Synkroniciti’s latest Open Mic was a wonderful, intimate conversation about building and being bridges in our communities, families and world.
On Saturday, February 20th, eight souls (seven human, one cat) took on the vulnerability of sharing things that separate and connect us. We were diverse in terms of race, culture and circumstances, and we truly enjoyed coming together to speak to and learn from each other. We enjoyed it so much that the night didn’t wrap up until after 9:30, five hours after the posted start time. That was a new record for synkroniciti!
Most of this time was spent in open and unscripted conversation, as we shared ourselves and our backgrounds. Our tiny group was no stranger to prejudice and challenge, be it racial tensions within family and community, making a home in a new country, clearing socio-economic hurdles, or dealing with physical and mental issues that mark us as different. Digging down deep, we found some rough edges and we didn’t shy away from them. It doesn’t seem right to throw these things up in great detail here; they were bonding experiences that are meant for the safe place we have built at synkroniciti. There are, however, a few things I will narrate for you briefly.
As a warm-up, we had a great time creating an oral story that passed from person to person around the room. We told of twin sisters who, in celebration of their sixteenth birthday, fearfully crossed a magic fairy bridge only to find their deceased grandparents ready to tell them a profound truth about life over a delicious breakfast. Grandpa exhorted them to find and follow their passion in life and grandma ended by saying, “That’s nice dear, I just wanted to remind them to always eat a good breakfast.” None of us had any control over where the story went or what genre it strayed into. We had to release our personal expectations to allow it to be breathed into life.
Saba read “The Other Immigrants”, inspired by a trip to Grand Central Station in New York City. In this lovely, spare poem, Saba thinks of the countless people who have travelled through Grand Central Terminal to make a new life in the United States and remembers growing up in Lahore, Pakistan. As human beings we move from one reality to another, crossing so many bridges that we become bridges ourselves: between countries, between cultures, between periods of time, between our own memories. This beautiful poem appeared in Natural Bridge Journal and you can read it here.
I presented “To a Dancer”, which you can read here. It deals with a cultural divide– a young woman watching a dance desires to join in, but is held back by prejudice because the dancer is not of her race. The physical truth of the dancer’s body, the movements and the reactions inspired by those movements wordlessly reach across the gap between cultures, beckoning to her. It is a wonderful and terrifying thing to be a bridge.
“Reverse Psychology” was inspired by an interaction Michelle had with a friend who, in a moment of zeal and religious dogma, attempted to tell her how she should believe and live. These moments never yield positive results, only frustration and division. They destroy and block bridges, which can only be built by two sides listening and reaching out to one another. We have to be careful that our bridge building doesn’t turn into a siege.
Neil, Buki and I want to thank Ariel, Kelly, Louis, Michelle and Saba for wonderful evening and for being open to sharing so much of themselves.
The next Open Mic will happen on Saturday, April 9 at 4:30pm and will be titled “In the Garden”. Hope to see you there!
Synkroniciti held our latest Open Mic on Saturday, January 9th. It is always exciting to see connections and understandings appear in a group and this gathering was especially rewarding as half of us were “regulars” and half were brand new to synkroniciti. I am so grateful to those who shared themselves and their art.
We began with an experience inspired by the Sonic Meditations of Pauline Oliveros. The human voice carries a great deal of vulnerability, as you might guess from the number of people who fear public speaking and singing. I asked our guests to sing together, picking a random pitch on my cue, then to listen and let that pitch settle and move (if they felt like moving). We did so a few times, and the sonorities we produced were truly beautiful and magical, combinations that contained a measure of stability and richness as well as tones that reached out of the texture. The enchantment we felt didn’t come from the execution or the quality of each individual voice, but from the unity and uniqueness of the total sound.
Ofelia shared Dripping Diamonds, a striking photograph paired with a wistful poem. One day, on her way to work in the midst of a Houston rainstorm, she leaned forward while stopped to capture a watery, misty view of the trees through her windshield. Her poem encourages us to notice how our environment cares for us, supplying us with water, light and other things vital to survival. The miracles that allow life to go on are so seldom celebrated, but we rely on them completely. You can read Dripping Diamondshere.
Saba read The Keeper, which she wrote in response to Anila Quayyam Agha’s artwork Intersections, a large carved cube suspended from above and lit from within. Intersections was displayed at the Rice Gallery last fall and The Keeper was featured in a Words and Art presentation which asked poets and writers to explore their reaction to Agha’s luminous work. This sensual villanelle is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society that crafts beautiful places where women can be “kept”. The refrain of “lady, stay” drummed on our ears, pleading for all women to stay in their place, to keep the order that society has sculpted for us. Such places may be lovely, some may even be safe, but because they do not allow us to form our own personal connections to society and the world, they can only become prisons, even if they are made “of a thousand daisies”.
Intersections by Anila Quayyam Agha at the Rice Gallery Image by Katherine McDaniel
After sharing her poem, Saba spoke of the burqa, the traditional garment worn in some Islamic countries to cover women from prying eyes and promote female modesty. She led us to understand that it could be repressive in some situations and a provider of safety in others. We spoke of divorce and the challenges that it provides for women, challenges that can build our self image and personality even as they leave marks that harm us. Women have to live submerged in these paradoxes every day. We grapple with these issues in the West and in the East, although our cultures manifest them differently.
How do we live in a society in which women are required to make up for the lack of modesty and self control in men? I believe that women hold a missing piece that can help repair the human relationship to nature and the world around us, but we have to find a way to integrate it into a society that is polarized against us.
Tuba shared a self portrait entitled This is how I get to you. It is a vision of life, death and transformation. An intuitive soul, Tuba has dreams of being submerged in water, of being at home yet dying there and feeling that she is released to communicate her voice and her truth there. It is hard for those who are sensitive to currents in the spiritual and mystical plane to communicate these things to other human beings, who tend to miss these currents entirely and can react with fear and anger. I am reminded of the myth of Rusalka the mermaid, who wanted so much to be human, but had to give up her voice to become so. There is something about water that implies a different mode of sensation and communication, something that does not require words.
Our subject lies in water, a smile upon her face. The fish that swim around her thighs are a type of carp that nibble away dead skin. They are taking away the old self, making room for the new. The image is both uncomfortable and pleasurable. Tuba’s inscription reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. As we evolve and change there is a part of us that remains unique throughout our transformation. If you would like to explore this artwork with me in more detail, I will be posting about it later this month.
Michelle read A Ghost Story, a personal experience from her youth. As she related the events that followed the acquisition of a statue of a woodsman from the next door neighbor’s garage sale we all got the chills. The story unfolded with exquisite detail and cunning humor, building in suspense to the point that more than one of us remarked that we would have a hard time getting to sleep that night. At least we weren’t reading it at 3am.
Everyone catches glimpses of strange things that happen at the corners of our experience, things that we blink away because they don’t make sense. Michelle’s story took us to a place where these things came into focus, where they persisted despite all of our blinking and wishing. The menacing figure that stood at the end of the bed and the statue that moved by itself hint at an enmity that stood between men long since dead and point to a reality we can’t comprehend. We are all vulnerable in the face of the invisible and the unreal.
Kelly walked right into the valley of the shadow of death with The First Anomaly, a poem that voices the thoughts of a woman faced with breast cancer. Even though it is still in the finishing stages, this poem rendered us almost speechless as she recorded the otherworldly strangeness of searching for a tumor with ultrasound in the same way that ships at sea find enemy vessels. We usually call that application sonar, but it is very much the same technology.
In breast tissue ultrasounds, yellow and red areas show areas of above average hardness, i.e. anomalies which could be cancer. Kelly wove this together with a nursery rhyme for distinguishing the Coral Snake, which is extremely poisonous, from the King Snake, which is not. “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack” runs the childish verse. The red touching yellow on this ultrasound indicates a malignant tumor. The only hope is radiation, with its yellow, not red, and black symbol. Our heroine seems doubtful that it will prove strong enough to “bring her back”. We would like healing to be magical, a silver bullet, and although it is miraculous, it is never as clean and easy as we hope.
I shared my painting The Execution of Peace, which shows a landscape threatened by aggression and hatred. You can read my earlier post about it here. There are three areas in this picture. The upper portion shows a storm brewing, a dove being shattered by lightning and a sun enlarged to a supernova. An umbilical cord separates this portion from the central area, which is dominated by red robed figures who fight it out with lightning bolts among the clouds while another figure is either collapsing or holding on to something between them. The bottom area shows a grey and blasted earth. There are orange shapes standing on that earth. At one point I saw them as privileged people who look on while others are killed, but these viewers saw something different. They saw warheads.
There is so much human beings could do for one another and for our planet, yet we always seem to end up fighting. Those who will not fight are often sacrificed. Whether we cause the storm or whether the storm moves us to violence the effects are the same. I painted The Execution of Peace after meditating on fear and have always found this painting difficult to love, but my friends showed me that there is hope in it. It may be that we are all warheads ready to explode, the killing blow lying within each of us ready for detonation. We can choose to stay our hand and hold on to mercy and kindness. Perhaps this is enough to stay the apocalypse for now.
Connecting with each other is the most important thing we do each day. We may do so by words or actions, by means of art, music, dance, or any creative expression. We can also find connection by getting to know our world better. No moment connecting to our planet or our fellow human beings is wasted.
Will you build bridges with me?
Neil and I would like to send a gigantic thank you to everyone who came to Broken Pieces: Exploring Vulnerability: Saba, Tuba, Laura, Michelle and Dave, André, Ariel, Kelly, and Ofelia. This was a very special evening and you are all precious to us. Our next Open Mic is entitled Building Bridges: The Power of Human Connection and will happen on February 20, 2016.