As I sit down on the night of the first snow day of the year, while the streets are being plowed, I think about road blocks, about clearing the way for things. I think about pave-the-wayers, people who looked at the supposed obstructions of race/class/gender/whatever and responded by not allowing themselves to be boxed in to a set of limitations. I wonder at how not so long ago, messages traveled slow, down dirt rows, on pieces of paper carried by horses, and now they fly faster than the speed of light across the web waves.
I am grateful for my snow day, for space and time carved out for me by the universe, to do my own thing for a minute: the treat of spending unexpected time with my boy, making stuff together, (just like in the old days: snowmen, cookies) and now this moment to create something new, a woven embroidery of my thoughts, the words on the page. I’ve been writing this thread in my head for two weeks now, as I walked through the snowy trails in Alley Pond Park, as I rode the train to work, as I sat through his Aikido class, as I spoke about it all to my loved ones in bits and pieces of conversation. Now I have a moment, and I will attempt to pull all the strands together into a design, filling in the blanks, fleshing it out. The threads are like capillary roads feeding into a larger highway, the dirt back roads to the monument, the main idea of the story.
It’s important for us to be free to tell our stories. A few stories I’ve been thinking about lately have taken different forms: the novel Wild and the film that followed, the funny stories of Broad City, and the stories told in song by the band Sleater Kinney over the past 15 years. The ultimate mash ups came in exciting forms this week: a link to an interview of the members of Sleater Kinney by the ladies of Broad City on NPR, and chance to see the film Wild after having read the book last fall.
First off, both Broad City, the show and then, this interview, made me feel old. Sleater Kinney was one of the bands of my riot girl college years, and yes, that is now 15 years ago! The retrending of the 90’s has been annoying me, and now I realize why: the teens and tweens rocking the Doc Martens weren’t even born as I walked 500 miles in those shoes! As band-mates Janet, Corin and Carrie spoke, I thought about how different the world was then, for me, for women, for New Yorkers, for all us humans. A world the tweens don’t even know, can’t even simulate. A world before iphones. In our Pre-9/11 NY, even the now-ubiquitous Starbucks was a new thing, and they were few and far between. The city was less corporate. We were angry with Giuliani for trying to clean it up, to some degree. I was an activist then. I cared about the sex workers who were being displaced from Times Square. I honored mom-and-pop stores as much as I could, they still existed. I did performance art in the street, I was a guerilla graffiti artist, I was riot girl, I was a grunge, I was an artist. I made videos using a camera and editing them on machines (not computers). It was the dark ages! Things were dirtier then, in this city, things were gritty, and less connected. I gave out stickers with the mantra printed on them: “I am here (in spirit)”. Instead of crying for a vision, as I would do later, in the “aughts”, it was a cry to be seen, and to be acknowledged. We were working for inclusion.
Everything felt desperate then, and especially after 9/11, even more so. In the interview, Sleater Kinney drummer, Janet Weiss, talks about how she felt and feels a desperation in the making of the music. Everything still feels desperate, but as these women discuss, with age you look at that desperation through a different lens. The energy can become less diffuse, more focused as we grow. Things are cleaner, in Times Square, and in my life, and it isn’t so bad that way, anyway. The edges are less blurry, but perhaps I am edgier, or more on edge. My activism, my art, was always very personal, but I had the guts then to do things on a grander scale. Now my activism is perhaps less visible, interwoven in my mothering, in my work with clients, with students, with women. I am more polished, more put-together, on the surface, but I’m still an artist (and sometimes messy in that regard.) Now, I have a bigger mental and emotional inner database of experience to draw from. I am still here in body and in spirit, but I pray more and scream in protest less. I still cry, which can be messy too, but crying is productive, as is raising one’s voice in prayer, in song. There is a desperation to continue being, to be relevant as so much changes. To be true to ourselves while evolving in a mutable world. To tell our stories.
One thing that struck me in watching the interview and in watching the show and film is that there is a clear bond between these women, in their collaboration and creation of something, whether it’s music or comedy. There is implicit support and acceptance. They talk about finding their “tribe” in finding like-minded others. Our world has changed because of those who have come before us, the pave-the-wayers, our “tribal” ancestors, in this sense.
My favorite artist is Frida Kahlo. She paved the way for women like us. She made it ok to tell many different versions of your story, to be many different versions of yourself, from ugly/scary to ethereal/beautiful, to be vital and sexual, to be addicted and in pain, to be creative and political, and human, and everything else one might be. Because of women like Frida, and these women, and because of so many others, we are at a different place on the timeline.
Abbi and Ilana of Broad City are right, they couldn’t do what they are doing, being raw and hilarious, and sexual and loyal, and thriving and unabashed, without all that work that came before. None of us could do what we are doing now if things hadn’t been pushed in that direction for the last 10, 15, 20, 50, 100 years.
On the same note, I don’t think a book or film like Wild would have flown as well 15, 20 years ago. A non-fiction book about a woman’s life in which she makes some difficult choices and steps away from the dominant culture briefly to reconnect with her self would likely have been met with different judgments then. But in Cheryl Strayed’s story, she walks her own path, paved in some parts and harrowed in others, honoring and acknowledging the ancestors of her tribe (her mother, other writers whose work she connects with). It is a good story, it is a different story. She talks about the catharsis of the journey itself, “walking myself back to my self, back to the woman my mother raised me to be” and she makes a clear point about having to step outside of the structure of our culture, our routine and financial constraints and gender expectations in order to reconnect with self. She is not the only one to reach that realization, there are many indigenous practices in which this takes place, such as hanbleceya, or vision quests, in Native American cultures, or the “walkabout” experiences in Aboriginal culture. Those ceremonies, whether she was aware of them or not, paved the way for her off-roading.
(In that vein, if you liked Wild, read Mutant Message Down Under– not perfect, but interesting and thought provoking: Download Mutant Message Down Under (Marlo Morgan) Retail azw3 epub PDF [Itzy] Torrent – KickassTorrents. )
We are still moving. Sometimes moving backward in nostalgia for times past, but mostly forward. Sometimes meeting with road blocks or obstructions that stop us, sometimes moving around them, sometimes blowing through. The work that is being done now will push forward into the future, for our children. It’s interesting and important to acknowledge the continuum. We are all doing good work. We all need to sing, to listen, to laugh our asses off. To have a space to be who we are. We hold that space, we create it and maintain it. The amazing progress of our culture includes now the ability to connect more quickly and easily, to share information. Let’s use that advantage responsibly, to spread good energy, let’s continue to dismantle the hatred, the exclusion and the negativity. Let’s be here, let’s be connected, let’s acknowledge the past, as we hold the present and create a vision of the future, as we tell our stories.