August 18, 2009

The gaze and the vessel of pain

I have been thinking for the past week about the exercise I took part in at the Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT) pre-show party on August 13. I am a new board member of ADT. The exercise was to place someone in the middle of a circle and they were to guess who the leader of the change process was in the group. This leader would subtly make changes in their movement that would trigger the whole circle to make the changes as well. It was described that I have the power to gaze at the circle and scrutinize each person to see who was making these changes in movement (paraphrasing here).

The party was at the home of a donor's family member. I left the backyard as they decided who would be the leader. I thought about "the gaze" that women of color live with, deal with and how it is a part of my life, but do not think about it until I am in a new situation. This would be a new situation. I was called back and was vigilant in my gaze at the outer circle. Knowing what it is like to be looked at to the point of staring, I tried to do the same, but also tried to look for those subtle movements.

I felt empowered. I moved quickly and then stopped, turned and stared and by chance, luck, I was able to pin point the leader.

ADT is a space for all women of color to create community around social justice and social change. The dance productions incorporate the gaze in their ensemble pieces. I have always been amazed by these parts of her production. As a writer, I believe dance expresses where words cannot. I am at times moved with so much emotion by the movement as it expresses a deeper meaning.

There are times I cannot express how I am feeling. I get caught up in which words to say, how do I communicate what I am feeling without being the mean black woman or the hysterical, overly sensitive female? The emotion I am feeling seems to get attached to my inability to speak clearly or freely. And when I see dance, like Ananya's, I am restored as her movement, dance performances express me. She puts words to my life.

What would have happened if I was unable to find the leader? Would I have felt as empowered as I did when I jumped into the middle of that circle? This exercise allowed me to see how there are times that women of color are able to see what is happening and do something about the change happening. And other times when we do not catch the change and are trying to catch up or figure out what to do.

The gaze is powerful and is often not something that we think we can embrace. Or maybe some of us already do. But we should as those of us who can or by chance catch the change in our communities can help those who have not caught the change or need to catch up.

I write this and then wonder is this how women of color become the vessel of pain? The work that it takes to be the one who is hyper vigilant in making sure that our community is not falling behind? In helping those women who need our help to stay the course that may have changed, do we then become the vessel of pain as we help them? Does that make sense?

A friend is with out a job for six months and is starting to feel stress from not having enough money to help her family survive. In talking with her do I become the vessel of pain as she unloads some of this to me and I take on part of her pain? In watching the dance ensemble of Ananya's dance ensemble I feel that I am part of that group taking on the work of social justice and social change. I will become that gaze and that vessel.

Lori Young-Williams

August 11, 2009

August Writing Prompt - Vessels of Pain

For the month of August please consider writing a blog post for our collective blog. Please pass on to your writer friends! Also, remember this is simply a suggestion to get your thoughts and writing going, we welcome all writings by women of color on our blog!

I have recently returned from a two week research journey where I collected the oral histories of five women in my family. It is an amazing experience to learn the histories of your own flesh and blood and I have been reflecting on the journey since my return. In her book, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture, Denise Chávez writes, "All my life I have been trying to write my family's story. It hasn't been easy, not because I can't remember, but because I can't forget" (17, 2006). I trust that many of us know these words to be true of our own lives and experiences. After collecting these oral histories I came back from my trip with both joy and pain in my heart. The rivers of pain that flowed from these women's stories seemed to pool within me as my advisor, Edén Torres noted, this caused me to become "a vessel of pain". How do we as women deal with this pain as we constantly carry it with us in this world? What stories, poems, writings do you have that both illuminate this pain and help to deal with this pain?

Happy writing!

Kandace and Lori

Life, Home, Family, Love

Kandace Creel Falcón
August 11, 2009

At this point in my life, I have been thinking a lot about the issues of home, numbers, reading, writing and legacies. For instance, how is it possible that children born today will only know the century containing 2000 years? I find it rather unfathomable to think about how even the 1990s are foreign concepts, the so passé twentieth century! But as someone who has definitely not been on this earth for long, but experienced most of those years in the twentieth century these numbers just feel weird. What did the Aztecs think would happen in the 2000s? Did they have maps and star charts that could tell them about this "future"?

I saw lightning bugs the other night for the first time since I've been in Minnesota. How long have these creatures been roaming this earth? Five summers and only one bug flitting through summer night air with a light in its butt. Bugs that every summer in Kansas my brother and I would torture by capturing them and holding them hostage, that is if they even survived our mad grabs in the dark, in glass jars for their "future", soon release.

What does home mean to you? All I can think of is lightning bugs. They are reminders of seasonal cycles, of the trips my family endured via a long two way highway road from Albuquerque where the skies are pink and orange at dusk to Kansas where wheat waves in the wind. How ten hours on the road were mostly agonizing but also excellent opportunities for reading several books. But home means family, even if you are miles and miles apart. I've never, in my recollection seen a lightening bug in New Mexico, but I often wished I had, so much so that now my memories are unreliable now I see them coming out to play in our backyard even if they were never actually there.

I ask the mothers of nature to forgive me for the souls of the lightning bugs I unwillingly, accidentally harmed in my attempts to capture your beauty I took it away. When my hands came away from the jars in which I kept you captive and my fingers were covered in a green-yellow dust, I am sorry. It is now that I know the harm of my selfish ways. But fear not, your short lives and early deaths were not in vain, rather they now serve as the important metaphors of my life, home, family, love.