I’ve been doing all sorts of dumb things lately, mostly speaking without fully forming my thoughts first. I’ve done this twice (maybe more) in the past week and both times I was recorded while doing so. Ugh. An ex-alcoholic’s worst nightmare: PROOF. So, for the past four or five days, I’ve been walking around with that heavy feeling in my gut. That “Oh no! What did I do?” thing that drunks often have.
Last Thursday, I attended an on-campus event put on by the College of Liberal Arts, called: Big Questions. The “Big Question” on this particular day was: Is there a right way to protest? The event was moderated by MPR News host, Tom Weber and included a panel of four guests, all of whom were people of color. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I registered for the event at the last minute (I didn’t see it advertised) when a friend recommended it to me. I found the question interesting and was curious to see if people thought there was in fact an answer. After arriving and finding a seat we were briefly informed about the magic of radio and why our panelists would be introduced twice. So, once live, moderator and panelists introduced, a group of students stood up, each holding a sign, and began chanting and speaking out about their issues with such an event. It took a minute for things to click for me. The seats were filled with all kinds of people, most of whom were white. The moderator was white. The panelists were people of color, the student demonstrators were people of color. How could I have not anticipated such a thing? I signed up for an event and took my place as a white person about to help perpetuate stereotypes. The demonstrators handed out their own Revised Questions and asked that the audience and administration be challenged to answer.
Panelists from left to right: Tom Weber, Keith Mayes, Trista Harris, Javaris Bradford and Lena K. Gardner.
As the event came to a close, it struck me that no one acknowledged these students for their bravery and continued efforts to affect change. I had all of these things racing through my mind and without thinking it through, when the call for one last question came, my hand shot up in the air. I took the mic and, lacking eloquence and grace, attempted to thank the students for their bravery and tried to acknowledge that I understand why they are pissed – they shouldn’t be the ones day in and day out having to tell us (white people) how to help – they’ve already done that. As Lena said, “Stop killing us.” Then came my question — whether or not MPR would be game for a do-over event in which they invited President Kaler, Minneapolis PD and various news outlets, using the demonstrators questions as a framework. That doesn’t sound so bad does it? Oh, but it was terrible. In my head it was clear and concise, on air I sound like a total nut. I had hoped they would cut it, but of course they didn’t. You can listen here, but please don’t.
Then on Friday, I had my interview with the host of The Bat of Minerva as part of this project. I was told not to prepare, that it would be an informal chat about me, my work, etc. Lovelies, I know better. I do much better in life when I prepare, but all week, when I thought about what I could say all I came up with was DON’T DO IT. I kept thinking about club status and rejection slips. I kept thinking about the fact that I have self-published a book, which to some is not the same as publishing a book. I kept thinking about that time I read at a coffee shop and after my set, the host said, “Wow, I’ve never heard “grown ass woman” in a poem before.” I remembered how small I felt then. How obvious it was that this is not a group I will ever fully belong to. I do not have a seat at the table with these REAL writers, these REAL poets, so why on Earth would anyone want to know how or why I do what I do? When in fact I have no fucking idea myself. You’ll be glad to know, I did it anyway. I showed up. I sat in a high back chair in the back room of Eat My Words Bookstore and I rambled. I only swore when I mentioned the New Sh!t Show. I actually had fun. It felt good to reflect on why I write, how it started and where I hope it will go. I hope some of it made sense. I hope it helps the other folks without club status feel like they still have a shot.
It’s true, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I don’t have to. We all have a story to tell and we all deserve the space to tell that story in whatever way we choose. As grown ass women and men (and adolescents too). The world is a big and lonely place. I like the idea that my poems may lessen that feeling and the space between for someone.