hand written note(s): before and beyond
A month has passed since hand written note(s) . . .
A month of massacre and memorial circles, Ramadan prayers for Orlando, Queers against Islamophobia, new vigils in Charleston for the church dead, shapeshifting, Brexit, a high yellow prettyboy spitting truth to power—who knew?—on BET, color drama, stars and stripes, commencement marches, poetry picnics, tall tiger lilies, unexpected rain, and fireworks so loud and so long in Detroit that my mother couldn’t sleep for anger.
And now, an eclipse of more grief, more heartbreak . . . Bombings in Baghdad on high holy days. The unjustifiable murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The misdirected mayhem against officers in Dallas, Texas along with the slander of peaceful protestors. In the wake of such unbridled evil, what to say about a movement festival? Why talk about something like this at all?
Perhaps because events like this, to paraphrase Alice Walker, can offer ways forward with a broken heart. It took nearly a year to materialize hand written note(s); a month later, my experience feels indelible. I want to write back and maintain the correspondence. I need to remember the energy of healing exploration right now. This feels in line with a key festival aim “to support artists before and beyond the actual event or performance,” which is to say then and now and always . . I write with this in mind my heart.
inviting / corresponding
This is the truth: it made absolutely no sense for me to come to the Spring 2016 Movement Research Festival. I am not white or thin or particularly young. I am not a downtown dancer. I didn’t know any of the curators or performers. I don’t live in New York City. I don’t even live on the East Coast. Instead, I was in the last weeks of a job in the lonely Midwest where I had just served notice (a hand written note, indeed). My urgent need was to take time to get myself together—recover from deep physical and emotional pain, regroup my art practice, and reshape my life. This plan was in the works, but not for the week of June 6. I still had classes to teach, papers to grade, boxes to pack, and, yes, money to save.
Yet, when I tried to delete the message, I couldn’t. It was just a generic post from an e-blast. Still something made me keep it bold in my inbox. Perhaps the words: space, healing, lasting action. The exquisite sea blue and ethereal lines on the portal of the festival website. The loveliness of Ayano Nelson’s design. The scrawls and doodles. The key words of the curatorial statement: self-care, history, rest, celebration, old medicine, and inner ceremony. And the line that rang through me like a bell (hooks circa Sisters of the Yam): “Grieving, getting stuck, and finding new ways to move through it.”
What is the shape of an invitation? How to engage (in) correspondence?
At Mei Ann Teo and Laley Lippard’s session on “open spaces” at the 2016 NET conference in Chicago, a wise person in my small group talked about the pre-work required for people to want to enter a space. Predominantly white organizations wondering about their homogeneity often misunderstand this, as do straight, cis, able-bodied and middle and upper class ones. My students and I talk about this too relative to live performance. Just because you say you want people to do something, i.e. you “invite” them into your action, doesn’t mean that they will do it. What signals are you really sending? How grounded, how expansive, how urgent, how earnest, how thoughtful, how deep, how credible is your invitation? It has to be heart-felt, cross-checked, and irresistible for others to want to bother.
Even then, it’s a risk.
For me, likely the oldest, blackest, fattest, clumsiest person in the room, the festival could be a deep, micro- or macro-aggressive bust. So before coming to hand written note(s), I pored over all the materials, workshop titles and descriptions, participant bios and websites. I did this out of deep loneliness and deep hope for connection, but also as a measure of psychic security.
When I saw the promise of black people, queer people, people of color, trans people, women, artists, and teachers poised to engage and name (unnaming/ renaming) key aspects of themselves as a part of everybody’s central work of self and community care, I accepted the invitation. I didn’t know what would actually come to pass. I didn’t expect it to be perfect. Rather the possibility of some correspondence, some similarity and expression in exchange, meant that I had to try.