Friday, January 20, 2012

After the Memorial

Today I awoke to snow gently falling. After a dry brown winter and a freezing day of below zero temps yesterday, it is a relief to see snow. I sit with hot coffee in hand and think of yesterday’s memorial for Joan Calof. Despite the weather, the synagogue was packed. Joan was a dynamic, vibrant, active woman who passed away three days after her 84th birthday. She had been a social worker. After she retired, she became a performance artist, singing, dancing and telling stories on stages wherever she would find them, from cabarets to nightclubs in exotic locals.

We met at a workshop soon after I moved to the Twin Cities and Joan introduced me to the Twin Cities Women Writers & Poets. Other opportunities branched out from the women in this group and from Joan, the nudge to check out Patrick’s Cabaret. We read together for my book launch of transparencies of light at True Colors bookstore this last spring and her story about the women’s Turkish bath complimented the poems I had chosen about the Middle East. Her poems making fun of aging never ceased to delight me. She made me laugh even after I had heard them many times over. It was Joan’s dynamic, sparkling personality that infused her poems and made them come alive. Lately I have had an inspiration of bringing fast poetry into local businesses, a quick poem and get-away, and I think Joan would approve.

At her memorial, her books, The Lyrical Curmudgeon and Tales of a Well Seasoned Traveler, were given away. For some reason, this struck me. I felt its poignancy: the blessing of her books, labors of love, a message sent to us, remaining for us to hold her close. As I read her poems, I hear her voice and see her small compact body moving and dancing. Like me, she had hopes of selling them at her performances. I thought about the box of my books in my basement. If something happened to me, they would also be given away, a wonderful tribute to my creative force, a way to remember me when I am gone. But that of course is not what I want.

It is difficult to walk that spiritual path between letting go and letting God and wishing with all of my heart for the golden ring of acknowledgment, success, and adding to my income so that I can continue on my journey of creative inspiration. It is hard to admit that at times I just want to be as famous as Billy Collins or Sharon Olds, or OMG, Lawrence Ferlingetti, whom I heard read in a small venue years ago. I want to be noticed and loved for my work and I also want the communication that happens between the poet and her audience, her readers, her fans. As a woman who has been silenced for years, I yearn to have my voice—MY voice—heard.

The silencing came from years of communal living and being told that my opinions didn’t matter and it was vain to think they might, followed by living with a man who was bi-polar and incessantly analyzed his traumatizing past, his turbulent present, and his frightening future. I fell in love with him because we could talk about anything but as his illness progressed, the dialogue became a monologue. He told me that he didn’t want a conversation, he just wanted me to listen. He woke me up at dawn to report every thought he had had for hours before I got out of bed to make us coffee, make his breakfast and head off to work. His death was a relief from the grueling care taking and a deep sorrow of knowing that no, love cannot cure everything. Only those who wish to heal can be healed.

Is it gluttony to now want more? I have performed poetry 13 – 20 times a year in various locations such as cafes, bookstores, galleries, schools, churches, cultural centers, cabarets, and even once in a parking lot, from here to Mexico, from NYC to Berkeley. I have collaborated on poetry events with other local poets and musicians, I have created bilingual events. Forty people at Tribes Café with Word Dancers and a standing ovation, thirty people at the gallery in Puerto Vallarta for my Día de los Muertos performance, 200 in the audience at Patrick’s. I have achieved my dream of bringing poetry to unique venues, to present poetry to people who don’t think they like poetry, to be accessible. I have heard people in the audience weep, hold their breath, laugh and sigh, holding me in their attention as I shared my journey through words.

And yet—the desire to leave a lasting legacy is on my mind as I ride the bus home from Joan’s memorial. Joan is remembered for her chutzpah, her kindness, her ability to draw people out and connect them with each other. There is a resonance between our souls; we are soul mates. Joan always told me she admired my transparency on stage. Joan, you see, made up characters to inhabit but I embody my own experience, my emotions, my confusion and grief and joy and passion. I create an intimacy with my audience that brings us heart to heart, if you are willing to go on the journey with me. The reason I prefer intimate circles to the bright lights of a stage.

Joan, if you are smiling down from Heaven, what do you see?

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