On Tuesday, October 1, I performed fortunes with Anne Carol Mitchell for The News hosted by Kolmel WithLove. I don't have too many words to say. It was a moment better left in other people's words, memories, and sideways glances. The photos above were taken before and after the reading. They represent the its transitory nature as both sets were taken on buses. They are simply snapshots of reflections and refractions.
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.
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.
On Friday evening, Brian Vocalist hosted his bi-monthly open mic night The Local Vocals Variety Show.
For this event, the theme was Wavelength, which got me thinking about the distance between two points, and how we travel from one point to another. My parents are such points in my life. They shaped and continue to shape who I am to this day. Sure, we may not talk as much as either of us wishes, but they are constantly with me.
And not only are they with me in this time and space, the memories of them are carried forward from childhood. It is perplexing to me how memory changes over time. I cannot fathom how memory works. I know that I look back at memories of my parents now at the age of 36, and I see them differently than I did in the moment or even in my memory or remembering that same childhood memory when I was in my 20s.
Take for example, the two pieces I read at Local Vocals on Friday night, "Mirrored Perfection" (about my mom) and "My Dad's Tears". I know SOME of the events in these short pieces occurred. I don't know if they occurred in the order outlined in the pieces, but occur they did.
Also, take the pieces themselves. I wrote these three years ago. I was in a different space then. I was unemployed and searching, searching for memories to help me understand the present.
Reading them aloud now in front of an audience, I am even more unsure of the facts and fictions they contain. Sure, there is truth. But is truth fact?
I have no idea. I do know these pieces moved the audience. I saw it in the tears brought forth. In fact, I had to wipe a few off the wooden table as I cleaned up at the end of the night.
Without further ado, here is "Mirrored Perfection" and "My Dad's Tears"
She stood in front of the mirror fussing with hairspray hoping it would go just a little higher conscious not to look like a hooker. Suburbanites hate hookers.
Perfect hair signaled personal perfection reflected in daily dusting, hourly vacuuming, and unending cycles of laundry. Everything was a reflection of everything else, so nothing was supposed to be out of place. It was suffocating her. It suffocated me.
It became more than either of us could handle. She'd cry downstairs in the unfinished basement behind the tiny bathroom hoping no one would find her. I rebelled with messy drawers that were easily closed and by hoarding discarded wrappers in school lockers and backpacks. It led to four or five years of silence.
Her hair is unkept as she looks in the mirror, so she throws on a hat. The dusting is sporadic; the vacuuming is only weekly; the washing machine is silent. She works downtown among the hookers and drag queens and dykes and druggies providing respite and care for those with HIV/AIDS. She breathes freely.
So do I.
MY DAD'S TEARS
His temper exploded and threw me against the wall. I was pinned there staring into his red, ready-to-burst-with-tears eyes. He wasn't himself any longer, but he looked like my dad. I hated him not for the explosion but because I still felt small and childish. I was small and childish.
He let go and turned away embarrassed by the outburst and anger. He promised himself no more, but biology and upbringing got in the way sometimes. I cried partly because I was scared and partly because guilt was stronger than anger. A couple seconds of violently kinetic silence, and we returned to our supper. The meal passed and so did the silence.
He came to me crying one night, or I found him upstairs crying. He had spoken to his mother, and she revealed the true nature of his conception: to keep his alcoholic father around. He looked just like I had, and I hated him then too because it was easier than empathy. He was a small child.
He visited California because his sister was sick and dying. My husband and I took the train to San Jose to meet him for the afternoon. We exchanged hugs, and I saw those same tears behind those same brown eyes. We both stayed silent, but this time it was the silence of empathy and understanding -- the kind of silence that is needed in times of death and decay by is rarely given. Then, we ate lunch, visited my aunt, and watched a crappy movie. He dropped us at the train station amidst more silence and contemplation.
"I love you, Jason," he said as I exited. I've heard those words many times before, but this time I understood them.
I love you too, dad.
I was recently invited on to the show Common Thread Collective hosted by Diamond Dave on Mutiny Radio here in The Mission District in San Francisco to chat about upcoming events produced by 14 Black Poppies at Progressive Grounds. Progressive Grounds is less than half a block away from Mutiny Radio, and we are all working towards solidifying the corner of 21st and Bryant streets a cultural corridor. Specifically, it is a cultural corridor where all are welcome and all see themselves represented in the programming.
After a brief chat about The Local Vocals Variety Show, Rising Stars, and The Bloom, I was invited to read my short piece titled, "Blowing through Conifers". I wrote "Blowing through Conifers" during the inaugural season of The Bloom. The theme was "In the Mist", and I sat at Land's End writing with the fog thick around me. Heck, it was summer in San Francisco, so fog is inevitable.
I clipped the story into its audio file below. Take a listen. It's rough. But I think its roughness captures the beauty of the piece. I hope you enjoy the reading, and I hope you discover not what has been or what may be, but what will be.
About the Blog
The 14 Black Poppies Blog is the place to find creative works, personal reflections, articles and various arts and wellness sundries that either inspire or are created by co-founders Jason Wyman and Margaret Bacon Schulze.