Spirits soared at last week’s Open Mic. Would you like to be part of the community we are building?
Last Sunday, synkroniciti hosted our second Open Mic, exploring the theme of gratitude. I was so grateful for our first experience in September, and November is a traditional time to express thankfulness, so it seemed an appropriate choice. That didn’t make it an easy one. It can be hard to feel grateful when we feel cold, unhappy or lonely. Those are the very moments when gratitude can make the most difference, when we can inspire one another to live more deeply. As we came together, some of us had more difficulty with gratitude than others, admittedly grumpy and uncomfortable to a point that we had struggled putting together our pieces or committing to being there. And yet, here we were, ten of us–eleven if you count Lisa the cat, who listened attentively to more than half of the presentations, despite the fact that we started them at her dinner time–about to open ourselves up in unexpected ways.
After mingling and getting to know one another a little better over snacks, we began our exploration. I read a poem which I wrote several years ago for a program sponsored by Houston Grand Opera called Houston Artists Respond. People from community centers in Houston shared their stories in videos which were presented to artists, musicians and poets who were asked to respond. I wove the stories of three Latin American women who had immigrated to the United States with my feelings to make three poems. The one I read here is called Nubia’s Shoes, and tells the story of a woman who grew up in Nicaragua and received her first pair of shoes at the age of sixteen, when her mother’s employer gave her a used pair of baby blue plastic shoes. They were several sizes too small, but Nubia wore them proudly because they made her feel like a normal person. You can read the poem here. From the beginning of our evening, Nubia assured us that we can be grateful for a life which pinches and blisters us.
This was followed by a beautiful piece of silent performance art by Orion Lowy entitled Politeness. Orion presented us with what appeared to our eyes to be an empty box. After he tapped it soundly, the box revealed small slips of paper. Each of us took one and shared it with the others. Mine read, “I don’t know how to thank you”. They all contained particularly humble and lovely expressions of gratitude, from “You shouldn’t have” to “Well, this was unexpected”. A gentle work of subtle humor and simplicity, it was delightful and really explored the wonderful and yet awkward nature of gratefulness.
In Find Yourself…Give Thanks, Laura Bourdo used a combination of collage and poetry to find imagery of gratitude. The process involved cutting out images from magazines which drew her eye, pasting them together on to cards and then attempting to find what it was that had drawn her to those particular pictures and what story they told together. If you want insight into how you think and how you experience life, this is a particularly rich exercise that makes beautiful art. We passed the images around as Laura read each poem twice, each one beginning with “Find yourself” and ending with “give thanks”. Sitting at the end of the line, I found it wonderful to imagine what would be on the card coming toward me. It was always a wonderful surprise.
Ofelia Adame read a beautiful testimony to the nurturing power and love of her family and friends, a journal entry entitled Supporting Hands. She acknowledged the presence of an outstretched hand helping her through every day of her life, present even when she lacks the ability to see it. “The hands change throughout your life, from your parents, to your siblings, to friends, to lovers, to teachers, to coworkers, to bosses. They change and don’t at the same time, as these participants in your life don’t leave or disappear, but just take turns in providing that helpful hand.” Her sincerity and vulnerability drew us all in.
Speaking of sincerity and vulnerability, Jane Lowy graced us with a song from her Dickensian style novel, Wobbly Barstool. We heard a reading from Wobbly back in September which was hilarious, but this was a treat in quite a different way. In the novel, Wobbly sings this song to the fiddle accompaniment of his friend, Fewan Farbetween, in praise of his sweetheart Prunella. Jane sang it for us to a pre-recorded accompaniment with obvious reference to her husband, David. “If cats should bark and dogs meow, and horses start to moo-o-o, I’d think it just their usual row, for I’m head over heels for you.” We all felt glad to be included in the love.
This was followed by the presentation of David’s new piece of music, Supersonic: The New Peace Victory March. First, we heard a whimsical recording in which he whistled the tune, which gets rather high at the very end. So high that Jane once called it supersonic and the name stuck. (You might not know that it was David who named Jane’s novel, Wobbly Barstool.) David has an excellent ear and composed this piece in the style of marches by John Philip Sousa. I helped him transcribe it before the Open Mic so that Neil could play it on trumpet and we could sing it. Everyone had such a great time singing together that we took an unplanned intermission because we were all so energized by the experience. Such is to be expected with a good march, and having a trumpet player and three unpretentious members of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus present didn’t hurt either. It was a lovely meeting of inspiration, talent and expertise that made everyone feel welcome and part of the action. Synkroniciti anticipates being able to help David expand Supersonic in the future. It’s a good tune and quite an ear worm.
After a bout of lively conversation, Laura returned with Quiet Time, a dreamy poem that recalls the depth of a fictional relationship between a grandpa and grandchild. This is a kind of relationship that we all long for but rarely experience, in which words and feelings unspoken are understood more thoroughly than those expressed in conversation. Knowing that such moments are possible in life is enough to generate gratitude and to remind us to savor and nurture the relationships we have, even if they don’t resemble the ideal friendships of our dreams.
Finally, I presented my painting, Seductive Fruit, which depicts a strange fruit hanging from a tree, entwined with the tail of a snake. Picking this fruit will surely result in a bite from the dark serpent. It recalls the story of Adam and Eve and reminds us that knowledge comes with a price. As we live, experience brings us satisfying and painful moments, which we cannot completely separate from one another. Gratitude embraces both. You can read about Seductive Fruit here.
As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” So our night of gratitude embraced both the bright and the dark, dreams and reality, pain and pleasure, the easy and the difficult, the technical and the inspired. The creative energy present was contagious and electric.
Sean, Betty, Orion, Jane and David, Laura, Ofelia and Charles and Neil, I don’t know how to thank you. I only hope we will come together again to share stories and thoughts.
Synkroniciti’s third Open Mic will happen in February 2015. Will we see you there?