Saturday, December 14, 2013

My winter bike accident

Official diagnosis at the hospital yesterday morning:  "blunt chest trauma."

Yep, as you might have heard, I had a big bike accident, falling straight into a ditch, at 6:10 am yesterday (Friday, December 13th).   It was cold and dark outside, where I was rendered momentarily incapacitated under a bridge/freeway overpass.  

Today, I feel like I've been in a 12-round boxing match.  And lost.  Down for the count, and pounded to the core of my being.  I’m tender, sore, and very stiff everywhere.   Arms, legs, ankle, neck, ribs, back, and very much in the chest.    It could have been much worse, so I count myself as lucky, though getting the wind knocked out of you is not fun.

And, yes, I was wearing my bike helmet.  And, yes, I did have a light illuminating the eerie pre-dawn paved streets and bike/hike trail I was on.  And, definitely, yes, I was proceeding carefully, deliberately, and slower than usual because I hadn’t traversed this area since before Icemaggedon 2014 had hit Fort Worth.  The Trinity Bike/Hike Trail along the river, just north of Rosedale (where Ole South is located) and the I-30 overpass has seen its share of detours and reroutings over the past year because of the ongoing construction (of a new overpass).  I’ve been aware of this because this area is part of my weekly route to/from my workplace in the Museum District.

Yesterday, however, proper signage and warning apparatus (e.g., bright orange plastic fencing, caution barrels, and the like) were not in place to prevent what happened to me.  And even with all the personal cyclist precautions that I had in place, I wasn’t able to keep myself from injury and accident.  I was pissed, frustrated, and upset about this--as I lay in the cold muddy hole in which I inadvertently pitched myself.  You see the hole was just big and deep enough for my front bike tire to get wedged, when--with headlamp on the high setting and at a slow speed--I began to notice that the pavement abruptly ended and led to a dirt section at a drop-off that seemed shallow enough to maneuver through.  Wrong.  I fell pell-mell with the front end of my bike, toppling directly onto the handlebars, chest first.  I immediately felt the cessation of breath, as my lungs likely imploded with the impact, and a panic overtook me.  Shallow breathing and immediate pain in my shoulders, ribs, and back alarmed me, as I stiffly reached for the phone deep in my right pocket.  Thankfully, I had a full charge on the device and the cognitive capacity to report my status and geographic location to the 911 dispatch operator, who directed me to stay on the line to help navigate the emergency responders through the park in order to find me in the semi-darkness.

After a quick check of my vitals, and a huddle with the firemen and EMTs at my side, it was decided that I should be carried to the hospital for x-rays--in case I’d actually broken something or suffered a lung perforation or the like.  Me and my bike had a speedy ride to JPS (John Peter Smith) hospital, where a very nice doctor eventually conveyed the good news that my chest/lung x-ray showed nothing that warranted treatment beyond 800 mg. Ibuprofen and an anti-inflammatory medication.  And the nurse reminded me of what I already knew; the inflammation, pain, and discomfort are generally worse on the second (and even third) day after the initial body trauma.

I’m really feeling that to be true today.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Friends, fans, colegas ==> Family

A response to my friend Devin's status update on FB today

It was 'round about 1996 or so that it hit me that I should not expect my friends to be my fans.  Some of them (in Austin, where I lived @ the time) seemed to be coming out to every gig or featured performance I had.  At first, in the beginning.  Then, when it got to the point that I was performing 100s of times a year (oh, the late 90s!), it became ridiculous to think that my friends would want to catch even every 10th show that I played. Friction arose, because there was a prolonged awkward, and apparently necessary, period of cognitive dissonance that set up the following patterns of thought:  1. Friends support one another, and show up when you need encouragement.  2. If I don't show up, it looks like I don't care.  3. Wow, I'm working my ass off to make it as a [fill in blank, e.g., writer, basketball player, pie-eating contest pro] and my own dang friends aren't around when the going is tough and I need an extra napkin.  4.  This ego-bitch has more gigs in a month than a hard drive on steroids.

~ My friend, Teresa, was the test case.  In the beginning, she was there for every open mic feature, protest poetry moment, and slam team try-out.  She seemed to like my work and, in fact, once gave me a now-cherished book of poems by Salvadoreno poet Roque Dalton, likening my fiery feminist verses to his political poetry.  I was touched, and definitely felt the fan love from Teresa.  But, after a few months, I started to notice a distinct pallor in her complexion, and she didn't seem to greet me backstage with the same fervor as in earlier days.  It then hit me that I was the one taking life out of her face, stealing her precious time, and bogarting her attention.  Not good.  Not good for a friendship and certainly not a boost to my confidence.  It sets up an unequal power balance when one person gets all the support and attention, and the other stands on the sidelines, dutifully in attendance.  Same with boyfriends.  They were let off the hook--in our new relationship "boundary orientation" talks--with my brief but sincere 2-minute (shorter than your standard slam poem) spiel about how I knew they had better things to do than stand stagefront acting like they hadn't heard me do "Manslaughter" or "Magistrate of Celebration" a gazillion times. Sure, my guys were my most devoted devotees, but I wasn't about to require them to haunt my gigs as raving groupies.

 ~ Fans are a different breed from friends, and I need both very much.  Sometimes they are one and the same, and I'll add "colega" or colleague to that.  I too can be a friend, fan, or colega to someone, and I see the categories as fluid, wherein I might detach or stray away from a colega as friend--for whatever neutral, non-contentious reason--but always think of myself as their fan and true believer. I might not be in the audience with the loudest applause for them, but you better believe that when and if they ask for a reference letter or resource connection that I'll give it my best shot.  We're all family that way, but even blood relatives don't often get a Christmas gift from me.

~ And, yes, I have found that the wider the net that you cast, the more folks you can call out to when in need.  The ones who are able (and there are myriad definitions of that word that come to mind, and some are simply not able because they're struggling within themselves with something that keeps them closed to you, and that's cool, no blame needed) WILL step forward and up.  We simply get to be surprised at who that might be. ~ Case in point: when I sent out a blanket call for participants for  \ BY ANY STRETCH /, and you responded or "self-selected for an opportunity," as I like to say.  I was so thrilled that you wanted to join up because, when folks come on board for a project w/ me, that's one of the best--if not only--ways to connect with me better.  You took an important first step, and I'll never forget that.  BTW--I am looking over at the books you brought the one time you came over.  They're still on the piano where I set them after you presented them to me, and, hopefully if my schedule ever slows down, I can do more than give them a cursory glance.  But rest assured that I have really really wanted to dive into them to learn you better, and they will never ever end up in the Literature section at Half Price Books like the signed copy of a Saul Williams poetry collection that I once gave my brother.  Write on, brother.  Thank you, Devin.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Walk a Different Way

I waited on the Amtrak station platform, pulling fingers through my hair and trying to decide when to pick up the dime flattened against the pavement at my feet. I stood near a triumvirate of performance brilliance in the form of Sharon Bridgforth, Dr. Joni Jones, and the one and only Laurie Carlos (award-winning playwright and director, perhaps best known as the woman who brought us “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf”). I had earlier greeted them with hugs, and a handshake for Laurie, since this was the first meeting for us. I was hoping Laurie and I might have long and provocative conversations during our train ride, but she informed me that she had booked a bunk in the sleeper car and intended to go right to sleep after boarding.

Still eyeing the dime, but not wanting to look desperate, I started to work on my tangled hair, newly-washed and damp. I swung a 360 to see the folks around us, intuiting that someone was eyeballing me, with maybe a little derision.  I'm sensitive that way.  Sure enough, I saw a wrinkly elder-couple with a combined age of maybe a century and a half and they were whispering and indicating with unsubtle eyebrows, darting pupils, the usual facial squints. It was a comment about me, it was a comment about the trio of Black women next to me. It was about the four of us, all women of color.

Oh well, I'm used to that. I say, give ‘em somethin’ to look at, maybe they’ll get learned today. I continued to comb my hair with my fingers, and kept my composure. When to get that dime.

Next thing I knew, I became unwitting, unwilling eavesdropper of a loud conversation between that wrinkly pair and two other people, equally white yet a little younger. The younger male, of steely eyes and determined mouth, was speaking louder than I cared to hear.

"They think that it was wrong, even though it happened a long time ago. But with what the Japanese did to Pearl Harbor, it was necessary." "Yes, it was necessary," echoed the younger woman, who met my gaze as she turned toward me. "I mean they blew up Pearl Harbor, it was them who started the whole thing, and now they talk about how terrible it was, to be put in those camps. And they say they're still angry about that."

Oh, no, I thought, they're blatantly defending the U.S.-sanctioned internment camps, the camps where over a hundred thousand American citizens of Japanese descent were forcibly detained and segregated in the early 1940s. That’s what they were discussing. Why today, I wondered? Why on September 21st?

The younger male--maybe 55 years old—continued. "I don’t know why they have to keep bringing it up, to this day. But I did meet one guy, Japanese, he was in the Service with me, and he wasn’t bitter, which was good, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have gotten along with him. No, he was a nice guy."

"Uh-huh." "Yeah, that's good." Nodding their heads, his companions listened and agreed. And I imagined the subtext to their assenting grunts: "Good Japanese don't get angry. They don’t bring up internment camps with resentment, so that makes a good Japan man. If they know what's good for them they will keep things in proper perspective, like we do. Like accepting that this country had to distrust and suspect you, even to the point of forcing you from your homes and putting you in camps. Good Japanese don't get angry about what had to be done."

As I contemplated their smug contempt, my mind seethed and I felt my shoulders stiffen with resolve to speak, to contest, to refute. I turned towards the younger man, to assess his face, and to see how his companions showed their approval. I began to surmise how they might receive my words, if I retorted. But I hesitated and it seemed they were also frozen in time, as if they fully expected me to speak.

What would become of me, if I spoke? Would they silence me with glares and stares--might I be instructed to mind my own business? What is my own business? Is it tacos and telenovelas? What if I made a raging outcry about their prejudicial arrogance? What might Sharon, Laurie, and Dr. Joni think of my public display? Would they be made uncomfortable by my outburst? Would the white people try to shame them together with me, by association? Why is there always a struggle to stand public with others?

I felt the words forming, the ones I most wanted to say: "I don’t want to hear what you are saying, you should lower your voice."

I didn’t want to absorb their opinions silently, as if in assenting agreement. But to have voiced a complaint to try to silence their mouths would not have done a thing to change their set minds.  That would have taken much more time, more patience, a grueling endurance of their comebacks and mindsets.  And my train was due to be coming soon. I simply wanted to not know what they espoused, not at that moment, standing in transit.

And more, I didn’t want to be wishing them ill. Sometimes I get so tired of writing people off, because they don't get it, or they don't get me, and I feel a line between me and them has been drawn until the end of time. This morning, I had felt at peace, and I didn’t want enmity or enemy. I wanted that man to just shut up. To shut up about not caring about the sadness and bitterness of others. To shut up about getting angry at Japanese-Americans who resented an historic oppression. To shut up about wrong things needing to happen, policies put in place, which created indignities for fellow human beings. Shut up speaking your prejudicial hate cluttering and crowding out the truth--a hate that doesn't hasten justice. Shut up your mind in denial.

This white man didn’t want to be asked to empathize. Could not be bothered to consider another man’s sorrow. As if the expression of this could lead to his own miserable oppression. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten along with him.” This pronouncement, a simple spoken sentence, haunted me. Made me surge palpably with grief and anger.

Suddenly, I felt as if all the memorials (to Vietnam vets, to exterminated Jewish families in Europe, to murdered women in Juarez, to African-Americans lynched in the deep South) were crumbling to dust, evaporating as windblown ash, in fulfillment of the great intent to disremember and the mandate to be left unmoved by injustice and, therefore, to refuse to make amends or create a space for peace and healing.

How dare this man proclaim his "I don't want to hear it" attitude so proudly within my earshot this morning! Did he and his cohorts presume we wouldn't care, because we weren't discernibly Japanese? They were standing so close to us--a Chicana poet and three righteous Black artists, who together could have kicked metaphorical if rhetorical butt--yet seemed to regard us as if we had no means of contestation. As if we were minorities with our minds on mute? Had these white people any idea that a 21st century politicized Chicana might give a damn about more than the Mexican in her blood? Don't be talking shit about my people, which includes my Asian-American, my African-American, my indigenous American allies! If you pick on them, you pick on me--THAT's the kind of Mexican I am in this country that needs to act grown!

But I didn’t turn to speak any of this to him or them. I did no renunciation. I did no re-education. I did not sound off this time.

I counted the seconds ticking. I wished for the train to come. I hoped to not see my arms rise with fists. I tried to be in control, to steer my feelings along the lines of the cracked pavement. I still had a dime to pick up and pocket. I still had a moment to become serene. An eternal moment to reshape my heart in the form of forgiveness and understanding, even as I clung to sparks of my temper.

My face burned. My ears felt dirty, as if stung by toxins. So sorry I had to hear their shit.

The train arrived, and I staggered with my luggage. I did not push anyone. I did not follow the elderly wrinkled couple to their selected seats, I did not preach or teach. I steered in the opposite direction of empty seats, and decided to let them be.

How safely they tucked themselves into the seats of their choice, how pleasant they might have felt their morning lives to be. How special the truths they refused to see. How unfortunate that they persisted with a Berlin Wall in their hearts, a detention center in their self-enslaved minds. How my feet kept walking and walking away, yes, a different way. Taking conscious steps of my own, to follow the only path left for me. A path that moves me forward, without blinders, and my footfalls loud as rolling thunder.

(Executive Order 9066, which called for the relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps in the U.S., was issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942--seventy-one years ago.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

How I met and why I meet Stacy C

Several years ago--and I guess I could dig up the original emails to find the exact date--I heard from Chicana writer/novelist/poeta Sandra Cisneros, asking if I would be interested in or willing to take some time to meet and possibly mentor a north Texas friend and young(er) writer.  This person, Stacy C, a high school teacher who works with "spec" (she pronounces it like "speck") kids and also writes poetry, is the daughter (well, actually, one of several) of a teacher friend of Sandra.  This teacher friend was a huge fan and became quite close friends with Sandra, even visiting her at her casita morada (purple) in San Antonio.  Unfortunately and sadly, Mama Campbell passed away about 10 years ago, and daughter Stacy has been challenging herself to draft and polish countless unfinished poems in the memory of and to honor her dear mother.

Sandra herself didn't have time to mentor Stacy, but she recommended me because I live in north Texas and she believed me to have the sensitivity and nurturing willingness to meet w/ Stacy.  Well, it did work out: I contacted Stacy, she seemed receptive, and we occasioned to schedule de vez en cuando (now and again) lunch/brunch meetings at local restaurants within bicycling distance of my home.  This became a cherished tradition, where we would get together at least seasonally, bringing backpacks of fotos, recuerdos, books, and ideas to share with one another at a table (public, mind you) over which we laughed, dined, drank, and cried.  It got to be that we couldn't show up empty-handed; we needed ephemera and documents, framed images and poem copies to show and tell about.  And now, even though the sped-up nature of time in the second decade of the 21st century has kept us from meeting more than once or twice a year, it becomes even more imperative, even urgent to bring the right things, the palpable proof of the life we've lived since our previous sharing session.

It had been over a year since our last meeting, and Stacy and I didn't dare put it off any longer, so we met at Rodeo Goat ("because it sounds like a fun place," she'd written as we mulled over a location to convene) this past Wednesday.  I stuffed a  Texas Beat Festival t-shirt, bag of chocolate mint leaves (thank you, Kelley), and a few other small gifts in my new messenger bag and pedaled over to meet Stacy.  Once we embraced and took our place at the backlot picnic table and placed our order, we immediately launched into chat about writing and music and ideas and future and current projects.  We exchanged our gifts and shared our minds.  This time, I didn't get to read any of her latest poetry pieces in progress.  She's on a hiatus from writing, but misses it desperately, as we all do when life interrupts with its myriad requests, demands, tantrums.  I tried to reassure her that the light in her room of writing will turn back on again.  And I felt my words resonating internally in consideration of my own stumbling blocks, writing blocks, boxing matches with procrastination.  I hope to benefit from the advice I offer others by applying it to my self.  Ultimately, all it takes is applying thoughtful pressure to the keys, one letter at a time.  Like t-h-i-s.