“When the lights shine off and it’s my turn to settle down my main concern, promise that you will sing about me. Promise that you will sing about me.” – Kendrick Lamar
I don’t have kids. My closest understanding of the depth of love, responsibility, vulnerability and strength that comes with parenting is teaching. In the first years of Lost Lyrics I often felt like a very young and very nervous parent…i made a lot of mistakes, I over-thought everything, I second-guessed all my decisions, I took things way too personally and I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for these little people. Some of those things haven’t changed much. The kids in that first year who trusted this program that didn’t have a name, didn’t have catered food, didn’t have bus tickets, didn’t have a curriculum but came each week anyway and helped us build all of those things things have a very special place in my heart. I can easily say that I probably learned more from all of those early kids than they learned from me.
I made so many mistakes. I thank the universe for their trust as they taught me about patience, about creativity, about consistency and commitment, about the need for fun and silliness. They also challenged my understandings of community, my respect for the wisdom of children and the way I conceive discipline and practice justice.
Today is one of those days where I can easily drown in an ocean of regrets. Thinking the impossible thoughts of if I had done this differently, then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be here right now wiping the tears from my cheeks.
I regret that I didn’t keep calling the students who stopped coming, keep checking on them, keep letting them know that I was there…after a while I stopped saying I was there because it would have been a lie. I wasn’t and couldn’t be there for everyone and I wasn’t and couldn’t be there all the time. I was burned out and wanted to be selfish for a while. ”For a while” got longer and longer. I stopped teaching in Jane-Finch and let funding determine whether programming would and could continue because I was tired and didn’t want to be broke anymore. I regret the reality that kids who at one point were my little homies who would easily share the dramas of their day, their dreams of the future, their quirky mannerisms that made them individuals and their fear of the unknown, later became acquaintances because the distance between us got larger without the space of programming to connect us consistently. I regret that I do not give more support to the people in my life who do this work on levels that are unfathomable to me because for them it is not work, it is life but I see that life weighing down so heavily and without reprieve and I worry about their health – physically, mentally and spiritually. I regret that I feel this overwhelming amount of responsibility because we are still not investing in building communities where this responsibility is shared between all members.
I could easily drown in this ocean of regrets. But then I recall that a very wise Lost Lyrics parent once told me that regret is the most useless emotion in the book. And so I quickly swim back up, taking deep breaths as I break to surface.
My eyes are sore from crying. One of those students was shot last night. He did not survive. He was 15 years old.
His death is the 5th death in my life in the last year. I am trying slowly to develop strategies for healing during these really challenging times and also strategies for healing when the times are a little better but the trauma still sits in various spaces within my body. Ongoing practices of self-care are helping. The structured life that the return to school initiated has been incredibly positive as I balance intellectual life with gym life and more recently my creative life as I return to writing. Time to teach, time to be with family, time to be with my partner, time to be with friends…still figuring it all out…but it’s getting better. However in these unplanned, unscheduled moments of intense pain…I haven’t figured out too many strategies. Today Natasha mentioned the importance of rituals in our healing process. I told her and Obie that over the past year I have slowly and unintentionally begun developing a playlist of music for these times. From Nina Simone’s cover of “Here comes the Sun” to Lola Bunz’ “So Sick of all the RIP’s” playing this soundtrack of passing, pain and healing as I sit, cry, pray, reflect and meditate is one very small ritual that I am creating.
I agree with Tasha. More rituals are needed.
Last fall while attending a funeral I witnessed a moment of one kind of healing and ritual that I am yearning for. Following a very dramatic sermon describing Jesus’ crucifixion and the last words of the men who were crucified on either side of him, the minster asked the young people in attendance to step forward if they would like Jesus to remember them. At first there was a stillness as no one moved. However that stillness was broken when one young man in a fitted cap and sunglasses took the initiative to step forward. He beckoned to his friend, “Let’s go.” That was all it took for what felt like hundreds of young men and women to leave the pews and move forward, encircling the coffin as they approached the altar. As they congregated, elder parishoners surrounded them, put their hands on their shoulders, on their backs, on their arms and on their heads and prayed for their souls and sang for their spirits. And as they sang it was as though a tidal wave burst forth as young people rocked and fell and lowered their heads and cried and cried and cried, bodies of young men and women shaking while the elders continued to hold them…still singing, still praying, not letting them fall. The moment ended abruptly when the minister awkwardly attempted to take this time to increase his membership by circulating a church sign-up sheet. The young people scattered as quickly as they had come, wiping their wet cheeks and exiting a room pulsating with pain and vulnerability exposed. The moment ended but the moment was witnessed. And it stays with me. I think of it each time I hear Maya Angelou’s voice at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Dying of Thirst.”
I wonder if these same elders were to see these young people in the street if they would feel compelled to go to them. I wonder if those young people if approached on the street would be open to receive them. We are struggling to deal with all of this trauma. I know I am struggling. We need our elders. We need them to not judge us but to hold us up. We need a laying on of hands. And it cannot only be in the church. And it cannot only be at funerals.
To end, I want to share a Facebook status that my friend Rakhi Mutta put up on January 23rd of this year. Her sincere public affirmation and acknowledgement of a very under appreciated community of people is yet another ritual of healing that I have witnessed and truly appreciate. Let’s keep developing these rituals:
“Community workers/child n youth workers/artists/activists/educators/change seekers & change makers …
For answering calls at all hours and for never turning off your personal cellphones because you know your “clients” lives don’t shut down at 5pm. For waiting in emergency rooms and jail waiting rooms. From courtroom visits to psychiatric ward visits. For every funeral you’ve ever attended and for every weekend 7am conference you have ever attended. For being over worked and under paid. For working contract to contract with no benefits because the gov’t doesn’t deem your job valuable enough. For every grant you’ve written that wasn’t funded, every article you wrote that wasn’t published, any art you created that wasn’t celebrated because it wasn’t mainstream enough. For not turning away participants who didn’t live in the catchment area and for not discarding participants from programs at the one year mark because some funder told you to do so. For running programming from the overdraft of your bank account and for struggling to find a way to be fed and to do the work.
For cradling victims of abuse and victims of violence in your arms, for listening to countless stories of hurt, pain, anguish, abuse, violence and discrimination. For feeding hungry children and youth when you live paycheck to paycheck. For letting young people seek shelter in your homes because the city has waiting lists. For the countless nights you have stayed awake worrying about your participants because everybody knows that your feelings don’t shut off when you step off work property. For every tear you have ever wiped, every hand you have ever held, and for every smile you brought to someones face. For all the thank you’s you never received, for all the vicarious trauma you silently dealt with and for all the broken hearts and broken bones you helped heal. Finally for all the sleepless nights you laid awake wondering if the work you were doing made any difference at all …
This is my thank you to you. For making the world a better place then you found it, for being the change you want to see, for providing opportunities that were never provided to you. For your labour of love not labour for paycheck, for being on the front line of the movement not the arm chair revolutionary. Our approaches to our work may be different, our philosophies may not always align and our lenses unique but it is the diversity of the colours in the rainbow that makes it beautiful. You are the true soldiers of change, and for that I salute you.” – Rakhi Mutta
For Auntie Marie. For Curlz. For Kim. For Tyson. For my student.
I have butterflies in my stomach right now. Why? Because in just a few hours Aneemah’s Spot will be opening at the Summerworks Festival. I will be playing Aneemah. The only other person on stage with me will be Araya Mengesha playing Wan. We will be telling a story written by Motion but one that belongs to the entire city of Toronto. Especially right now. The arch is so simple: two friends returning from the funeral of their brederin who was recently killed. Two friends spending an afternoon together. Two friends trying to figure out what are the next steps. Two friends wondering if the cycle will continue and if it doesn’t…what does that look like. Two friends trying to heal. So simple…but not. Especially right now. Right now when this is the conversation our city needs to be having…and in many ways is having – in official spaces with politicians and community workers and professors and ministers and lawyers and reporters….but so often we forget that this conversation has been going on in “stairways and back doors, rooftops and bottom floors, high-rise and town-homes.” Young people have been trying to figure out how to move forward for a long time…
Having more experience as an educator and a community worker than as an actor has made this play such a visceral experience of healing for me. No longer able to maintain the blocks and boundaries that enable me to move through each meeting, each e-mail and each class, I was challenged and pushed to break them down, break them down, break them down and feel what exists behind them. It was really scary. A lot of tears have been shed in rehearsal and outside of it. I don’t think I would have been able to get through this if it wasn’t happening with the team of people that have come together to tell this story. I feel so incredibly privileged that I was selected through auditions to be a part of it. Thank you to the folks who were not at every rehearsal but have been grinding none the less to build the energy around the story – L’Oqenz, Jade Lee Hoy, Amanda Nk, Jasmine Chen – you all hold us down. I am in awe of each of your skills, talents, passion and commitment to the end goal. You humble me in the reminder that the actor is just a small piece in a very big puzzle. But I have to give very special and individual shout-outs to those that attended most rehearsals because you all are now part of my creative family and I am so grateful to the universe for bringing each of you into my life:
Motion – without the words, none of this would be happening. You as playwright, you as author of this narrative, you as the one courageous enough to put pen to paper are the reason why we are all here. Storyteller to the bone, I am doing this play knowing that I want to honour every single monologue, every single sentence, every single word, every single syllable because you have spent so much time examining each and making sure they all have purpose and right of place. The strength of these words comes from the integrity and authenticity you put into each of them. I am honoured to carry your words forward.
Dian Marie Bridge – I said this before and I will say it again here. I feel as though the last few weeks have been acting workshops for me and it has been so necessarily humbling. You have pushed me and challenged me and asked me to go to places I fought against and the only reason I may come even close to realizing the potential you are asking of me is because I know that you will be there to support me with love. It has been such a blessing to work with a director who shows so much respect for the journey of your actors – how we feel, our comfort level, asking us to share what is in our gut – while at the same time pushing us to realize a vision that is larger than what I could always see. Thank you for your patience, your kindness, your smile, your cooking lessons(!) and your love.
Nan Shepherd – Thank you for keeping me in check! Lol. Nan you have obviously found your calling. Your attention to detail is incredible. I am in awe of your ability to allow a story to move and grow organically while keeping us on point. You are consistently checking in on the placement of props, the movement of bodies, the timing of events and even the energy of all those involved…reminding us when we need to take a breath…reminding us that it is ok to take a breath. Thank you for that. You helped me to maintain my calm, my focus and of course my sanity.
Cassy Walker – I am so proud of you. I am so happy that we are doing this together. I am so happy that you keep me and Araya in check. I really needed your energy many times and am thankful to the universe that you were there. Thank you for building up my confidence, thank you for being on point, thank you for having that amazing laugh that you have. Knowing that you will be backstage with us grounds me in a sense of safety and reassurance that everything is going to be ok. Love you Cass.
Araya Mengesha – The smile began as soon as I started typing your name. I’ve already told you, I hate doing things that everyone is doing and EVERYONE loves Araya (so annoying). I was trying to be the rebel and find something to hate on….but I couldn’t. Sigh. I’ve joined the fan club. I don’t even know what to say. Every day I get to know you more, I am more and more thankful that it is you I am doing this with. Your Wan is the only Wan that exists in my head now. Thank you for showing me the beauty of someone who respects and is in love with their craft without ego or pretence. Thank you for being so patient with me through my learning curves. Thank you for making me laugh so much my face hurt pretty much everyday we hang out. Thank you for giving me space when I needed but also knowing when I needed someone to sit beside me silently too and stare at clouds when the fear of where rehearsals were taking me set in. Thank you for making Aneemah and Wan’s connection feel real by building a really dope Amanda and Araya connection
Opening night…we are here.
I hope people come out to see this story. I hope people are moved by this story. I hope I do justice to this story. I hope…
ANEEMAH’S SPOT @ SummerWorks Festival written by Motion directed by Dian Marie Bridge starring Araya Mengesha & Amanda Parris
Lower Ossington Theatre :
100A Ossington Ave (north of Queen W), Toronto
■ Thu – Aug 9, 2012 05:00 PM
■ Sat – Aug 11, 2012 12:00 PM
■ Sun – Aug 12, 2012 05:00 PM
■ Tue – Aug 14, 2012 07:30 PM
■ Thu – Aug 16, 2012 10:00 PM
■ Sat – Aug 18, 2012 05:00 PM
“Knowledge is Power is a mobilized and conscious attempt to combat and re-articulate the stories of communities that have been targeted, vilified and simplified by mainstream institutions of power in the city of Toronto. We recognize that our work is part of a larger attempt to address the violence, trauma and need for healing. We are young people, elders, artists, activists, students, educators…human beings…demanding accountability.”
The following piece is a reflection on the June 2nd, 2012 shooting at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto that resulted in the deaths of two young men named Ahmed Hassan (age 24) and Nixon Nirmealendran (age 22). The piece speaks to the ways in which young men with dark skin are vilified and dehumanized by the general public and the complex ways in which violence structures the lives of all of those who live in Toronto.
This weekend the heavens opened up and the city exploded in a burst of light. I’m sure it happened, the gusts of wind told me so. And of course the headlines of the daily newspaper agreed, as they swept their ominous messages across the city of Toronto. Somewhere an army of voices declared a war on blackness and violence and darkness, and the city exploded right before our eyes, and no one could do anything of it. The newspapers spoke hushed words, spreading into the minds of the people, warning the law-abiding citizens that evil lurked among us, gangs of blackness and violence in the heart of the city. The newspapers said sternly and without challenge that this evil, like all darkness, must be purged from our lives, once and for all.
However, the choruses of voices that came hurtling forth wrapped within the wind spoke stories that the newspapers would never dare to print. Stories that screamed of sadness, and urgency, stories of violent neglect and stories of a world spiraling out of control. The winds shrieked, saying that it takes a broken world, for a broken man to pull a trigger, for he is never alone, it is a collective and communal process. But the newspapers would never say this, because then we’d all realize just how accountable each one of us is. The winds implored us to remember all that we had forgotten to do. For we had forgotten to mourn the death of a man, and we had forgotten that men break when they have been broken. We had forgotten that cities and people explode when they have no other choice, and finally we had forgotten that darkness is not evil it is sacred.
And as the city exploded, the only question that most asked was, how do we keep the darkness from our lives? When instead we should have asked how have we become so far gone, that we can’t mourn the life of a young black boy killed from broad daylight, in the busiest mall in the busiest city in this country. And as the winds thrashed the streets, and the rain soaked the people, they begged me to listen, for when the city explodes, it is always a collective process. For men break, when they have been broken.
This weekend the police were on high alert, for the newspapers assured us that explosions in the city must come from darkness and blackness. All to get blown up in bursts of masculinity – ticking time bombs, ticking time bombs. The wind warned of a danger much deeper, but the police were still on high alert searching and silencing, searching and silencing.
And I am left with a thought, a reality of this world:
“I am scared of the darkness, but the darkness is sacred.”
shono is a spoken word artist and storyteller. lost in history, he sees the need to recover forgotten words, so he writes. (firstname.lastname@example.org)