Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eve Ensler's piece "Rising" and me

Twice I've planned to perform Eve Ensler's piece, "Rising", and twice I've decided not to.  Here's the piece:

Written in Kerala for the women of India who lead the way

This could have been anywhere
And was
Mexico City
Nighttime men
like wolves
for prey
that single dimly painted door
paying nothing
a couple of  dollars
or euros
or pesos
to have her
Enter her
Eat her
Devour her
and throw away her bones.

This could have been anywhere
And was
A Buddhist nun on a bus
Trying to stay dry for the night
A woman leader speaking out against
The repressive government
A young woman traveling with her boyfriend
One lost her voice
The other her following
The last one her life

This could have been anywhere and was
Pink wooden crosses
A stack of stones
Red wilting carnations
Empty chairs in a square
Ribbons flying in a sultry wind
I ask Anna Nighat Kamla Monique Tanisha Emily
Why Why
Porque Eran Mujeres
Parce qu'elles étaient des femmes
Because they were women
Because they were women

This could have been anywhere
And was
Where she got fired for being too beautiful
Fined for drinking after she was raped
A serious offer to marry her rapist
Got told it was legitimate but not forcible

This could have been anywhere
They do such a thing
When the girls go for fire wood
Step into the lonely man’s car
Drink a little too much at the college party
Wake up with her uncle’s fingers inside
Run from the screaming machete and guns
Be taken at sunrise
Get a bullet in the brain for learning the alphabet
Be stoned for falling in love
Be burned for seeing the future

I am done
Cataloguing these horrors
Data Porn
2 million women raped and tortured
1 out of 3 women
a woman raped every minute
every second
one out of 2
one out of 5
the same
one I am done counting
And recounting

Its time to tell a new story
It needs to be our story
It needs to be outrageous and unexpected
It needs to lose control in the middle
It needs to be sexy and in our hips
And our feet
It needs to be angry and a little scary the way storms can be scary
It needs to not ask permission
Or get permits or set up offices
Or make salaries
It wont be recorded or bought or sold
Or counted
It needs to just happen
It is not a question of inventing
But remembering
Buried under the leaves of trauma and sorrow
Beneath the river of
semen and squalor
vaginas and labias
shredded and extracted
body mines
mined bodies
It is not about asking now
Or waiting
It is about rising

Raise your arm my sister my brother
Raise your one
Your one heart
Your one of us

I used to be afraid of love
It hurt too much
What never happened
What got ripped away
The rape
The wound
And love
I thought
was salt
But I was wrong
I was wrong
Step into the fire
Raise your arm
Raise your one
Eve Ensler for One Billion Rising

The first time I was planning to perform the piece was at One Billion Rising here in Richmond at the end of our rally at the Coliseum.  Eve had put the piece out there as something to use at rallies worldwide.  It felt like the perfect fit.  I asked my friend and fabulous actress Jackie Jones if she would help me work it up so I could do it well.  She generously worked with me for a few hours to bring drama and pathos and energy and power to it.  I felt excited at the thought of performing it because it's such a powerful piece.  I was planning to have drummers pick up the beat at the very end where it says One/One/One/Rising/Rising/Rising.  I asked a friend of mine to lead the drumming.  She came over to my house one day very close to the rally to practice so we could get the timing down.

I began reading the piece.  She began drumming.  It threw me off.  We started again.  I couldn't feel in sync with what she was doing so I asked her to listen to the piece all the way through first then we'd try again.  My friend sat on my fireplace hearth and listened intently as I went through the outrages and horrors Eve describes in Rising.  When I finished, my friend told me she felt completely triggered from hearing such graphic images.  We tried again.  It wasn't working.  She said she felt like hearing that piece at the end of a rally to empower women, especially the way we'd crafted the rally, would be like going to the doctor for healing, then, at the end of the doctor's visit, ripping off the bandage and leaving the patient bloody.  I could see her point because just reading it generally left me stoked and energized, but not always in a positive way.  It was hard to perform.  I decided to NOT read the piece at One Billion Rising but instead to read what I had written.  Here's what I used:

We have heard here today some of the horrors being perpetrated here in Richmond as well as around the world.  There is so much pain and suffering, it is terribly difficult to hold it all.

But we have also heard tales of joy and empowerment and triumph – Claire’s daughter’s tragic murder led Claire to become a tireless advocate for others.  Carol’s mother’s death has not gone unnoticed, and thousands of children are better cared for thanks to Carol and her mother.  Rebiya Kadeer’s life has been full of pain and suffering, even as now two of her children are imprisoned just as she was.  Despite all that, we have witnessed her determination to take the higher path and to devote her life to the autonomy and safety of her beloved Uyghur people, especially the women. 
Each of the women you heard speak today is a beautiful example of power used for good.  Each has accessed her life’s purpose, the reason she is on this planet, the reason her life matters, and each is boldly and courageously pursuing her vision for a better world.

Take the time, I beg you, to listen deep within to your own still small voice that knows why you’re here, what you are meant to be doing, and pledge today to do one thing to grow that voice, one thing each day, to give voice to the beauty you have to offer the world.   Just imagine a world where each of us is living the life we were born to lead – giving the world the gifts that only we have to bestow.

THAT is the vision of SEVEN billion rising and of Heaven on Earth.  Thank you.

I think my friend was so right about Rising in that case and that it was kinder and gentler to not use it.

The next opportunity I had was to perform it, memorized, in the Richmond production of The Vagina Monologues in April.  Julie Willard cast me to do that monologue.  I felt honored to be chosen to do that one because it's the final piece in the show and is so dramatic.  I also felt a little bit scared - would I actually be able to memorize it?  how would it be to perform on stage again after 30+ years?

I started going to rehearsals and practicing it, working on memorizing it.  At rehearsals, I noticed that after I read it, I would feel hot and flushed.  My adrenalin would be pumping.  It would take me a while to calm down.  OK.  Something to notice.

I practiced it one on one with Julie.  She gave me excellent direction to say it with less umph, less drama - let the words do the talking.  Maybe I didn't need to "perform" it - maybe I could just put it out there and let the words do the work.  Be more understated.  It was good coaching.  It felt very different.  I was performing it the way a preacher performs a rousing sermon.  Speaking it as if I were talking to a friend, telling her these outrages, telling her I was done, that something different had to happen, brought it home in a different way.  I think it was more powerful.  I don't think it was any less disturbing.

I started to memorize it.  Chris helped me while we were on vacation at the beach.  I started dreaming about the images in the poem.  Nightmares.  Uncomfortable images.  Uncomfortable stories going through my head.  It wasn't fun. The words would flow through my head during the day since I was trying to commit it to memory.  I started to wonder if this was the right thing for me to be doing?

Right around this time, I got the email from the Uyghurs asking me to speak in Paris at their conference.  It was to be 2 days before The Vagina Monologues.  I could come back in time for the play then leave again shortly thereafter for China to see Dylan, a trip I'd already planned.  Then I realized that was too much.  I felt like it would be physically too grueling.  I realized that if I would go to Paris, I could fly more easily to Beijing from there.  It would mean missing The Vagina Monologues, but everything else fit really well.  I spoke with my friend Denise Bennett, a consummate storyteller, actress, and performer, to see if she might be interested in doing the monologue.  She jumped right on it!  Then I contacted Julie to let her know the situation.  She could not have been more gracious. 

I felt tremendous relief to not be doing that particular piece.  It felt perfect for Denise to be doing it.  And it felt wonderful to think of going to Paris to speak before a group of women about women's empowerment, my topic for the Uyghurs.

It occurred to me that, again, I wasn't performing "Rising". 

Then I remembered when I spoke with Eve at the Omega Institute in September.  I said to her, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."  Without skipping a beat, she looked me in the eye fiercely and clearly and with defiant love and said, "No, be YOU!"

It occurs to me that, with "Rising", I was trying to speak her words, but they just weren't fitting.  What worked, instead, was for me to write my own words and to speak those.  She was so right - her job is to be her.  My job is to be me.  Thanks, Eve, for wise, wonderful words, very well placed.  There's only one Eve, and there's only one me, and the world needs both of us.  And there is also only one YOU!  What unique gifts are you offering the world these days?  I'd love to hear!

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