This piece came to me as most of my personal writing comes to me: with urgency. It could not be contained, and so I wrote. There are lots of wonderful things that are coming from the 14 Black Poppies community. Still, this is juxtaposed by all of the sadness, loss, violence, and disaster all around me all of the time. Yesterday, a young man at a program at which I work was found guilty in a court of law. I am not going to go into details for they are not mine to tell. But this young person's guilt sent ripples of despair and sadness and anger throughout the entire program.
And during one email exchange, someone asked if there was someone that could do a healing circle. I responded, yes, I can. It was terrifying to step into my role as healer in this particular moment. It was so terrifying it cause the urgency needed to write. So here it is without any further to do.
There is so much loss it is heartbreaking. So I ride the bus, take it from one end of the city to another. As the fog thickens and the skies darken, I sit staring at email after update after post after picture of the loss experienced by violence and injustice. I read and reflect wondering exactly what my contribution can be. I am unsure, shaken. And so I look back upon my name, of stepping into its meaning, of claiming that which I still find so uncomfortable.
Jason means healer.
And no matter how many times I write that I feel its obligation, its weight as if my heart is a rock and it is sinking to the bottom of the Pacific somewhere in the middle of the great garbage patch. In this place of uncertainty and darkness, I realize the only way to lighten myself, to offer something of which is crucial and critical, is to become that sinking rock, to ride it to the ocean's floor. It is there as I sit on sand feeling the cold waters whirl about me, knowing that the world above is still filled with floating garbage, that I find the momentary calmness needed to embrace my name.
Jason means healer.
So I pick up my phone, this device that communicates so much and yet feels so inhuman and technical and cold, and write. I write to find humanity, to create ritual. I write and write and write until words stop spilling from thumbs. I pause, read what has been transcribed, cry at what has been captured by the urgency of emotion and the release of logic. It is a ritual for healing, for family, for pain. It is a response to injustice, to unfair policies that put our youth in jail, to the brutality of police
against those only carrying cupcakes, to the criminalization of sleeping in parks
when you call that park home, to the free workshops teaching the rich how to evict
those they deem undesirable. It is a ritual that lives and breathes and vocalizes pain, deep enduring pain. And I am grateful in this moment that this creation, this response, can live even among all this heartbreak and suffering, can only live because of this heartbreak and suffering. I am grateful that the life I have chosen, the one not of financial riches but of riches of people and perspective and expression, gives me opportunity to embrace my name even when running away from it. I recognize, too, that this choice is a privilege and with that privilege comes a responsibility: I must embrace my name.
Jason means healer.
Tomorrow, I have the honor of leading this ritual with a family of choice. It is a family I have known for quite some time, and yet it is only within the last month that I call them family. Now, I have the responsibility to give back, to hold space and intention, to step into my name with this family of choice. I wish it was not injustice, violence, and heartbreak that spurred me to action. I wish instead it was spurred by dreams and visions of thriving communities where ALL can contribute to health and wellness and art. But it is not. And sadly, it cannot be for we live in the here and now with all of its sadness, injustice, violence, and greed. We live in suffering. And so all I can do right here and right now is to embrace that which is here and now.
Jason means healer.
That, for me, is the here and now.
We had class again on Wednesday. This particular class focused on rehearsing talents, developing a social media campaign, and creating the outline of a performance as part of CAT's Homecoming Rally.
As part of our social media campaign, we got 14 Black Poppies
on Instagram. We also will be posting to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using #catsgottalent and #whatsyourtalent. So check em out, engage, and let us know, "What's your talent?"
When I write, I see other possibilities, parallel universes where different actions occur. These are not imaginings. They are very real as if I can actually touch them, hear their words. They are realities. Then, after they have faded, been transcribed by my simple pen, I let them be unedited. Later, when they are revisited by memory or by reading, I see their truth. Rarely is their truth what I first witnessed.
This parallel observation came to me one afternoon while working in a cafe and thinking about the upcoming The Bloom
. The theme is joy and sorrow.
In walked an old customer who I hadn't seen in over a month. It was good to see him back at the cafe. It also brought up deep emotions, ones better expressed as a parallel observation than as fact."Brian Belken"
For years he spent his days wandering the same streets pushing his shopping-cart-home. He spent his nights under freeways or tucked away in parks. He wasn't homeless. He was houseless.
Now, he lives in a cube where he can touch both walls if he stretches out his arms just so.
"How's it going," I asked one afternoon when his feet burned and his soul stirred him back to the neighborhood.
"Man," he replied, "I'm livin' on the inside." And his voice cracked in that way when stress becomes physical.
"Hang in there," I said unsure of any appropriate response.
"I'm tryin'," he said. "I'm tryin'. And uh.....thanks."
"For what," I asked.
"For always treatin' me with dignity."
"Is there any other way one should be treated?"
"No," he said, and I could see the corners of his eyes wet. "It's just rare."
He walked out of the door and as he walked down the street I watched his hands push a phantom cart.
Now, he's not houseless, but I think he may be homeless.
| || |
What are your experiences with joy and sorrow? I want to know for a collective poem I am writing for The Bloom on Thursday, September 12. Please share your stories.
That's right! After a short hiatus this summer, I was back on Latenite Bubbles with Bernadette chatting about the upcoming season for 14 Black Poppies. Really, I can't believe we are on Season 5. What? Season 5? Yup. This season is all about education and events. Take a listen to a brief portion of the show, and then listen to the whole show here: Latenite Bubbles with Bernadette
| | And TUNE IN every Sunday from 8pm to 10pm on Mutiny Radio for all the best in the underground art scene ONLY on Mutiny Radio.
(Don't want to read this post? I really don't blame you. Reading is boring. So I also created a frantic video!! Look below to watch instead of read.)
So...yeah....It's been quite a while since I have posted on the blog. That's cause I've been knee deep in wrapping up the Spring 2013 Season, doing a massive website redesign so you can find your favorite artists easier, celebrating my birthday, and gearing up for the Fall 2013 season. So...yeah...it's been quiet here.
Well...I am BACK, and I have some annoucements!!
First, I had a wonderful Birthday Bash celebrating with friends old and new. There was an incredible series of performances including 14 Black Poppies' own Mari Villaluna spitting spoken word; Julian Maestas, Luciano Talpini-Aita, and Hillari Marchesini playing bedroom-pop performance art; Brian Vocalist serenading the crowd, Phatima Rude giving a dark lap dance; and The Vespertine Orchestra (with baby Jesus-cito in tow!) doing their dark ambient thing. It was magical and mighty.
It's also Pride Month. (YAWN!) I have never really celebrated Pride since my late twenties. Maybe it's that Pride has become synonymous with capitalism and corporatization. Maybe it is that I celebrate my own pride all year round. Maybe it is simply aging and bitterness. Doesn't really matter. This year, things changed.
I was invited by Ben McCoy to perform at QUEERING MYTHOLOGIES
on TUESDAY, JUNE 25. (CLICK HERE
for tickets!) I love Ben. Ben is an incredible writer and an amazing and heartfelt person (just don't tell Ben about that heartfelt shit), and I was honored to be invited to perform. Ben's invitation also sparked something in me, a little tickle of pride at actually becoming a performer. (ps. Queering Mythologies is hosted by Ben McCoy and Diego Gomez and is sponsored by the Queer Cultural Center.)
So I decided in typical Jason style that I couldn't rest on my laurels and only do ONE pride event. Rather, I have THREE performances/experiences coming up for Pride week. And they are all a part of FAETOPIA
(Ummm...when did I end up aligning with the Radical Faeries? Who knows. But dang they are a great group of folks!!)
Here they are in chronological order:
- PARALLEL OBSERVATIONS (Sun, June 23 @ 1pm): How do you experience alternate realities, realities other than the one in which we exist? In this intimate experiential writing workshop, writer and performer Jason Wyman shifts perspectives, blurs boundaries, and uncovers parallel observations.
- QUEERING MYTHOLOGIES (Tues, June 25 @ 6pm): Queering Mythologies hopes to motivate all those who experience the timeless tale of sorrow & discrimination through creating a more fantastical, colorful, and diverse mythology for queers to draw their inspiration from and to create a community network of queer artist to inspire the next generation. (I will be performing one of my original fables.)
- GO NUTS! w/BERNADETTE (Wed, June 26 @ 10pm): Join Latenite Bubbles host Bernadette, as she probes into the wonderfully fantastic lives of the underground artists and characters that make up the sparkly and magnificent cultural landscape of San Francisco! (I will be performing my interpretations of the parallel observations written on Sunday.)
All events take place at Faetopia, which is located at the old Tower Records on Market Street at Noe in San Francisco. Please check the links for prices. (Note: Parallel Observations is FREE!!)
And that's all I have for now. Well, there is definitely more, but really would you read it right now? Probably not. So...that's it.
Oh...and if you get to this and still want to watch the video...YAY!! But really the video just says all of this stuff you just read. Except I get a little zany.
Anna Sturrock dissects a fish.
On Thursday, March 18, 2013, Anna Sturrock from the University of California, Santa Cruz presented a Science Bytes lecture (including a live fish dissection!) on tracking fish. While I love watching nature documentaries like Planet Earth (ahhhh David Attenborough's voice...), I had never really given any thought to how we track animals, especially fish. I hadn't questioned the science behind the media.
Well thanks to Anna Sturrock's boisterous (the neighbors even knocked on the ceiling urging us to keep quiet because we were having so much) presentation, I started really questioning the methods by which we know what we know about the natural world. And in that questioning, I was amazed and inspired by the developments and shifts in thinking about tracking.
First, I am not a scientist, I took no notes (in fact I was working behind the counter as the presentation was occurring), and I am one who would rather deal in truth rather than facts. So please take all of my comments with a grain of salt. And if something doesn't add up, well, please leave a comment and correct me. My ego isn't so big it can't take a hit every now and again.
What struck me the most about tracking of fish was the huge room for error in our knowledge base. Tracking originally started with eyesight. Scientists go out into the world, count, map, and track on that map. This led to huge gaps in our understanding of fish migration as our eyes are imperfect, the frequency with which we can observe is limited by time, and the depth or murkiness of water limits sight. These gaps create bias, which then informs understand. This loop can create great misunderstandings of our natural world and these misunderstandings start to influence policy. (Anna didn't mention this; it is something that struck me in reflection.)
Modes of tracking fish evolved over time and became more nuanced. These modes of tracking morphed from eyesight to putting tags on fish to satellite tags. With each new mode, more information was learned and our understanding of migration patterns deepened. Suddenly, scientists were able to understand that migration is dynamic and changing. What seemed so simple simply because our eyesight is limited became something complex.
Still, the policies used to "govern" nature have not shifted with this new understanding, with this emergent complexity.
To me, this seems analogous to our current reality. (Again, not something Anna mentioned, but something that strikes me as I write and reflect.) We are living in a time of incredible polarization. And in that polarization we are not letting new information help shape our understanding. We are stuck still only observing with our eyes.
Now, I know this has little to do with the actual lecture. (You can check out Anna's slideshow below for more on that.) It does, however, play into why I do what I do, and specifically underscores what 14 Black Poppies is all about: building dynamic understanding that evolves and rooting that understanding in personal interactions.
I would never have come to this realization without the aid of Anna's lecture. I have thought long and hard about what 14 Black Poppies does. Most of the time, I say "we produce community, arts, and wellness cultural events", and that is a fact. But the truth runs much deeper. 14 Black Poppies is dynamic and evolving. It is something that helps us see the talents in our neighbors.
And I am incredibly lucky to have had Anna share her talents with the audience in attendance, which included me. I am glad to count Anna as my neighbor.
Adriana Camarena reads at The Bloom
WOW! Last night was off the hook incredible! The Bloom: Death + Taxes featured heartfelt, moving performances by Scott Andrew James, SF Mermaid, Lisa D. James, Adriana Camarena, Julia Mendel, and Antonio Caceras.
What struck me the most as the night unfolded was the intimate feeling of space and place conveyed in each and every writers' words. Sitting in a cafe on the corner of 21st and Bryant Streets in the Mission District of San Francisco, I literally felt the corner come to life as Adriana Camarena recounted histories and stories of Norteños and Sureños, of boundary- and border-crossing. Julia Mendel took us to another place entirely, a door only found by a number scratched on a blank white card. Inside, her protagonist finds herself blindfolded and massaged, orgiastic spasms released with each pressure point touched. Lisa D. James read poetry of liberation and control bringing a pause to the audience as they clung to her words. Imagined waterways like flowing streams that captured wandering movements were illuminated by Scott D. James's preface poems to his novel Sidewalk Ritual
complete with illustrations. San Francisco-born and raised SF Mermaid got everyone screaming "Taxes" as she spit words and licked wounds baring her soul in front of all. And lest I not forget Antonio Caceras.
I met Antonio over a decade ago through working in after school programs. When I met him, his youthful, rebellious energy ignited words and memories. He has/had a way of drawing out from youth, San Francisco raised youth, their perspectives and stories, especially the ones from which non-San Franciscans try to hide. He helps/helped them find their truth and share it with the world. When I saw him in action, it was mesmerizing and inspiring.
Flash forward more than ten years. Antonio and I drifted apart. It's just how things happen. Then, a mutual friend came back to town and got us all together for Happy Hour. Antonio and I reconnected, swapped info, and connected on Facebook. Over the months that followed, I read his updates and liked his poetry.
For this particular The Bloom, it was incredibly important to me to also feature native San Franciscan writers. Too often, San Francisco spotlights migrants to this city through its institutions and cultural venues. In fact, San Francisco is notorious for looking outside its own native population for talent and vision. Sure, there are institutions that feature residents of San Francisco, but those folks are not necessarily the same as the native San Franciscan population.
I have come to realize over my past 15 years in this city that there is a voice that comes from San Francisco that only native San Franciscans can capture. It is a voice that evokes place and people and culture while never having to mention any of those words or their synonyms. Antonio embodies that voice.
I reached out to Antonio via Facebook message and simply recalled a memory.
"If memory serves me correctly you do some writing. I could be wrong. But I do believe you write.
"If so...I run a monthly reading series called "The Bloom". (www.14blackpoppies.com/the-spring-bloom.html
) And I am looking for readers."
I waited for his response. It came. He said yes within two minutes of me hitting send.
He closed The Bloom last night reading works past and present, which filled Progressive Grounds. I saw pasts and presents and futures collide in one single space. It was magic. And I was humbled by words and force and perspectives shared.
I sit here typing this review, this summary, contemplating the power of bridging communities, narratives, identities, and stories. This is not necessarily easy work, and it certainly does not happen quickly. It took over a decade to sieze an opportunity to bring these writers together in a single space.
It is legacy work, work that requires sustained intention over time. I feel honored, blessed, and humbled to build a legacy of intersectionality, intention, and inspiration. And I look forward to all that will bloom in return.
Photo by Sadie Sonntag
I like to spend my New Year reflecting. Sometimes it happens on New Year's Eve. Other times on New Year's Day. This year, I worked both days, so it came just a little later. Thankfully, I had something happen yesterday that reminded me to reflect.
It is New Year's Day, and I am working. I also worked Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. It's fine as I don't really celebrate the holidays all that much, and I would prefer to give folks who do celebrate the holidays the day off. Plus, it is only about a half day anyway. I will be out by 3ish.
A man in his 20s walks into the cafe. He is chatting loudly on his cell phone as he walks up to the register. It's busy, and I am trying to catch up on some cleaning. He continues to increase the volume of his phone conversation so everyone can hear him. It is something inane, and something others do not really want to hear about.
I stare hoping he gets the message to bring the volume down just a tad. He doesn't. Instead, the volume continues. He is obviously excited about something, which I cannot begin to make out even though he is clearly talking loud enough for me to hear the entirety of his side of the conversation.
He hangs up the phone, looks directly at me, and says, "I simply asked my mother for some grammar advices on something I wrote and all she can say is, 'It's lovely darling.' I mean, COME ON! You cannot count on your mother for honest advice about ANYTHING."
"Mmm...hmmm," I reply as I continue wiping down tables. "Can I get you anything?"
He loudly paces across the cafe picking everything up and then setting it back down. His hands act as if they NEED to touch everything, as if he needs to mark his territory like a male cat.
I swing behind the counter and saunter up to the register thinking that maybe being on the other side might make him place his order. "So, how can I help you," I ask.
"Really, can you believe it," he continues. "Mothers! They want to be supportive but don't know how."
"Mmm...hmmm....," I reply. "Would you like a coffee?"
He picks up items he has already examined as if something new would reveal itself upon picking it up a second time.
"You see, I am a very religious Jew, so asking me if I want coffee is complicated. I mean I cannot have both milk and meat at the same time, and I am thinking that tonight I would like to eat some beef. That means I can't have a milk based drink right now. Like I said, my diet is incredibly complicated."
"Ok," I reply knowing that all people have very complicated food "issues". This is nothing new for me, so I offer, "Well, there are lots of options if you need any suggestions please let me know."
"Like I said, I am religious Jew, so if you don't know all the nuances of eating Kosher, I am not sure that you would be able to help. I mean there are rules to my eating that I have to follow."
"Ok. Well, since you know what they are, is there anything I can get for you?" I smile despite the complete waste of time he is creating.
He picks the pacing back up again this time almost to the point of bumping in to other customers. "Well," he continues, "It all depends on what I want to eat for dinner. I need to make that decision so that I can figure out what I am going to do right now. So let me think about that for a moment."
He proceeds to think out loud letting me hear his debate about dinner and whether or not he is going to eat out or make something, whether he is going to have only vegetables or have some meat as well. This monologue becomes louder than the conversation with his mother.
"Well, let me know if I can help you out with anything," I say as I move away from the register to get back to doing some of the cleaning that needs to be done.
"Oh wait," he yells. "I know! I have figured out dinner."
"Ok. So what can I get for you today?"
"Nothing," he responds. "Have a great new year." He then prances out of the cafe.
In the moment, I was incredibly frustrated. I wanted nothing more than to celebrate the new year with graciousness, and the manifestation of this man's unchecked privilege irked me. It tested my ability to be gracious. Instead, I found myself drawing on the depths of my "Minnesota nice", which really means sarcasm and passive agressiveness done with a smile. There is nothing gracious about it.
Most see "Minnesota nice" as pleasant. They get confused by the smile and warm eyes. They don't understand the nuance of tone or the fact that the warm eyes symbolize the pits of anger rather than the warmth of a campfire. But I do know all about "Minnesota nice". I was raised there.
So I know that beneath my veneer of nicety, I was not being very gracious. I was not starting out the new year the way I wanted to. It left me feeling a little dissonant without really understanding why.
As I reflect, I now understand the dissonance: there was a mismatch between who I want to be and who I was in that moment.
We all have these moments. We all have times when the person we want to be is not the person that we are.
It is in these moments that reflection becomes crucial. We must hit the pause button and look not at others but at our selves. We must find where the dissonance is and ask, "who am I; who do I want to be; are they the same person?"
Upon doing so, I am realizing that I could do better in listening to the stories of all people. For decades, I have found myself honoring and listening to those who have been historically marginalized. I get frustrated and angry at the behaviors of people whom I perceive to be privileged. I make quick assumptions about a person based on their immediate behaviors, especially behaviors exhibited by the customer mentioned above.
My resolution for 2013, though I am normally loathe to do so, is to become more gracious, to hit the pause button more, and to continue to align who I want to be with who I am.
I have learned, especially recently in regards to the growing polarization here in the United States, that we need more people to hit the pause button and reflect. We need to see people not as the behaviors they exhibit. Rather, we need to model the behaviors we wish to embody.
I opened Facebook momentarily amidst writing this post. The post at the top was by my friend Starr Britt. Here is what it said:
"Jesus said 'the meek shall inherit the earth.'
"Meek: The aligned, non-agitated, non-resistant, the patient, the mild, submissive, moderate, those who stay in there own lane, those who find unconditional love in all and are grateful for the gift of life. #beeasy #stayfocused"
In my moment of pause while typing, I came face to face with who I want to be, and I will carry this with me through 2013.
Yesterday, December 16, 2012, my life long dream of performing with a band came real. I collaborated with Sadie Sonntag and Jesus Contreras of The Vespertine Orchestra
to create a musically literary performance of my original poem, "the unfinish line". It took us about three months for the collaboration to come to fruition, and it included creating the music, rehearsing, refining the music, more rehearsal, and lots of bacon and eggs (Thanks Sadie!).
I was a nervous wreck before the show, which I am fairly certain folks couldn't perceive. I am good at hiding my nerves behind a smile and friendliness. Nevertheless, it was there underneath everything and diverted my attention to detail. It also made eating impossible.
As I sidled up to the mic and took center stage, the butterflies flew away. I was left with a fairly empty shell from which the performance could emerge. It was a strange feeling literally witnessing this transformation of self from somewhere outside of my body. For but a moment, I was in the audience looking back at me, and I saw in my eye a glint of sadness.
It wasn't the kind of sadness that overwhelms or overtakes. It wasn't the sadness of loss or grief. It wasn't the sadness of nostalgia. Rather, it was the sadness that can only come from art; the kind of sadness that is expressed by the transcendence words and music and performativity. It was the sadness of being.
I became that poem in that moment and within me was all of the conflict and despair and turmoil and hope contained within "the unfinish line"'s words, music, and theatricality. It was a moment of transformation of space, time, audience, and performer.
As I looked out at the audience, I saw people absorbed, clinging to every moment, closing eyes to feel that transformation. This was a completely new experience for me. While I have been an educator, a facilitator, a writer, a producer, a curator, an emcee, and a reader of my words, I have rarely identified as a performer. In fact, I have shunned that label fearing its power.
I thought "performer" were those drag queens, those musicians, those spoken word artists, those actors, those dancers, those performance artists of whom I have seen on stages big and small, in private and public spaces. They were always larger than life, embodying something different than just self. And really good performers always found ways to inspire and transcend. They were also something to be feared.
For me, I was afraid of the disconnect between the image of performer and who the person really was. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and work on aligning pieces of my self. For many, many years, I felt like different people given my varied interests, my ADHD, my plural identities. These different people while manifest in one physical body were jarring and often made for cycles of depression and mania. I wasn't bi-polar. But I did have high peaks and deep valleys. It became exhausting.
I watched some friendships deteriorate from my constant cycles. I even stopped talking to my family for a number of years as a result of needing to find "me". It was painful to lose friends, good and dear friends, and it was even more gut-wrenching to not speak to my parents. Still, these were necessities on my path of seeking balance, finding peace, and ultimately healing. And I still mourn the loss of those friends, and I can never reclaim those lost years when not speaking to may parents.
Now, as I become more a performer, I fear disconnecting from my self in order to "perform". I don't want to lose the ground I have made in integration, in becoming me. I fear falling back into cycles of peaks and valleys.
Over the last month, I have performed four times. It is a record for me. I have read and revealed an Ex Libris De Corpus story, performed a Ritual of Scripture, read a piece about Passing Midnight, and performed "the unfinish line". This last performance (on Sunday with The Vespertine Orchestra) was the most risky as it was the most out of my comfort zone. It combined elements of which I have never worked, mainly music. It was also the most authentic to my self.
The person I saw with sadness in his eyes wasn't a disconnection as in my youth. Rather, it was a realization of the person I am: a complex, multi-faceted, pluralistic, interdisciplinary artist/writer/PERFORMER. And contained within that person is a range of emotions, perspectives, beliefs. All I need is spaces for manifestation.
Sunday (and all of December) has been a manifestation of my self as performer. And I have realized in a very bodily way that the performers that I have admired over the years also perform from that place of authentication and alignment. It's taken years for me to realize and manifest this. I am still unsure and scared and hopeful about where I am going. I also feel the most alive I have ever felt. And that is in large part thanks to taking the risk of become a performer.
And best of all? I have a whole slew of friends who are supporting this manifestation. Without them, I couldn't be me.