at www.matricespress.net
to learn more about the project and how you can submit!
The cast of That's What She Said,
hosted by Wonder Dave
and Caitlin Gill
- The Hermana Sisters. The Hermana Sisters also made their debut in October, at the all-female variety show That's What She Said! Actress Elaine Gavin and I joined forces to take on cultural appropriation, women's roles in the art industry and more, all with a sense of humor.
The entire show was just magnificent, and it was so much fun to be a part of it. You can watch all of the second night performances here
. Folks have asked if the Hermana Sisters will perform more in the future, and the answer is yes! Check back soon for more information.
Wellness Wednesday participants helped
create this altar for a
Dia de los Muertos event with PODER
- Wellness Wednesdays. I've been part of the circle of CUAV members putting together Fall Wellness Wednesdays at the offices of CUAV (Community United Against Violence). And it's been absolutely wonderful to see what grows each week as LGBTQ survivors of violence come together for community fun, healing and food. Learn more about Wellness Wednesdays at CUAV's website.
I dressed as Gwendolyn Brooks
for Saturday Night Special
- Growing as a reader. I've been having so much fun at readings. At Hollie Hardy and Tomas Moniz's Saturday Night Special, I featured with the incredible Nathan A. Jones and readers in costume brought their best to the open mic. And at the Living Room Reading Series, I read among such great writers as Dan Langton. It was an unforgettable experience.
I feel that I've been growing in general in my writing, but especially in the realm of being able to read my work. It's a really good feeling, to be able to use such tools as humor, honesty and imagination to create work that can both draw a response from a room and feel true to my voice. I'm really looking forward to my next reading, at the Clattering Loom on November 20th. Find the details on my events page.
Here's your reminder that today is Wellness Wednesday
. LGBTQ survivors of violence are invited to come to CUAV from 4-8 pm for healing, art, food and fun. Find out more information at CUAV's website
. And if you can't make it there or if you're not an LGBTQ survivor of violence, you can still have Wellness Wednesday, too. Consider this your weekly reminder to do something good for yourself today. I think we all could use one. What have you done for you today?
Anhvu Buchanan and Safiya Martinez
welcome poet Arisa White to
the Living Room Reading Series
Today I get the chance to read at one of my favorite literary events, the Living Room Reading Series
. Around this time last year, I blogged about why I love it so much (“Creating Welcoming Spaces”
), and I’m really honored to know that this time around, my words will be a part of making the Living Room Reading Series what it is. Find event details here
I’ve been reading at a variety of events during the past month, and it’s a good feeling, knowing that someone’s hearing my words, especially in those poems I’ve written with social change in mind.
I have to admit, with all of the action
that’s been going on lately at the Occupy protests, I’ve had to take a step back and examine my own feelings about how to go about creating social change. Like many others, I had my doubts
when Occupy began, wondering what, exactly, the protesters were setting out to accomplish, and whether or not this was the right way to go about getting it. Still, there’s something about knowing that people are out there making a direct call for change, risking their own safety to stand face to face with the system I find so flawed, that makes me wonder if I’m the one with the wrong idea about how to make change. Sure, I believe in the power of words, but am I really doing all that I can to make a difference?
If nothing else, these protests are creating some very important conversations. Even those who wonder skeptically about what this is all about are forced to take a moment to try to figure that out, which requires listening to others and probably hearing from some kind of perspective they’d never considered before. I feel that I’ve been learning a lot about social change recently. Here are some of my insights: Change is a direction, not a destination.
I heard, at one point, a simple explanation as to why Occupy’s goals may seem a little unclear – “This is a movement, not a campaign.” It makes sense that there is no end point at which all demands will be met, because the Occupy movement isn’t calling for a specific law to pass or leader to be elected, but for an entire shift in our priorities, from profits to people, as we realize just how many folks are suffering under our system the way it is today. The protesters are accomplishing something every day, as they create conversations and prompt everyone to consider, if even just for a second, what the world would be like as they envision it. Whispers of revolution
show that yes, the change they aim for is huge, not just for our current climate but for many days after today. Anyone can create this kind of change.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t just a recent insight, as I’ve been blogging about it for over a year. But it’s become so much clearer to me lately. If all of us are part of the system that needs to change, that means that each of us can make simple changes in our own lives to make a difference. Check out this list, for example, of 11 Things You Can Do
to contribute. And, of course, my view is that we all have power within our own bodies – we can write, dance, or create other forms of art to add strength to the movement. Of course I’m not the only one who knows this – read Michele Elam’s “How art propels Occupy Wall Street.” We can’t have thoughts of change without thinking critically.
Again, not an entirely new insight, but one that’s been particularly relevant. Between the slant of the media and the influence of police, it can be hard for those who aren’t on the front lines to get a clear picture of what’s really going on. So let’s remember to think critically, to get our news from the people and not the pundits, and to resist blindly swallowing anything we hear from any side of the situation. Remember that this movement is still learning about its body as it moves along, so yes, mistakes will be made, adjustments will be necessary. Let’s stay open to conversation and remember that we don’t all speak with one voice. It’s essential to recognize, as Rinku Sen does in this essay
, that this movement isn’t the same for everyone, so listening to folks from all walks of life is necessary to create a positive change for all of us.
So with these insights in mind, it’s time to reflect on my place in this movement. What can I do to move in the direction of change? What can you do?