REVISING EDUCATION: Part One

The present situation of Covid-19 affecting school closures in the U.S. provides a generous opportunity for citizens to meticulously examine and clarify what defines and encapsulates K-12 education in this country. After listening to fellow educators of multiple grade levels and departments, plus parents and students, I’d like to pose some broad questions to consider.

My goal here is to light a match so we can more courageously look into the “hidden shadows” outside the limited parameters of what’s been the accepted standard. Let’s take the time to collectively imagine an amended educational system which includes every available possibility that previously eluded our attention. If we first identify the ultimate, agreeable objectives of K-12 education, then we can more easily establish and implement the tactics to achieve those goals year after year.

This is a starting point. I have many more questions. I’ll follow this post with a Part Two to elaborate and offer my own suggestions. Until then, you’re welcome to share your ideas in the comments, and/or take this conversation to your families, town halls, city councils, and superintendents. Systemic change may feel both radical and torturously slow in the moment, and it’s nonetheless a necessary pathway to design together.

For the sake of our young people, I ask you…

…currently:

– What would it take for this country to indisputably prioritize the funding of schools, teachers’ salaries, classroom materials, and extracurricular activities?

– How do we really want young people to spend their precious, fleeting, impressionable K-12 years? What do we want to cultivate in these future generations? What is essential?

– For what does the established, pre-pandemic mode of education truly prepare young people? Is it solely preparation for the end of earning a diploma? For collegiate acceptance? For their guidance in mental, social, and emotional growth? For moving toward the unique dreams of their minds and hearts?

– What exactly do we want to quantify and qualify as learned lessons for the young person’s development?

– Is quantifiable education exclusively about the memorization and demonstration of an encyclopedic knowledge?

– Could education be a dynamic way for young people to learn how to negotiate their own path within a collaborative world of diverse cultures, perspectives, biases, etc?

– How do we fully honor the young person’s lived experience (including realities such as generational trauma) while providing space for them to build skills in stress management, interpersonal conflict, rage, loss, and navigating change?

…historically:

– When did policymakers require that people ages 5-18 attend school? Was it once the child labor laws were enacted?

– Why were the (roughly) September-June and Monday-Friday schedules established in the U.S.? Who says that those models of structured time have to continue unaltered?

– Who and what determined the sequential K-12 curriculum as it stands? When was that established, and when was the last time it was examined? Why does that curriculum widely vary state by state?

– Why and when was it decided to assign certain historical, geographical, and language-based subjects (and their abbreviated segments therein) per grade level in K-12 learning?

…holistically:

– How has an attempt at fairness by way of the generality of standardization affected the ability to meet young people where they are with their own inherent strengths and capabilities?

– When did we stop (or why do we avoid) teaching the entire person? How might attention on a student’s emotional development inform the rest of their learning experience?

– What would K-12 education look like if young people were grouped by their learning style rather than age? And what if they were matched with educators who could meet the needs of young people based on their given cultural, emotional, psychological, and additional means of support and understanding?

One moment, two versions

1. the experience, as a free-write dictation in December 2015

5 am sunrise in Napier:

The horizon flips to keep the night sky in the ocean. The sorbet lining between shades of blue. Birds chattering like 50 alarm clocks sounding at once, overlapped and enthusiastic. Dawn is so far underway that only one star/planet is visible despite my strained search of the clear sky. Two. I thought the first was an airplane. One in the east, one directly opposite in the west. The east star looks like two linked together, which I vaguely remember from either the Sydney observatory or my friend’s telescope.

The dark red amber transitions to gold, revealing a ship in the distance. It’s just the birds, ocean, trees and pathway, and myself. This is my morning ice cream, crisp to the touch. A bicyclist chirps “Morning!” as he passes in a whip of wind.

An enormous log lay beached on the sand. Did the ocean toil all night to birth you there? The waves gently lap and kiss you, to bid farewell after a tumultuous separation.

Gold brightens further to yellow. The clouded horizon softens and blurs, the cloud wisps above sharpen in contrast, cotton candy striped in orange-pink-blue. Impatiently patient. The log is a prehistoric jaw curved upward with a great warthog tooth.

The west planet now barely detected; the eastward sisters shine through bubblegum candy floss. Another greeter of dawn walks the footpath. My form is further exposed in the light: bare feet shoved into untied shoes, baggy pajama pants, ski coat, haphazard scarf. My wild nest of hair untouched by smoothing eyes or fingers after the pillow worked her night shift.

Bubblegum taffy evolves to neon orange, soft cotton of the baby blue blanket further beyond. The horizon light pales, stripping itself of depth and character. The whiteness/witness of the pastel yellow bores. Yawn. How ordinary.

I am a mountain on these black pebbles. Firmly planted and aligned, growing every breath. Tall with light and energy, casting shadows around my periphery. The she-ocean crashed along my toes, tickling to entice me away from my foothold. The foamy sirens eager and clambering for their mother to take me for herself.

A red belly grows behind the skirt of smog, the glowing orb pushing its way up from the golden-lit water at the extreme edge of the earth’s end. Then it’s lost again in thick congestion. The neon cotton bleached white in the wake of approaching sun, paled and perhaps by fear or apprehension, or cowering in reverence.

Ah, this is the bulbous glow that stretches now beyond the reflected windows, over the deco rooftops. A concentrated light forms backstage, ready for the 5-minute call.

The clouds deceived. Morning glow emerges as a surprise, catching the earthly circle off guard. The radiance is all colors at once, so intense only short glances will keep your irises intact. What a grand entrance. Swift and steadily, as if the pulleys were freshly tested and mended for this grand spectacle. Hello, Sun. Good morning. Your rays push blush to my face, carve contours on my outer layers. It won’t be long now, for you to suspend for another seven hours, leaping higher across the convex arch. I’ll see you then. Now I go, return to the woven blankets and threadbare bedding. Tell your night’s journeys to the ocean; she’s eager for company.

2. shaped into poetry or lyrics in April 2020

NAPIER’S FIVE A.M.

Multitudinous avian alarms chime and peal. The main holds the night sky in a flipped horizon.

Sorbet slices between shades of blue. This is my morning ice cream, crisp to the touch.

Deep red amber kneads to gold.

An enormous log lay in the surf. Did the sea toil all night to birth you there?

Her waves gently lap and kiss you, to bid farewell after a tumultuous separation, your prehistoric drift jaw curved into a giant warthog tooth.

Gold brightens to pale yellow.

The clouded skyline softens, blurs while wisps sharpen, cotton candy stripes canary-orange-pink.

Impatiently patient, shining on my wild nest of hair untouched by smoothing eyes following the pillow’s night shift.

Neon orange shifts to bubblegum taffy.

Shadow mountains cast on beach pebbles, firmly planted and aligned.

Skyline pales and strips its depth and character.

Soft baby blues beyond.

She-ocean crashes toward my toes, tickling, enticing me from this foothold; foamy sirens eager and clambering for their mother to take me for her own.

A red belly grows from within smog’s skirt, the glowing orb pushing its way up out of the earth’s extreme edge.

Ah, this is the bulbous irradiance stretching now beyond reflections, over the deco rooftops. What a grand entrance.

Swiftly and steadily, rising true, as if his roped pulleys were freshly tested and mended for this canorous spectacle.

Hello, Sun; good morning. Your rays blush my apples, carve contours in my creases.

Your suspense will expire, leaping higher across the convex arch.

Sing your night’s journey to the sea; she welcomes your camaraderie.

The storm…

…is upon us
Tears precipitate
in grief and gladness
millions of souls
echo the fury

Generations snap to attention
The uprising
is striking
jolting into focus, to see
what is essential, what is
valuable, what is equitable

Wind forces open
room for new fires to ignite,
fresh oxygen at the ready.
Inevitable stages:
treaties and negotiations
that mock progress and intelligence,
denying lived experience, and
more denials of lived experience
more denials of lived experience
more denials of lived experience
more denials of lived experience
proof branded as true scars

At this moment
finally
we fight for the benefit of everyone
the fight for peaceful treatment of Black bodies
is a fight for peace within white bodies
Humanity is fed up
with the divisiveness
of racism and white supremacy
That air is poisonous,
like the rising heat of our global crisis

Rock the boat, crack the hull
release the tides
swarming for tangible freedom

Starving severs patience
Have you ever been so h-ANGRY?
Change is on the menu

It’s one fight for all
that is loving and plentiful: life
the fight against greed, corruption, violence, dis-ease,
theft of time, energy, livelihoods,
looting, pillaging, exploitation
of autonomies and resources

Demonstrate whose lives you render dear,
whose light you know to be luminous.
Hearts are bursting open
allowing the pain to penetrate
and resuscitate
sense

For universal well-being
the balm prescribes a new pulse,
to harmonize
with resounding drums
once clattering in opposition,
now in opportunity, hammering
ancestral longing, and clapping
in new music, revolutionary rhythms

Pledge your allegiance
place your window signs
stand with the majority:
the people of color, the global majority,
the elders of land protection,
the creators,
the direct production workers,
the cultures smothered barely recognizable
by melting pots

The thunder baptizes
the blessed
flames
fulfilling destinies
centuries of oppression
getting what’s due
today

This is the moment
— in movement —
after hundreds of years’ messages
“Wait for it” and “When the time is right” or
“Later…”
of promises emptied

Redraw the root of power & live
Life, abundant with gifts, balancing
the great ideals: liberty & pursuit of happiness
not at the cost of another being’s existence

Life isn’t a zero-sum game.
Fabrication of the negative-to-one creates only
Haves and Have-Nots

Capitalist deception spins myth
around scarcity & competition,
making us peck at each other rather
than the rooster (that cock of bull)
manipulating smoke & mirrors

How dare we willingly believe
and throw our wealth of self
to those who sit heavily upon our labor,
who hoard and claim that nothing’s left
to go around, save the discard scraps & bones
eat up

Pervasive fears
feeding fear
and untruths unfold
insipidly slithering, scale by scale

Old placations lose their grip
on wild, fuming lightning

When bus drivers refuse to transport cops & their arrestees
when the people who truly run society uniformly & unilaterally
take ownership of their sovereignty and
make the decision to interrupt the machine,
those who think they own & operate that society look really foolish —
with somewhere to go and no way to get there

An outdated handshake
wove the reluctant agreement
a bond, unrequested
and manufactured
for protection in trade of work, but
the contract nullifies
when their promise
is indeed slaughter,
only a pretense on guard
of white “from” Black
when the reverse is necessary

Patriarchy chips away significance
dents and bends the truth
into gnarled roots of control
by violent elimination

Let’s buck the insistence
that some lives are second-rate, at best
of a duty to cower and kowtow
to a false sense of superiority
and insecurity masked as purity

One crises layered upon another,
holding isolation in new light —
it’s all the same fight for justice;
everyone trod upon
fights for the same future:
another day on this planet
Life choosing Life
in times of chaos and upheaval
it’s coming; it’s happening

(and where are the imprisoned in all this clatter? Are they locked down by the watchmen, for lest they drink of the rage waging war on the corrupt police state of this country, and create an uprising of their own, to destroy the cage doors once and for all?)

Time to rip up the rules
written for us, not by
or on behalf of us

We vibrate, breathing
into our instrumental essence
for this storm.

Reparations must be made
for us to reconnect.
After so many repeat inflictions, restrictions,
invasions of boundaries,
healing requires honest and thorough action:
every defined and refined proclamation,
proven in motion.

Blazes sweep through, so we look to the horizon for elements of rebirth and renewal

for return to the tree of
knowledge with open curiosity, with hearts forgiven
and instead bejeweled by beams of compassionate clarity.

Time to paint your door frames:
signify your support
sign your contract
in the cause and effect
we’re fighting for
peace, and
violence is the only language
understood by oppressive power

Today’s fight is to redesign equality,
on the heels of barricades and obstacles
forcing flight from foes,
and place power in the hands of the people
where it’s belonged this entire time,
yet has long been robbed & extorted

This storm erodes every past provision, and
draws green trenches in the soil for us to imagine anew
Permeate, refresh, rejuvenate;
The environmental fight is the people’s fight is the right fight
Hurry to this space before we outrun and overwork the pace of earth to tread

Hold us sodden in stillness and self-reflection
to see and be seen exactly as we are:
flaws, mistakes, regrets, injustice, hurts, monsters, injuries…
Wholeness of selves
best lit from the shadows
of creation’s image;
which warrants a little more care and effort
in listening
for signals of distress

The storm is upon us —
for a thorough drench of possibility,
nourishment, reprieve,
exaltation, and exhalation.

Time to improve the rules
without chokehold trade-offs
It’s completely possible to have
every essential met and supported by
and within the society.

Grasp hands, link into unbreakable
chains of universal liberation–
when one is free, we’re all free
from the bondage of suffering
That celebration is ours to share

We’re supposed to be together
as accomplices
to survive and thrive
in life’s mundane profundity

Let us traverse, two by two billion,
arm in arm, united as one,
repairing the brokenness of the original sin:
the kidnapping of innocence

Mend the pernicious wounds with a deafening demand for justice.
Flip the switch.
Create the effects.

We are the storm
the collective deluge in countless drops
pounding the pavement and prairies
from sea to shining sea
and then some

Roar, clap, echo
the demands of a people for their freedom
once hung to dry
let the flag fly
drenched in this monsoon of clasped hands
raise the call
announce the arrival
of the great tempestuous reckoning so
we may revel within an unsuppressed, non-oppressed
undivided resonance
forevermore.

Take a Bite

I have a genuine question for you: What if I suddenly died today? I don’t take death lightly, despite its inherent levity and spaciousness, so please know that I mean this; I’m really asking. Take a few breaths, a few minutes, and give it some thought.

All of my questions here are rhetorical; I’m not fishing for validation. I’m not seeking a reaction at any level, nor am I curious about any post-death logistics to which you might attend. Humor me with my own self-assessment. I ask this “what if” in a deeper sense. If you’re someone who’s been in regular or semi-regular or even one-time contact with me, you have the opportunity to compare the time(s) you’ve experienced “me” to this hypothetical absence.

Imagine the world and your goings-on without my physical presence, despite all our plans to connect tomorrow, next week, etc. Imagine you received a note somehow from my family, or more likely, you learned about my death through social media or another informational grapevine. How would that news sit with you? What would you do? Would it matter to you? Again, I invite you to take this moment to reflect, and I invite you to keep your responses to yourself.

What’s been the specific ripple effect from me to you, if any? What have I added to your life, if anything? Would my death (this hypothetical, unexpected change to your list of friends) possibly inspire you to do or say something previously verboten, seek an untrod path, finally make a big what-if decision, or discover a new perspective? I’m sincerely curious about this field of impact. I’m surveying my work.

Huh. What is this game, this George Bailey mic check? Naturally, I’m thinking about all the farewells I’ll issue in the coming weeks as I pack and prepare for departure. I’m removing myself from the Pacific Northwest, from every place and every community I’ve ever known and understood and found comfort within. So, in a way, it is a death. An end. Like all ends, this, too, is one that transforms into new beginnings. Who knows how temporarily or permanently this geographical change will play out? I certainly don’t.

I’ve uttered a fair share of difficult and surprise goodbyes in the past four months, not to mention throughout the past 23 years, at least. I was in sixth grade when my eighth grade choir classmate drowned in her bath due to a seizure. More recently, in October 2018, I learned of the deaths of three incredible humans in my life via Facebook (literally one per week), all quickly followed by two additional major life “losses” of different forms. Two weeks ago, my 94 year-old grandfather (one of the two main characters of my solo show The Two-Step) died after an extended decline with dementia. In the week prior to his death, I fully faced his decaying body and mind, a very new experience for me. I held his hands and sang his favorite melodies to him one last time. I whispered encouragements of “You can let go now,” in spite of my longing for him to lead me in just one more dance.

What if _______ died today? Quickly consider this for any and every seemingly incidental person who’s crossed paths with you. Or maybe just go straight to the list of your closest beloveds, maybe in the two or three tightest concentric circles beyond your immediate family (chosen or biological). Would you carry yourself any differently if one of these beloveds suddenly died or became otherwise removed from your day-to-day routine? If so, do you currently make an effort to communicate their life’s impact while they’re regularly visible and available to you, as they exist now?

My aunt’s sudden death in March 2008 spurred my immediate family members to start saying “I love you” at the end of every phone call and upon every parting, even for a quick run to the store. When Christy Duffy died in February 2009, barely an hour after she stood next to me at the school, a fellow preschool parent sent a message of grief to the “info” email address (my inbox, as office manager) with this note: “We’re all hugging each other a little tighter today.” Chris Stagg’s death in early October propels me to continue his incredible work of filling the world with harmony, peace and acceptance. Compassion. Laughter. Light.

If you, dear reader, are one of the people who’ve declared how much you’ll miss me when I leave Seattle, I ask: WHY. Why do you say that? What does that really mean to you? What would be “missing” of my physical absence, and what will remain for you of my energetic or impressionistic presence in your life and/or way of life? (Believe me, I’m working with how and why I’ll miss you, and investigating what exactly that is per person, and if it’ll exist in another form while I’m across an ocean). Isn’t it so curious how much of an impact the smallest, simplest thing can carry?

And if in the rare chance you surround yourself with people whose deaths wouldn’t affect you, I ask: WHY. I constantly ask this of myself. I’m actively narrowing down and chiseling out a sculpture of community members who matter immensely to me. I want to buoy my life with that level of intention and inspiration. Within an incredible pod, while there’s care and unconditional support, this community offers a raw challenge of open honesty. I’m required to check my ideas, my behavior, my actions, my words, my emotional reactions on a regular basis. I want to push beyond complacency so I can evolve and connect more deeply within myself and to those willing participants of my immediate sphere of influence.

This life is shockingly brief, so let’s fill it with substance and meaning and movement — movement of the soul.

Let’s dig in.

The Story of Tonight

YHA Wellington, November 2015

 

“What were you showing our young American friend?” my Kiwi hostel roommate Linda asks my Dutch bunkmate Marian in a scathing tone with a sideways glance. She’s trying to change the subject and reinsert herself in this accidental trio, a fellowship of traveling artists of varied disciplines. Linda sips from her latest mug of wine while Marian and I silently negotiate how to work together as allies. We sense that she hasn’t sufficiently finished with her share of the conversation.

I’d seen Linda alone in our four-bed dorm a few times throughout the past five days, perched with her back to the room and her feet up against the window, a mug within reach on the sill. She’d laugh obnoxiously at her favorite YouTube videos or other loud phone-sourced entertainments. I’d quickly learned that she warms to attention and screeches at disdain.

Linda appears irritated that we’ve momentarily excluded her to revisit and wrap-up our private conversation, which had been interrupted moments earlier by Linda’s own grand entrance and announcement that she’d just walked out on a longtime friendship: “I’ve had a falling out with my Asian friend from Singapore!” It ended over an argument at dinner regarding whether Paris had changed. Linda said she “wasn’t trying to win,” per se.

Before Linda dramatically entered with a swath of wool cape and champagne hiccups, Marian had shown me a printed catalogue of her textile paintings. I’d connected with Marian almost immediately, after an initial day of gauging her distant niceties which she later admitted to, explaining that it takes her a couple days to truly converse with hostel roommates because they’re just strangers she might never see again. Per Marian’s prescription, our fourth roommate was often absent or silently buried opposite me in her upper bunk; it was a frigid week and I suspect she was nursing a cold.

This evening, it’s just us three in the room, duking it out in an intense conversation about the state of the world. The intensity is facilitated, of course, by Linda. A quick sample of Linda’s gem one-liners: Giving thanks is what it’s all about. . . Argentine Tango is the only one. … What’s your inner passion? Your inner journey? … Far out! … We had the chance for self-sustainability, and we sold ourselves to China. … I wouldn’t dare ask for a refund. … America should fucking well mind their own business. France should — do you believe Bush blew up the twin towers?

To answer Linda’s present question, Marian politely offers her the catalogue, and she refuses it with a back-handed wave: “What would I do with it.” Marian asks Linda why her newly-broken friendship affects her so much, if Linda is in fact not sorry that she’s called it off forever. When Linda thinks, she turns her head over her right shoulder. “…Love, peace and joy,” she finally declares with her hands clasped.

Linda is a self-proclaimed “researcher of the heart.” “When you go into the heart,” she waxes, “it gets bigger and bigger. You see the city skyline, but that’s not reality. And you think, far out, how much more space can my heart…? When you go within, you want to burst in tears because there’s something you need to express.” I think I follow. She’s a heavily-buzzed, far more eccentric septuagenarian version of myself.

While Marian and I pack for our next day of travel, Linda goes on for her captive audience, reading passages from her Santiago guide book as if it’s beatnik poetry. Her head falls back, eyes wide, jaw open: “Far out!” She practices her posture for tango, arms clumsily swinging around for balance. She tips into the bars of the bunk bed. This woman, who’s researching the heart and her capacity to feel and “take-in the enormity of the world,” haughtily and unapologetically blames “the Arabs” who “cheated her of 10 Euros” because “they’re Muslim.” And this is the woman who thinks Gone with the Wind is an accurate account of how “slaves must’ve been treated well.” She enjoys talking in stream of consciousness, particularly about herself, and immediately forgets what she said a mere moment ago.

Exeunt. Out she goes. Marian and I take a breath. I have a chance to jot down a few more diamonds from the rough: I was so tired after ten kilometers, so I sat at a cafe and a voice said, “Have faith.” Faith is the answer. … Mustard seeds and mountains — I’m still trying to figure that out. … I have one fault, and it’s drinking too much wine.

The truth is, I agree with Linda on several subjects and levels of thought. There’s something about her manner and privilege, though, that turns me off. I see her through a gated fence, one that occasionally opens for tender moments, and quickly closes again when my lip curls in disgust at her blatant prejudice and lush qualities. Linda is deceptively poised and proper despite her display of wine-drunk contradictions and flamboyant gestures of attempted grace. She’s certainly a curious spectacle to behold. I have an empathetic taste for the dysfunctional family she briefly mentions: “I’m the one who flew. I’m the black sheep.” I feel sorry for her, too, and I’m in awe of her choice to exclusively travel and live in youth hostels for three (or more) years. That’s a long time to function as a socialite out of a suitcase, especially when one is quick to put people off the moment one opens her mouth.

Linda returns with a clean blue mug. Never mind the stack of collected red mugs on the desk, sticky with rings of dried wine. I field more of her blunt, abrasive questions about America, consistently followed by more ignorant assumptions based on her one-time reading of Gone with the Wind. It’s shocking to remember what little is taught to other countries’ schoolchildren about US history (and that’s true for the other way around), in addition to the humbling reminder that accurate and multi-perspective US history is scarcely taught even to US schoolchildren (based on the prevalence of biased books and lesson plans). I try not to voice my disgust in reaction to Linda’s poorly-informed opinions. She goes to the bottle again to top-up the petite mug.

The hostel’s fire alarm takes a turn to interrupt. Without a word, Linda instantly disappears. After about thirty minutes outside, while everyone huddles in the wind-tunnel of a driveway, I finally spot her darting to and fro among the college kids. When we three reconvene in our room, Linda explains, “I survived the earthquakes in Christchurch. You learn to take the essentials. Warm clothes and GO. I felt guilty for bolting and leaving you to be trapped in the elevator.” Marian and I exchange a subtle head tilt.

Marian embodies an admirable level of grace and compassion, particularly when Linda refocuses these vino-fueled eccentricities toward her. (Linda eventually tired of my lack of satisfactory participation). I detect Marian’s growing annoyance when Linda refills again and carries on for another forty-five minutes at least. By the time she’s reached the end of the bottle, Marian and I are clearly tucked in and ready to fall asleep. I catch a couple of Marian’s glances up to me as if to say “Is she real?” during Linda’s inexhaustible laps from the window (city lights) to the desk (last drops).

Linda is “overwhelmed by the world” and “the size of her heart,” yet she “doesn’t let the world into her heart.” NOW she’s speaking to me, the innermost me…except for that last bit about not allowing the world into her heart. I don’t know what she means by that. Then she asserts: “I’m not religious. Sickening.” I try not to spit-take my water at that surprising delivery. She exalts, “Even I go in a cathedral and stand agog.” I get a top-row view of her pageant-esque reenactment of cartoonish reverence between the bunk beds (transformed into miniature flying buttresses of Notre Dame). Linda deliberately turns to each of our four walls, one by one, to repeat a ritualistic display of encompassing arms and gaping mouth. She’s pleased with her performance and concludes, “Humans forget to look up.”

Before the resonance of her pithy observation fades into silence, Linda snaps off the light.

 

Cheers to you, Linda and Marian, wherever you are today. Cheers to a new year of wonder and compassion, connection and patience, inspiration and purpose. To more chance meetings. To new perspectives. What will you see?

What Else Can We Say

I attended a weekday matinee of Idris Goodwin’s And in This Corner: Cassius Clay! at SCT. The script covers pivotal moments of Muhammad Ali’s life from his 1950s Kentucky childhood through his 1960 Olympic victory, and several scenes unapologetically address racial prejudice and acts of domestic terrorism toward African-Americans. During the cast’s talkback session with the school group audience, a child about eleven years old asked: “Do you like the part you got to play?” Direct and lighthearted, asked of the entire cast of nine, most of whom were people of color.

The one white female actor immediately drew in the full room’s attention when she audibly inhaled; we could also see her react physically, resituating a couple times on her chair. Despite her failed attempts to form words, she didn’t pass the invisible mic to her fellow cast members, so we watched her wiggle and writhe for what felt like five minutes, waiting for her to nod or do something definitive. She was costumed as the diner waitress who angrily refused service to the protagonist. Something about that imagery combined with her visible discomfort created something tense and electric in the air; I doubt I’m the only one who detected it. And it’s always much easier to note moments like this as an observer, not as the person in the middle of it. This moment of uncertainty and confusion, of saturated racial subtext, stood out — screamed wildly — as an enormous, brilliant opportunity for a real conversation.

Allow me to press pause and speak directly to her for a moment, as a witness to the entire charade, as a side-coach to cheer her toward her edge. A Ghost of Conversation Present, if you will. Pssst. I saw your impulse to speak before the rest, and you (and I mean me and all of us people seen and treated as “white” who sit in that chair with you — making this a collective “you” in addition to the singular “you”) needn’t be the first one to jump in. I appreciate that you seemed to catch yourself because we need to stop being the dominant voice in the room. Especially when we feel exposed or uncomfortable.

Pssst. Here is an opportunity to address the reality of the situation, even if you can’t yet identify what’s going on or to what you’re reacting. (Sound familiar, Clown Lab folks?) How about speaking to these 300+ young people from a grounded albeit raw place of awareness? Take a brave breath, mentally check any feelings of shame or guilt (those common representations of a white person’s internalized racial superiority), and say something like, “Wow, I just got really uncomfortable. Did anyone else feel that big shift? Did something get weird? What was it?” We’re all in the same room, so the acknowledgment would be extremely satisfying.

When I press play and review the event again, there were in fact TWO opportunities. The initial one was within her ten-seconds-or-ten-hours of confusing silence, which was thankfully interrupted by the actor who played Cassius Clay; he chimed in that he loves his part and he’s very happy about it. But then, remarkably, I watched both cast and audience check back in with the white actress. Why? She had a second chance to tackle this generous, gentle elephant pacing the stage in a broad parade of “Over here! Pick me!” The audience, the majority of whom were children of color, waited again in another elongated moment of suspense.

Unfortunately, the moment played out as an opportunity thoroughly missed. In the second go-around, she eventually muttered something like, “No, I didn’t like my part,” gesturing down at her blue and white ’60s waitress costume as if it was covered in vomit, as if it should’ve been obvious to us that of course she wouldn’t like that role. Why did she only mention that bigoted character when she’d said she played a “bunch of characters” minutes earlier in her introduction?

Her smoothest option was to detour completely: “Yes, I liked playing the boxing match commentator.” Or, more bumpily and boldly: “Yes, I’m glad I got to play a bigoted person because she is part of our country’s history” — hopefully with the addendum — “and I’m working on understanding how that history continues to affect the pervasive racism that people of color still encounter in 2018.” Better yet, with another: “And how I as a white person play a part in that system right now.” I can think of at least twenty more options to have either included or varied within this short snippet of an answer. An answer that would’ve ideally acknowledged her character’s impact (then and now), rather than one that indicated an embarrassment of embodying a racist everywoman who walked the earth back in the day (and who, incidentally, continues to occupy all fifty states).

I don’t know if the children shared my disappointment, but the overall lack of pachyderm-pointing unleashed a deflated exhale with the reality check that we still have a lot of work to do together, just like when one hopes for the most incredible professional magic trick and instead has a cold coin dropped on their shoulder by their amateur uncle. Is there an internal obstacle interrupting or blocking her — my, our — ability to show up as a whole, articulate human in the room? I ask this insistently and lovingly of everyone who benefits from systemic racism. I’m not looking for accolades by asking, either; I seek answers. Real, authentic answers, which inevitably lead to deeper questions.

If the child’s inquiry set off a sub/conscious reaction within the actress — indescribable and incapacitating as it may have been, perhaps linked to the constraining costume she wore and confusions she bore — then the onus wasn’t on her to facilitate this opportune conversation. The onus was on me and whomever else witnessed her discomfort, particularly any of the other twenty to thirty educators and chaperones in the room. We all shared the responsibility to notice that she was stuck, then take the baton to the finish line as a team.

We (I) could’ve sustained the question, voiced the energy shift in the room, and given time for each actor to answer. We (I) then could’ve returned to the bigger picture to ask what happened within ourselves the moment the actress inhaled. What stories did we (I) instantly project onto her that heaved a weighted suspicion out of a child’s innocuous question? Here was an opportunity to be honest, non-expert role models to the children, and regard the arduous work of undoing white supremacy in the US. Can we please give these youth an ounce of hope that the process is underway?

Speaking of which, are we committed to that work, or not? Are we ready yet to observe the fact that white people (myself included) owe our lifestyles of increased comfort and safety and accessible provisions to the millions of people of color who’ve had the concept of being “less than” literally beaten into them? Perhaps not on purpose, hopefully not consciously (though certainly not all white US citizens can be credited with good intentions), we nonetheless all participate in and profit from the imbalance of power informed by prejudice, as fellow “separate but equal” products of the systemic racism that founded this country. We are complicit. Yes? Yes.

As a teaching artist, I missed my opportunity to feel uncomfortable and pipe up from the back row. Why did I expect and wait for someone else in the room to address the issue when I was fully capable? I sat out the chance to invite everyone to maintain a childlike curiosity throughout their day-to-day lives and within their personal interactions, especially on the topic of race. If this work is so important to me, why didn’t I use my voice?

I have to thank Kevin Jones, co-founder and Artistic Director of the August Wilson Red Door Project in Portland, for his deft pivot of my out-bound mirror back toward me. Not one of my white family members or friends who proofread this blog pointed out my own miss in the moment. To those beloveds and everyone who identifies as white, let’s relieve the educational load from our beloved country-people of color who’ve never volunteered to take it on, yet who’ve been struggling — and dying — every day under the incessant pressure of racism for at least three hundred years. Let’s happily (or earnestly) take on the task of learning for ourselves where we have been anesthetized by centuries of systemic racism and where we’ve disconnected from own humanity.

The common, ongoing white denial with words of “I don’t like playing her” which is to reject association, as in “I’m not her” which is to squirm “I’m not racist” — these are all thorny evasions and veiled lies obvious to an innocent-yet-wise audience of children. We have to agree that these avoidance tactics are old. We have to agree that these maneuvers must lose their footholds as more and more white people accept accountability and finally insist upon evolution (and revolution). We have to agree that there’s no time to squirm and shrug in the held focus of hundreds of intelligent, impressionable young minds — who already know of and personally experience racist words and actions, whether via microaggressions or macro — because their lives are at stake. We have so much work to do. Let’s please begin by answering a simple question with a “Yes, and –”

 

 

 

Note: I invite readers to participate in community conversation, and I understand that this topic can shake up emotions and confusions and defenses. Since I am responsible for this platform, any cruel, violent or otherwise harmful comments will be deleted. Let’s embrace the work with our hearts and mindful thinking.

Autumn News

What a summer! Happy September! I have a lot of fantastic news to share, so get cozy. First and foremost, thank you for your participation in my life by way of reading my thoughts posted here. I hope you’ll also choose to receive what I offer via my live performances, too! As my dear late vocal coach repeatedly said from the moment I started training with him at age 13: “It takes two to tango!” (Rest in power, Victor).
Speaking of twos (and tangos), I am now the recipient of TWO “Best of Fest” Awards for my solo show The Two-Step. I’ll perform a special encore weekend at 18th & Union in Seattle on Sept 27-29 (7:30 pm) and Sept 30 (3:00 pm), and I’d love to repeat the sold-out run I had in August at the Boulder International Fringe Festival. The show garnered three new awards in Boulder: “Best of Fest,” “Best Love Story: Past” and “In-Demand” for my streak of full houses. I’m proud of the rewrites I made this summer; the script finally feels finished. This revival is a hot ticket!
And speaking of revivals: The Moonshine Revival Tent also returns to the stage at 18th & Union on October 4-6 (7:30 pm) and October 7 (3:00 pm) to debut a new story inspired by the ol’ classic western musicals, plus we’ll revive an audience favorite “The Transformations of Herbert”. To enhance Bret Fetzer’s modern fairy tales, we sing original compositions by the illustrious Sari Breznau in 4-part a capella harmony. Family-friendly storytelling with live music!
Live music?! Yes! I’m writing a new script that features a cello as a character in A Captive Song (working title). I have a few PWYC one-hour workshop readings scheduled this fall to keep the momentum moving and my creative fire stoked. Witness the script’s development on Fri Sept. 21 @ 7 pm, Fri Oct. 26 @ 7 pm, and Sat Nov. 10 @ 8:30 pm – each at the Pocket Theater in Greenwood.
These are all of my scheduled onstage appearances for Seattle in 2018, and perhaps indefinitely thereafter! I’m taking a sabbatical from the many business hats of self-producing and performing in order to push myself in a new direction and focus exclusively on writing and teaching. Part of that push includes a commitment to the terrifying venture of posting blog articles here. Should you enjoy morally supporting young artists, my 3rd-5th grade theatre students will perform their rendition of The Boxcar Children (directed by moi) at 7 pm on Friday, January 11 at McDonald International Elementary School near Green Lake!
And now, the rest of my recent news: I’ve been granted a month-long creative residency in Italy in summer 2019, and I won’t return to Seattle as a resident upon its completion. I’m taking this opportunity to wander Europe and explore my cultural roots, particularly in France and Sweden. I plan to seek residency outside my ol’ Washington State comfort zone, either elsewhere in the U.S. or in another country. Therefore, this announcement is my first step in bidding a fond farewell to you all in the Pacific Northwest: my lifelong community and home base. I’m pouring my heart into these potential “Farewell, Seattle!” performances of 2018*, so I hope you’ll join me at each one in celebration of my era as a Seattle-based artist.
*I’m leaving room for possible winter/spring/summer gigs with my beloved ensembles of The Moonshine Revival Tent and Lucia Neare’s Theatrical Wonders. Keep an eye on the calendar page for dates and ticket info!
That’s all for now! I’d love to hear from you, and especially to see you in person at one or several of these events. I hope this update finds you well with your summer’s transition toward the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. May your winter solstice be equally bountiful as a time for reflection and growth. Wishes of blossoming intentions and new growth for you friends in the southern hemisphere!
With immense love and light,
Christine

Boulder premiere of The Two-Step

Thank you to my opening night audience at the Boulder International Fringe Festival for your enthusiastic and supportive welcome to town. Despite a handful of tech hiccups and accidentally skipping a few lines, the show itself went swimmingly. A few women in particular were unwaveringly with me, nodding in agreement and smiling with solid eye contact; they seemed ready to share their own rich stories. I heard accolades afterward such as “Transporting!” and “Incredible storytelling!” and “Marvelous!” My heart is so full!

    

Hello world!

My new website is live! I’ll start posting blogs in the coming weeks, perhaps during and definitely after my quick solo tour to Boulder Fringe Festival.

Enormous thanks to Umbrella Graphics for making this website a reality!

Keep yourself informed of upcoming events on my calendar page!

See you soon…