The past few weeks have been surreal – both fantasy and nightmare – and my own creative process is barely keeping up.
First the fantasy. Ronnie Malley, Terry Longshore and I began our musical collaboration for ArtsMidWest Caravanserai which we are touring in January/February 2016 in Michigan, North Dakota and Minnesota. Our instructions from Ronnie, in the months before this rehearsal, were to make a list every kind of music we had each always wanted to create, but had never got around to. For three days in July my music room was littered with gear as we began to piece together music and poetry, improvising on charts Ronnie had started, and ideas we generated as a group (mighty fast I might add). Even my cat (normally skittish) plonked himself in the middle of our loud and euphoric oud, electric guitar, flute, vocals, electronic/ hand percussion, tabla, piano and narration. So fantastic to work with two beautiful, genius men who are also loving and generous spirits.
My favorite poetry so far is by Chicago/Somali poet Ladan Osman. Her texts are political, spiritual and erotic invitations to re-think everything you think you know about Muslim worlds, which have shaped the Western experience for centuries. Ronnie’s conception of sound is a direct link to all our teenage years of bedroom-as-cave, costume noir, crazy-shit hair, and ability to quote songs, which, when you think about it, wallow in misogyny and other solipsistic “isms”, either directly or by omission (Stones and Zeppelin, I’m looking at you for starters). How refreshing then to play rock music, with savvy words, classical Eastern and Western technique and traditions, and form our own syncresis. Credit here also goes to my ever-amazing husband who took pictures amongst all our chaos.
Then the nightmare. While our syncretic music birthed itself, I was waiting for medical biopsy results – and for some days after our rehearsing, as it turns out. Each day furthered my imagination into Lifetime TV melodrama. Then I got pissed off and rapidly came to the following conclusions:
1) that I didn’t want to die yet – too much to do – later is fine;
2) that I resented the Cancer Industry & “War” and cute ribbons for too many reasons to list here;
3) that my experience is merely poetic (insert literary form here) and not some choreographed dance of Virtue and Suffering, Teachings, Paths or Journeys.
4) that cancers are feral like honey badgers, intelligent wizards who appear to want to make something interesting in an animal host – although, like Toonces, not very well…
5) that my tumor is not evil or evidence of my flaws. It kinda looks like a star-fish, and frankly I think it just ended in the wrong ocean.
As it turns out, I only need surgery – major but calm, simple excising. Oh lucky me. I feel it as a doorway into something new. Good, terrible, indifferent – who knows?
I have been anxiously trying to move my own music projects along before the surgery. One in particular, about solitary confinement, resonated, as I finished editing audio clips from my interviews with three ex-prisoners (Berkeley 2014). I am always struck by each man’s vitality, compassion and intelligent assessments of a justice system that is formidable in its ability to crush. (And if you want to learn more about this subject, read the phenomenal book, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, a legal scholar and former prosecutor). I am really excited about the artistic possibilities of this piece, and even though I’m only mid-way through, my slow pace is actually useful as new ideas and techniques show up.
This is what makes me happy. As the elections gear up, and politicians simper and snarl for votes, I’m glad to be part of a country waking itself up, as an artist, an alive one with health insurance, with things to do for, and say to, an audience before my ticket is up.