THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ARTIST
My father studied literature. My mother adored music and film. And they both loved theater. Destiny didn’t have a difficult task in leading me to be what I am today – a performing artist in all that I am and all that I do. It is a soul-encompassing calling that has left no room for consideration of other career paths. Or if something else did call, I didn’t hear a thing.
The truth is, being a creative artist saved my life. I danced when I could not speak. I sang when my own thoughts found no form. I played theater when being myself was too threatening. As I look back, I can now acknowledge the disparaging voices in my tender years. I was thrown early into a white world and heard those voices, that then did not accede to diversity, saying if I didn’t adopt their ways and accept their attitudes, I was not fit for their institutions. I heard those same voices say I was not beautiful unless I straightened my hair, lightened my skin and deemphasized my figure. I heard them. But all along the way, I listened to the other voices, Black voices, older voices than my own, that had heard this and rejected it. I listened to the voices of Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson who lifted their voices against the common standard of comfort and stayed true to themselves. I listened to the voices of Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway whose deep messages were bathed in humor. And I listened to the voices of my mom and my aunts in the kitchen, talking about anything and everything, from the neighborhood to the body politic, voices raised in banter and lowered in intense discussion, telling their stories, seeing the world as it was, and struggling through it.
My daughter and I have had many kitchen conversations over the years, laughing at the hilarities and the absurdities life dishes out, and grappling with issues of heart, of home, of race, of existence and of being an artist. Together and separately, we have looked for the meaning of things, and at times found some sense – though mixed in with so much non-sense. The happy moments of revelation and the dismaying moments of umbrage intertwine, and the search continues. It is time to tell our stories, what has been infused into us, where our feet are standing, and why we took the pathway of the artist. At this point in my life, writing, a discipline I have long touched around the edges, has taken its place alongside the dance, music and theater as equal partner. But it is different. The community network of the performing arts does not apply here. Writing is solitary and lonely. Writing is heart-wrenching and thrilling. Writing is daring to commit to oneself and frightening when it is honest. Writing is learning to trust, learning to ignore all the other well-meaning and cherished voices and focusing on one’s own. Writing is taking possession of words in an order and defying anyone to touch them. Writing is taking a moment, magnifying it, and placing it in an eternal reality.
The world seems often a sad and frightening place in these times, but there is always joy and hope. That hope lives when we speak out, demand and work for the better way that we know can be, giving joy its space. Each of us has a voice that plays out in its own unique way. This is ours.
If you have ever lived in a studio apartment... two burners as a stove, a tiny kitchenette placed in a sad
excuse for a hallway – door to the exit on the left, door to the bathroom on the right – you will learn to
appreciate the sanctity of a real kitchen. That is truly where the action is! All the exciting occurrences
play out in kitchens: meals, political discussions, fights, creative cooking-sprees. At house parties people always congregate in the kitchen and not without reason... obviously... that's where the food is at.
I associate spending time in the kitchen with spending time with my family. Sitting around the kitchen table in our family's house in Philadelphia, watching animal shows with my aunt, listening to my uncle go on history tangents, laughing my ass off with my cousin. Baking Christmas Cookies, pies and waffles while singing folk songs or listening to the radio with my German grandmother in her house in Stuttgart. There are so many memories I hold dear, so many events that took place in those spaces. Some as vital as opening a letter that would determine my future, some as simple as standing on a bright red step stool washing dishes. Kitchens are a place of gathering. A district of life. A realm of nourishment for the body and soul. That is what this blog is all about.
From the moment I learned how to write two words, I started drafting stories. I adored creative writing in elementary school. Mind you my grammar was „interesting“ and my spelling „inventive“, but I could sit and write for hours. Lose myself in the lives of imaginary characters and the landscapes of my mind. Poems, essays, fairy tales... you named it... I wrote it! Then came high school. Instead of describing me as „dreamy“ it now read „inattentive“ in report cards. My grammar went from „interesting“ to „incorrect“ and my spelling from „inventive“ to „inaccurate“. My fondness of stories was met with D's and E's. I was not achieving a standard society expects from an 11 year old. I lost faith in myself. I developed writers block before even given the chance of becoming one. I continued to write... but I could never finish a story. I never showed my poems to anyone. Whatever I created I thought it wasn't good enough for anyone else to read. And still my love for putting words to paper could not be undone. I am no fast thinker and I don't do well under pressure. I often lack words when speaking or discussing and my mind loves to wander. When I write I can arrange those thoughts my mind has come across on its journeys and take the time to find the right phrasing and words for what I am trying to say. So here I am... throwing words I wrote in secret out into the open – onto our kitchen table.
The first time my Mom and I worked on a project together I was about a year old. Her friend Susan and
she performed a two women piece and all me and my friend (Susan's daughter Katrina) had to do was sit on stage with a toy phone and be ourselves. It does take a bit more work, skill and research now but I am so glad that my artistic journey with my Mom has never stopped. From her being my teacher, director and coach to full on collaborations. She will always be my mentor and I will never stop learning from her. This blog is one part in a long line of collective work.