I dreamed

I dreamed that it was possible to invite people into a space and invite them to dream the past, the present, and the future. I dreamed it was possible to bring people of color from migrant groups in The Netherlands into this space and it would be possible to see their dreams enter the world. When I shared this dream, I didn’t know how it would happen or even what it would look like. I only had a vague idea of how to create that kind of setting and that kind of space.

I think back to the final day of the workshop and I think of the work coming from the hands of the writers around the table, and I find myself completely blown away. On the morning of the final day, when I asked participants to think about a story connected with personal items they’d brought with them, I did not expect that they would all write. After all, throughout the workshop, we’d used all kinds of different methods of story making. But this third day, they were all writing.

Before we did the first exercise, we read the Bridge Poem together. Hearing it read in chorus was just so powerful. It was like a presence entered that space and made it possible for us to reach that place where stories were waiting to be told. I’d brought along that quote from Alberto Rios and shared it with the writers after the first exercise.

“What surprised you?” I asked. “What did you discover?”

We were all in a thoughtful mood because the stories from that first exercise were so personal and moving.

“I didn’t know I had this story inside me,” one of the participants said.

“I didn’t realise that I remembered so much,” another replied.

Writing is also about remembering. Writing is also about being surprised by what you remember.

“What is it that you worry about and that keeps you from making or sharing your stories,” I ask.

“I worry about grammar,” someone says. “Because I want to post my stories on Facebook but when I do, people tell me right away that my grammar is wrong or what’s with your punctuation.”

I think about this thing–this grammar thing–the way in which the world can be so hung up on using perfect language and perfect punctuation as if that were the heart of what makes story. I think of all the things we forget when we jump on someone who is trying to share their story but tells it in a way that doesn’t align with how we think it’s supposed to be told. I think of how we are quick to say: your characters are wrong, your theme is wrong, your story is too bloated, your words don’t match. You are just wrong.

When we do that, we forget the most important thing. Someone who has taken the courage to share their story is someone who’s taken a risk. To tell a story is to come out of the shadows. To put your voice out into the world is to become visible. We forget that story often comes from vulnerable places. That it takes courage to share what’s vulnerable and painful and for writers coming from the margins, becoming vulnerable is risk.

I think about this as I reflect on the workshop. I think about the final exercise of the day. There I was saying: “this final exercise is optional. If you don’t feel like doing it, then you don’t have to.”

I had a moment of doubt where I wondered if I should ask writers to share and so I left it there in the middle until one of the participants raised their hand.

“I want to read my work,” they said.

And after that another one did. And another. And another. Until the circle was round.

These amazing writers who’d never attempted fiction before this workshop, they blew my socks off.

We shape the space in which stories are told. How we receive another person’s story determines the world into which the stories take their place. If we’re really serious about wanting to see more voices coming from the margins, we also need to think seriously about how we receive those voices.

Stand still. Respect the courage it takes to be visible. Speak your story into the world. In your response to the work, tread lightly.

Workshop Prep

Yesterday, I had a lovely moment of shared thinking as Hodan and I went through the lesson plan and necessary preparations for the upcoming workshop. I love the dynamic that arises from working together with a partner on a project–what kinds of thoughts emerge from the conversations we have as we look over the outline together, and what kinds of things I didn’t think about but which my partner thinks about when they look at what I’ve proposed for the workshop setting. This feeling of comraderie, of being more than just two people working together, makes bringing this project into the world feel very organic and warm and I hope this warmth will carry over into the workshop space.

It feels like we are creating this space with room to breathe and I find myself in anticipation of what that space will look like. In putting together inspirational readings for the workshop, I thought of Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem” from This Bridge Called my Back. It’s one of the works that I want to share with workshop participants and in particular, the final lines in which she writes:

The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power

I must translate

My own fears

My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere

but my true self

And then

I will be useful.

(from This Bridge Called My Back, writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzualda)

More than sharing the building blocks of story, more than mastering elements of craft, it’s becoming the bridge to our own true self that allows us to tell stories that will linger in the minds of those who hear or read it.

Be well and be blessed.

After Other Futures

Other Futures Festival was a wonderful, colourful, thought-provoking and inspiring event. I’m glad I was able to attend both days and go to a number of sessions. While we had to leave by 11 pm (or else we wouldn’t make it to the parking garage on time), the sessions I was able to go to blew my mind in lots of good ways.

I want to take the time to write about my impressions, but my mind tends to fire off dozens of things on the day after an event. So, I’ll start by reflecting a bit on the Hybrid workshop which I presented together with Ellen van Neerven and which we prepared together with Rafeif Ismail.

It felt rather serendipitous that the day of the workshop happened to be the day of the climate march in Amsterdam. Our discussion centred around environmental racism, who is most affected by it, and how groups and people most affected by climate change don’t have a seat at the table where decisions are being made. The issues emerging from environmental racism are multiple and it’s clear that something radical needs to happen. Whether leadership is ready to take radical steps and whether wealthy countries and wealthy communities are ready to be part of radical change is a big question mark.

The workshop itself was an intimate gathering with a small number of participants in conversation with each other. Ellen joined us online from Australia and the collective work done within the space and within the time that we had felt somehow magical. For the making part itself, I thought of using the liwliwan as a template from which to launch the doing part of the workshop. This paired with the idea of blurring the boundary between forms worked as I imagined it could work. I’m thinking about what I would like to do with this experience and how I want to experiment with creating sessions for collective story and story building. Would it then be something like a spontaneous play? Would it be in the form of a performance? I rather like the idea of sitting down together in a circle, with our musical instruments close to hand–a drum, a xylophone, a Kalimba, a rhythm egg–these combined together to form a background rhythm for the speculative and visionary stories that emerge from those seated in the circle.

What would you call that kind of doing or making? Would more people be willing to take part in such a creative making?

If this making involved a bigger group of participants, would it be possible to create this sense of connecting and understanding and coming to conversation and dialogue regardless of what side we sit on when it comes to politics and social issues?

I loved working with Ellen and Rafeif on this workshop and I wonder what it would be like if we could be present in the same space with the three of us being joined by other participants. What kinds of stories and conversations would we have? What kinds of worlds would we dream up?

Earlier this week, someone asked me what I thought would happen if the existing systems and institutions fell apart (as they’re inevitably bound to do). It’s a question I can’t answer, but I think that if we can create spaces and means for connecting and feeling connected, if we can shake off alienation which has been imposed on us, we can survive such a scenario without tearing each other apart.

In any case, I am thankful for spaces like Other Futures which provoke me to think deeper and reach for more understanding.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was the hybrid performances hosted by and coming from Kubra and Simon. I loved this exploration and celebration of queerness and of being trans. It felt so affirming and joyful and celebratory. And I am a fan of Miss BB whose joyful celebration of self made me want to shout: hurrah! Yes! More please.

Ah. I was so sorry to leave when we had to as I know there was going to be dancing as well. How many spaces are there in the world where one has the permission and the space to just be? To simply express your multi-selved you and not be looked at strangely? These kinds of spaces are precious and to my mind must be preserved just as we preserve spaces in the world which are sacred and precious because of what resides there.

I think of how we humans must change radically if we want to leave a good world for the next generation. Someone mentioned Ego during the Hybrid_Date circle talk and I think it’s a word we need to think about.

If someone is reading this blogpost, I want you to think about a number of things. Think about the things in your life that keep you from being present in the moment. Think about those things that give rise to alienation. Sometimes the change can be as simple as installing a filter on social media, dropping the habit of recording each moment as a thing to post on social media or share on your instagram or twitter. Take time to just be present in the moment, to reside within your body where it is in that space in time, to be silent in your head.

It can be as simple as looking at a familiar stranger and saying: we have passed each other a lot or lived on the same street for so long, so I want to introduce myself to you and I want to ask you about yourself. How is your day and how are you doing? It’s a risk because whether conversation happens or not depends on the person in front of you. But think about it this way: you make the choice to try and forge a connection. It may not happen right away, but these steps towards connection will inevitably bear fruit.