NEW VIDEO for an older poem of mine, courtesy of Button Poetry. Here’s the commentary I posted on it, plus the text at the bottom of this post:
This is a poem I wrote about the tension that can sometimes exist between doing face-to-face activist/educational/service work that you know is good and that you know has an impact… while not seeing the larger systems/trends change.
As much as we might know on an intellectual level that we need BOTH (for example: we need people who volunteer at the homeless shelter AND people who organize around pushing policies that can end homelessness), it can be a challenge to figure how you fit in, where you should expend your energy. This poem is a reminder for me to continue developing more nuanced frameworks for how I think about change, to value and honor individual contributions while never losing sight of the larger goals of sustainable, institutional transformation.
In that spirit, aside from posting the new video, I thought I’d use this post to kind of walk through my week up to when the video went up. Part of being a multidisciplinary artist/person is that a lot of people don’t seem to really understand what it is that I actually do. So what follows is a pretty standard slice of what my life looks like these days, for anyone who might care.
|photo by Hieu Nguyen|
Friday 3/6: This was the first semifinal bout in the 2015 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series, organized by TruArtSpeaks. It was at Intermedia Arts in MPLS, and I had the honor of co-hosting alongside up-and-coming MC (and former Be Heard participant) Lucien Parker. It was one of the best poetry slams I’ve ever witnessed. Completely sold out (including a packed overflow room where people watched the slam on a live feed), incredible energy the whole night, and some really powerful, beautifully-crafted poetry. By the way, FINALS are coming up Saturday, 3/28 at the Capri Theater in MPLS, 6pm. Everyone should be there.
|I like to leave important notes in my books.|
Tuesday 3/10: This afternoon, I got to go to Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids to do a presentation for teachers and staff on identity and positionality in terms of student-teacher relationships. With just two hours, it was more of an introduction to some intersectionality stuff, but we also got to dig a little deeper and have a robust discussion. After that, I drove straight to campus to catch the last hour of my Critical Pedagogy class at the U. Reading Patti Lather’s “Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/In the Postmodern” right now.
I am standing in a school, or a submarine. Everything is grey and the walls can almost kiss each other. Children avalanche around my legs, flowing into one another, their faces erased by their sheer numbers. It is too dark here. And my job, these days, is to turn all the lights on and pretend to be brave.
We smell like unused paintbrushes; the air is still, hanging just over this river of hands and shoes and teeth. I see a teacher in a window, a smiley face painted onto a crash-test dummy. I forget where I am going.
These children will grow up to be scarecrows. These children will snarl, once, at the world and be put down. They will grow into the poems written about them, live in the spaces between the letters, and shiver when the books open. And my job, these days, is to melt the winter with a flashlight.
I work in after-school program purgatory, moving from school to school, siphoning tears and collecting poems. I keep the poems in a shiny leather briefcase. I dump the tears out in the parking lot. And my job, these days, is to identify bodies. My job, these days, is to be the Disney World full-body suit Sisyphus. My job, these days, is to dream of starfish: tens of thousands smothered by the air on the beach, being pulled apart alive by the seagulls. I toss a few back into the ocean and people tell me that I’m making a difference.
But there is no honor in triage, only necessity. And these children need something more, something bigger than one more plucky white woman to pry them open and extract their genius, or one more well-meaning liberal college kid trying to “save” them, or one more Positive Male Role Model teaching them how to write poetry. And my job these days is to be one more positive male role model teaching them how to write poetry, and it’s killing me.
A teacher once told me that this is the curse of direct service—we make a difference, just not enough of one. We are the bricks in a haunted house, doing an admirable job keeping the ceiling from collapsing, but not able to remove the evil from the air. And my job, these days, is to be a hack exorcist. My job, these days, is to be a superhero in a coma, a stripmall Santa Claus. My job, these days, is to feel my way through the jagged corners of these schools and not bleed too much.
And suddenly I remember where I’m going: the guidance counselor, who is concerned that one of my students may be “unstable” because she wrote a poem about her pain, not knowing that pain is pretty much all that 15 year-olds write about. On my way to the office, an impossibly small boy from one of my sessions cannonballs through the crowd, hits me in the shoulder and says… thank you. His name is Brian. He says thank you, and means it, and I’m stuck.
Somewhere between you’re welcome and I’m sorry. I’m stuck staring at banners: Attitude is Everything, No Child Left Behind, I Love My School. I’m stuck. And my job, these days, is not to “make a difference;” it is to fight, with everything I have, for a world in which I don’t have to. My job, these days, is to try to find a way to be both brick and builder, to teach starfish to fly.