Across a Table

It’s Thanksgiving.  I am home with my parents, with my husband, and with my grandmother, and after sitting down for a meal, we talk.  This is the highlight of the holiday.  This is not small talk.  This is not just funny stories, though we tell those too.  This is not the informative update chatter.  This gets into the fun things.

My husband and I are playing go.  My father looks on, beer in hand, commenting.  We have already talked about cultures and the impact this has on not just worldview but cognition and, potentially, brain structure.  We have already talked about the implications of isolating children from the idea of death, the notion of the “padded world” and its companion phenomenon of increasingly anthropomorphizing animals.  We have talked of the ramifications of viewing the world as merely component bits as opposed to an interconnected series of systems.  Now we apply this to our go game, seeing large patterns, and losing track of them, gaining liberties and losing them, wrangling over space and learning  a sight we didn’t exercise much as children.

This is something I miss.  This kind of connection is one I value.  We could have talked about the weather.  The local sports team.  We could have sat discussing only bits and pieces of things.  But this feels like stretching.  This feels like reaching.  We are extending ideas out to one another, and considering them.

I have heard that romance exists when we are strange to one another.  When, even after years of familiarity, we can look on in wonder at our love interest and see what is different, what is unfamiliar, what challenges us.  When we see great skill in the things that mystify us.  I would contend that community itself exists in this challenge, in this marvel at skill and its sharing.

So over go and talk, we rebuild a home, pushing past the familiar, tossing out hard ideas.  We reach our hands out to encompass the parts of each other’s intellect that are most alien.  We come away bound a little closer for having strained.

Co-Opting My Words: Two Visions of Performing in Another’s Voice

It’s been years since I’ve heard the poem read the first time.  It’s been years, but it sticks in my mind not because of its topic, not because of its power, but because I heard it and thought, “how dare you.”  It comes to my mind now because I thought this and chewed on it for many years, and because a friend of mine mentioned how much she loves Eve Ensler, how much she thought I’d enjoy I Am an Emotional Creature.  This friend isn’t close to me.  I choose not to talk to her much, because she has a tendency to co-opt my words for her own purposes, to tell me I experienced things in a way that makes sense to her, in ways that support her worldview, but erases what I actually said and felt and remember doing.  Her recommendation brought back a lot of memories. 

I remember Eve Ensler’s voice, addressing an audience, delivering rules about how to survive being taken as a sex slave.  It’s entitled “A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Surviving Sexual Slavery.”  The girl’s name is Marta, but we only know that about halfway through the poem.  And Ensler does this tricky thing… we know she’s been to the Congo.  We know she’s spoken with Congolese women.  We know she’s worked this angle of education about domestic violence, about rape, about atrocities committed against women, but we don’t know who this teenage girl, Marta, is.  Ensler’s book, I Am an Emotional Creature: the Secret Life of Girls Around the World, about the emotional lives of teenage girls when faced with violence and sex and their bodies and life, is a string of “fictionalized” narratives.  Fictionalized.  Well, how fictionalized?  We don’t know.  Is Marta as Marta real?  Is she some kind of amalgam of different girls Ensler spoke to?  Did Ensler take Marta’s words exactly, or did she invent language to describe her interpretation of Marta’s experience?  Is Marta entirely composed of “should be like this”es?  We don’t get to know.  Ensler here co-opts this experience, puts words into the mouth of this… girl? collage? invention?  It struck me as dishonest.

I don’t believe this is the only way to create art that speaks to others’ personal experiences.  I don’t believe that a writer or an actor or a painter is limited to inventing something whole cloth or appropriating another’s experiences in order to make a point.  There is more to it than that.  I’ve always laid the work of Anna Deavere Smith next to the performance of Ensler’s poem.   In her 2005 TED Talk, “Four American characters,” she performs monologues not just inspired by the interviews she conducted around the US, but performs the section of interview itself, taking on the tone and inflection of the speaker, listening to the recording again and again and performing it exactly, bringing the character and their words to the audience.  Her art is one of juxtaposition.  Her art states where it came from when dealing with the words of others.  She gives her sources with an unabashed honesty, and tells the audience what she is doing.

And therein lies the key.  When dealing with the words (and experiences) of others, a certain kind of honesty is needed, a certain kind of respect for the source.  I won’t be reading the book.  And I won’t be talking to my friend again any time soon.

Same As It Ever Was

I checked the calendar when I rolled over in my bed this morning, fumbling with the shape of the phone in my hand.  November 14th.  Been married five days.  Filed the paperwork two days ago.  I don’t think you need me to tell you, but it felt in no way different from the days leading up to it… except that we were no longer in the process of planning a fantastical pageant rife with unicorn skulls, rainbows, genderfuck, and peacock feathers.  The only real difference I noticed was the annoying increase in people attempting to address me as “Mrs.”  I’m not “Mrs.”  I’m “Ms.”  Same as I was before.

In fact, the one thing that doesn’t conform to the same old same old is the paperwork trickling in bearing his new last name.  The last name I’ve always had, but now the one he shares.  The desk clerks were kind at the social security office, and with federal paperwork in hand, I’m sure the DMV will be a breeze.

It makes me wonder, for all this sameness, for all this carrying on as normal, why is it such a travesty in some people’s eyes for certain couples to get married?  If the idea of marriage is to create a legally defined union in order to more easily accomplish certain (mostly economic, some important social) goals, then I fail to see why certain individuals should be barred from it.  It would make more sense to dissolve the idea of marriage altogether and do away with corporations while we’re at it.

A Vagrant in the Temple

I entered the Temple of Sound through the Gate of Words, which is not so grand as the entrance the musicians use, but I am a poet and we are not very grand creatures. My gate is a tiny back-alley wrought iron affair with creaky hinges, and the password is “dactylic trimeter” but if you don’t know it, they’ll ask you what a spondee is, and if you don’t know that, there’s a place to hop the fence next to the rose trellis up against the south wall where it’s not too noticeable, and the gravel crunches nicely when you land on the other side.

Once in the hall, I drove the critics and scansioneers mad marking stresses in half notes and quarters, setting vowels on staves. There is more music in it than most poets would like, but let’s admit it: sound is important, and you just can’t mark a bare touch of emphasis with only an ictus and a breve. So I unlearned them.  Instead, I learned to mark time by syllable with the swish of my denim on the stone floor, my feet gone all trochaic; to bow assonance into vowels so long I could drape them from the towers; to play with staccato bursts of consonance like a curt volley of cannon fire. It was through words I learned to dance.