Resistance

Sometimes peace and love don’t have a real chance until you have done some resisting, but folks with new age  pretensions sometimes don’t know how to give resistance a chance.  The phrase “What we resist persists” has so slipped into the new age lexicon that some people will utter this sentence smugly and then feel they have just understood something.   It has zapped into their consciousness and they are unable see this innocent word in new ways.

If someone tries to harm my child, I’m going to resist them.  If I’m a black belt in Aikido, I may be able to resist them elegantly, without messing them up too much (though my old Aikido instructor used to say that if the other person’s violent energy causes  them to fall hard on the floor and hurt themselves, that’s  their karma.  He also used to say that if you stop them from hurting somebody – including you – you have saved them from some negative karma.)  Since I stopped practicing Aikido 30 years ago and have no remaining skill, if I want to stop the villain from hurting my child I may need to use a big stick – and I will.

The morning of the afternoon I was going to my first Resist Trump Tuesday rally, over breakfast I told some of my friends where I was going and three of them just totally jumped in my shit about the “resist” word.  “It’s negative”, “It’s not spiritual”, “It’s a bad word” and the final take-down “What you resist persists”.  I knew instinctively that they were wrong, but it was my first “Resistance” rally, the first time I ran into this buzz-saw of new age orthodoxy,  so I didn’t respond as elegantly as I would have liked.  I don’t think I literally said, “That’s the biggest pile of bullshit I ever heard”, but I think they could hear this in the lame-ass words I did use.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask, “Why do you feel the need to resist a little word?”, but it would have been totally appropriate.

I had just a day before written my “Sweet Peace” poem that had been commissioned by my church for an upcoming peace concert.  (https://avlresist.blog/2017/02/07/sweet-peace-majo/) This exchange over breakfast made me realize that my poem was missing some stuff – and I went right home and wrote a section on the value of resistance:

4 planning
My three dancers get some last-minute guidance from me.

Our work is to take to the barricades
Our work is to get arrested when that is our calling
Our work is to sit in and block traffic
And to be very, very noisy
To resist evil is a form of love
We will give “no!” a good name
Without some good, solid no’s
Our yes’s have no meaning
No integrity
To resist is to take a stand
To stand for something
To stand in their way
To stand up to Trump
Stand tall
To say, “You will go no further”
“You will not do this unchallenged”
“You will pay a price for this”
And “Yes I will stand for the poor and homeless
The immigrants, the oppressed.”
“Yes I will stand for the constitution
For equal rights under the law
For love.”

That made the poem a lot stronger, but a few weeks later a “Resist” t-shirt made it stronger still.  Several weeks after writing that last passage – and the day of the Peace Concert where I would be performing the poem – I was at my favorite ecstatic (free-form, improv) dance at nine in the morning.  When I had been dancing maybe 15 minutes and had gotten warmed up enough to strip off my outer shirt, it revealed underneath my brand-new “Resist” shirt.  I thought “This will be interesting – what’s it like to dance resistance?”

unveiling my Resist shirt
The “Resist” t-shirt gets unveiled at the concert

It was wonderful: energized, empowered, playful, frisky.  And it liberated some new poetry.  I right away grabbed the little spiral notebook that this writer keeps with him wherever he goes, and revised that passage above like this:

Our work is to take to the barricades
Our work is to get arrested when that is our calling
Our work is to sit in and block traffic
And to be very, very noisy
To resist evil is a form of love
We will give “no!” a good name
Without some good, solid no’s
Our yes’s have no meaning
No integrity
To resist is to take a stand
To stand for something
To stand in their way
To stand up to Trump
Stand tall
Rise up
Be proud of who you are
Oh, no they can’t take that away from me
Don’t touch her
Mess with him and you mess with me
Rise up
Say it with me
Rise up
Say it again
Rise up
One last time
Rise up

For me, the heart of that stanza is two lines:

“Don’t touch her”

which I deliver almost with a snarl – with a sense of menace that is not typical of me but feels totally right.  I see the offender immediately backing right off.  And

“Mess with him and you mess with me.”

I see myself protecting an undocumented man who is being threatened by an ICE agent.  One way I have pictured it is that I handcuff myself to my Mexican friend and say to the threatening agent, “You can’t take him without taking me.”  I knew this line had a powerful effect on my audience, though it was one of the first times I had managed to deliver it without getting choked up.

4 of us -me rdg in background
I read the poem while my dancers find a moment of repose.

The audience favorite in that stanza, though, was the call and response of “Rise up” – boy, they threw themselves into that stuff.

In the next post, I will talk about how our resistance needs to be informed by peace and love or it turns sour.

When the resistance is aimed at me…

Sometimes I am the oppressor.

It all started out fine.  I was asked if I would write a poem for a Peace Concert at Jubilee, my church, headlining the wonderful Cecilia St. King (“The Inner Peace Troubadour”).  I knew right away that I wanted to write the poem, committed to do it – and then it all spilled out pretty magically later that night.  I liked the poem – Sweet Peace – a lot.

I knew that I wanted music.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Robert Thomas’ girlfriend Rose at a concert and told her how well he and I have worked together in the past – me with my words, him with his piano.  She saw the light bulb go on in my head – of course, Robert and I are overdue to collaborate!  He was free for the date and liked the idea, liked the poem when I sent it to him.

I also knew that I wanted dancers: this is about liberation – give me the people!  Amanda Levesque, Tom Kilby and Giovanna Allegretti had just recently knocked my socks off with their dancing at a Fringe Festival show – and Tom and Amanda had worked with my poetry a year ago, and they are close friends of mine.kneeling

The three dancers all liked the idea, so we got together.  We talked a lot and didn’t dance.  We outlined nine sections: music only, words/music, words/music/dancers, etc.  It started to feel real and we got very  pumped.  We planned another rehearsal for the next week.

bowling
Giovanna and Tom hold Amanda

Just how or why the forces of oppression started to take over in my head I don’t know.   Was it all just too much creativity…too much collaboration….too much liberation?  The short form of the negativity that started to surface was “This is not going to work.”  It fixated on what had just so much excited me – the dancing.  “There’s not going to be room for the dancing.”  Truly, I had been picturing the room – which I know very well and have performed in many times – arranged in two different ways that would nicely accommodate dancing, but not how it will certainly be arranged for a musical concert.  I really started to sink.

I sent an email to my concert contact, but really did not brainstorm with him so much as lay out my case that it probably would not work to have three dancers – including one in an electric scooter.  He took the cue and agreed with me.

I sent a very apologetic email to Amanda, Tom and Giovanna – and felt terrible.  The next day I felt even more terrible.  I felt that something was going terribly wrong, that I was making a big mistake.

I came home after work and opened Facebook to a four-way conversation we had started the previous day.  Amanda had just, real-time, said  “I had the idea of doing a guerilla style performance!!! What do you guys think!??”

Amanda spirit
Amanda has a feisty spirit – she never quits.

They were considering going ahead and dancing anyway! I was shocked and confused.  It was my gig and I had said that the dancing was off – how could this be?  Then a huge weight started to lift off my shoulders and I started to get happy.  What if I didn’t get to decide?  What if  – having joined my troupe – they now owned the piece as much as I did?  What if they are artists just as much as I am?  What if their creativity is just as important as mine?  What if I am wrong about them not being able to dance on this stage?  What if they know more about their art than I do?

bowling2
Another night at the bowling alley…

Layers of patriarchy started to roll off me.  I began to cry.  It all suddenly felt so fucking good.

Amanda had asked, “What do you guys think?”

Tom had seen that I had come on the conversation and said, “I think with Majo’s OK?”

I wrote, “I can’t say OK, having negotiated with Jay that we would not do it. If, however, we have unleashed something that can’t be put back in the bottle, so be it. It seems to fit the liberation theme of the concert and is actually making me very happy. While I was feeling the need to pull the plug on the dancing – ‘There’s not enough room for it, it will be messy’ – I’ve been feeling very sad about it, it feels wrong.”

I went downtown to a meeting and came back to my computer later in the evening. Giovanna was just coming online.  She pushed us in a different direction: “I feel like a guest in someone else’s home; I’d rather ask for permission than ask for forgiveness….I’m a planner. 🙂 I like to know what to expect. And I like to remain mindful of others involved who might also want to know what to expect.”

This shifted me.  I started to feel empathetic for the guy I had been negotiating with, who was also going to be the guitarist for Cecilia.  If this dancing happened out of the blue – after he and I had agreed that it would not happen – it could throw him totally off his game.  Giovanna loudly agreed.

But I obviously had still not totally let go.  I proposed that I go to Jay the next day and basically threaten him that the dancers were in insurrection and might dance anyway.

Giovanna replied, “I would go to him and say that the dancers are flexible, adaptable critters and enjoy small spaces. We are willing to work with this restriction, if he would find that appropriate.”

So soft, so smart – and she’s so young!  I replied, “You are clearly not an anarchist like Tom and me – and maybe Amanda.”

“Haha nope! 🙂

Me: “We need some good anarchists, but what a mess this place would be if we all were!  I like this approach – and could see doing it in an email, maybe with your exact words. I’ll wait until I get a go from all three of you.

“Great. This is feeling good. Kudos to Amanda for boldly launching the whole guerilla riff – that turned everything around, really rescued the project; to Tom for doing good listening through all this – what a perfectly non-patriarchal role to play; and to Giovanna – coming into the stream when so much had already gone down – for so much grounded common sense and empathy for those receiving our initiations. And to me for being so willing to let the three of you influence me.”Head shot

And I do believe this was my biggest contribution to the process, was to let them influence me.  I cried at several points in the dialogue.  It was thrilling to not have to be in charge.  I am more sure than ever that our collaboration is going to be very exciting, regardless of the space…because we have created so much space.