Today my ancestors were teasing me. I’ve never taken teasing very well.
“You’ve gotta work on your shit talking,” James Kass, my mentor and Youth Speaks Inc ED, used say to me. Affectionate hard knocks were a part of the culture at YS. But I’d been conditioned, by 13 yrs of grade school bullying, to think teasing was always malicious, always intended to disempower. I was quick to bristle, and took myself WAY to seriously. Learning to be put in my place, out of genuine love, was one of the most important lessons of my mentoring. So I took Kass’ advice. I studied the greats (Chinaka Hodge can throw down), and learned how to shit talk, and tease ’em with the best. I’m GREAT at dishing it out, and I know how to laugh along when it’s my turn to take the heat. But there are some days, many days, when no matter how hard I front, I’m still a little too soft for tough love.
And TODAY. My ancestors were having a good laugh. Sending so many mixed signs and symbols. Inspiring highs, and below the belt lows. I feel like breaking things, or crying, or getting really mean and pretending I don’t want to cry… I really am a poor sport… (also likely the result of low blood sugar and sleep deprivation… read on…)
I guess I can’t really go on without updating you on my life:
1) I wrote, rehearsed (with the help of my director/dramaturg, Sara Lyons), and premiered my first ever solo show, OVERHEARD.
coming to HOT FEST @ Dixon Place Sat July 26th, 10pm
Since June 2nd, I’ve performed at FiveMyles in BK, BAAD in the Bronx, and CA for the SF Nat’l Queer Arts Festival, and in a week it goes up at the Hot Fest at Dixon Place July 26th at 10pm.
Read more about it on BroadwayWorld.com. We’ve also just been honored by the Killjoys lisT, and you can get tickets HERE.
2) The day after I returned from CA I started a new position, teaching at Sadie Nash Summer Leadership Institute, and two new sites for Voices UnBroken. Every week this summer I travel to Newark NJ, the South Bronx, and East New York to teach writing and performance to a total of 40 young women of color.
3) Two weeks ago I was accepted as the 2014-15 Fellow for the Lincoln Center Education Artist Mentoring Lab. It’s a 10 month fellowship to develop and present up to three projects over the course of the next year. One of the projects focuses solely on involving and working with young people through their art. It’s literally a dream come true.
4) My fellowship began THIS WEEK with attendance at the Summer Forum, an immersive summer training experience for teachers and teaching artists at LCE.
5) I’m still teaching this week, while attending the forum, and I’m in rehearsals for my solo show next week. I haven’t had a full night of sleep since, well… who even knows?
6) My life is AMAZING. And I’m exhausted.
Now that we’re all caught up…
They were teasing me. My ancestors. Hard.
This morning, on my way to the forum, I caught site of the billboard of young Ms. Cecile McLorin Salvant, reigning in her young-gifted-and-Black glory over Columbus Circle.
I was brought back to the Lincoln Center Jazz concert I attended earlier this year, when I leaned over to my partner and precociously whispered “I’m going to collaborate with her some day.” And this morning it hit me. My god. I’m a Lincoln Center Fellow. She’s a Lincoln Center Jazz artist. That is no longer a crazy idea.
The signs are clear! I’m on the right path!
I got so filled by the lightness of this idea, that forgot about walking, and spilled coffee down the front of my dress and onto my white belt. I stopped on the side walk to mop myself up…
Ok. I get it ancestors. Don’t get too big headed, heed the way… yeah, yeah.
And that’s when I heard it. A low note. A jazz riff. A divine instrument. I was still two blocks from the LCE building, no early morning concerts in the square today. But there, at the corner of 63rd and Broadway, was a boy seated, singing. And it stopped my whole heart. Michael, a gifted jazz vocalist posted on the sidewalk below the Starbuck’s window, an open bag of books at his side, writing lyrics in black sharpie pen down the front of this shirt and on his arms. “You have a beautiful voice,” I said, now standing directly before him. “Requests?” He said. And before I could think “Bye Bye Blackbird” came tumbling out of my mouth and he picked it right up without skipping a beat, “You already know.” I could do nothing but grin, standing, mid pedestrian path, clutching onto my remaining coffee and oversized, overflowing tote bag, serenaded by a boy with writing down his arms.
The sign? Humility in my craft will lead the way. Message received! I shook his hand, gave him a tip, and made my way to the forum, lighter still.
The day marched on with purpose: a panel on the Arts Education Roundtable, contact improv with my fellow educators in the lab, a dance performance by Erik Kaiel’s ARch8 that literally left my mouth agape, and I rushed off to a lunch meeting. No breaks for the true #hustlers. But not to worry, I packed my lunch….
And left it at home… along with my debit card. A nine hour day. Nothing but a handful of cherries to hold me over. No groceries for the next day. Ancestors got jokes.
But I’m a professional artist. No problem. The show (or the workshop) must go on! I jumped eagerly into the rest of the embodied lab activities, and kept participating even when the strap of my favorite dress broke…
Really? What kind of a sign is this?? Beware vanity? Embrace vulnerability? Be prepared for Macgyver style dress tailoring?
I gave myself a break and skipped the evening panel. I mustered up the rest of my energy and walked to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle, crossing my fingers my few wadded up dollars the loose change in the bottom of my purse would get me a small bite to eat and some almond milk for breakfast. It did.
And I ran into Cicely Tyson at the bulk foods bar… CICELY TYSON.
After several minutes of awed staring, I realized I had to say hello or she might call security on me. I told her I was an actor and a writer, and that her work inspired me, and her eyes literally sparkled when she spoke. She asked me if I was working, I told her about Lincoln Center. “Oh?” She said, in a way that I have decided was approving and impressed, and I walked away backwards with a foolish grin on my face, touched by a legend.
THE SIGN of the road ahead. Greatness to be achieved with perseverance, and enduring integrity.
I hopped a long train ride home, took a break neck nap, narrowly avoided missing my stop, slept-walked the 6 blocks from the station to my house, relieved, exhausted, but ready to get back to writing….
And then I realized I forgot my keys. Two dozen phone calls to my roommates, and several failed attempts to break into my house later, I surrendered to the front stoop. I sat, glaring at my innocent neighbors, seething with frustration and envy. “Go ahead! Open your front door! It’s just so EASY for you, isn’t it??”
It wasn’t long before I realized I was being watched. A pair of wide yellow eyes peering at me from behind a spoke in the fence. I hadn’t realized the neighborhood tom cats had another litter, but there she was, a lone kitten, her dark trembling body no bigger than two fists put together. She was staring right at me, brimming with curiosity and fear. Whether she decided I wasn’t a threat, or her short attention span got the best of her, I don’t know, but soon she was lost in play and all but forgot me. She swatted at plants and pieces of string, bounded over fallen branches, and chewed on a paw.
I was almost too angry to care… almost. The sign? Don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s all in good fun… Some lessons take years to learn.
Now that I have the buffer of a few hours, the spare keys, and a box of cookies, I can finally let the richness of my day settle in. But I humbly ask my ancestors, cut me some slack? It’s been a busy month.