New York, USA
Light showers in early September. Cool drops in the warm air. I have been called whenever it rains to go out, to stand barefoot on the sidewalk in front of my house, or walk down the block. Tonight, I sang with the crickets and the droplets, finding their pitch and harmonizing. I dance with the drops and the squeaking of sneakers in puddles on asphalt. At the corner of the block, a surveillance car takes its stance for the night. I take mine. Defund the police. We will take care of each other. We are learning to take care of each other.
Jewish markers of time have held me, as a full performance schedule slipped away in March. I sing every Sabbath with my synagogue, gathering in time, to notice that passage of one week to the next. We mark out a holy place in time, a pause, a rest, a taste of the world to come. As the situation becomes more deplorable- the US has surpassed 180,000 COVID-19 deaths, fires rage across the west coast, and new names are added to the sacred roll call- Ahmaud Arbury, and Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd, Daniel Prude… I keep my eyes and attention focused on the liberated world we will make.
I am learning to move at what disabled folks call crip time, or is it Indigenous time?
Moving at the speed of trust. I begin to take walks together in time with another artist. With shared attention and consciousness we take 40 minutes to walk and then share. Together in time but not space, I walk around the block. I listen for the call of sticks, and trash, and discarded books. A miniature translucent pink ice cream spoon,a trampled blue face mask, a dried flower nestled in the cavern of the sidewalk, the package of a single aspirin from the corner deli, and a new leaf growing directly from the wide trunk of a sycamore says ‘It’s never too late to start new growth’. I ask a seed pod if I can take it home. I practice choreography in photography, in the measure of time around the block, in the change of my gait to match rather than pass my neighbors, on the way to nowhere.
Early in March I watched the trains from my window bereft of passengers. But continuing to spill through the city’s veins and rumbling the wooden floors of my apartment. There is a small sway, when I am still lying on the floor. I feel what we movers often harken to- the way the floor, two stories up and atop a basement, is founded in and connected to earth. To notice makes it tangible.
The trains sound louder now than they did in the spring. I learn that humidity quickens the speed of sound waves. Like those waves, emotional waves are traveling faster too. My morning panic turns to anger, and with practice toward immense gratitude, to joy amidst frustration and the waves keep coming. The seasonal sound score shifts. I hardly hear birds anymore, which all New Yorkers were amazed to hear when quarantine stopped our movement in April, when hundreds of New Yorkers were dying every day. The epicenter of the epicenter. Now daily deaths are in the single digits. My teachers’ friends are fighting for continued remote education. During the day cicadas pass their calls to each other across the street, back and forth like old neighbors. At night the crickets near and far offer a steady shimmering stream. I’ve never been home enough to notice.
Though I notice her more, I am reminded that nature has not had a full rest or rejuvenation, because not all her workers have. The people who continue to work have always been essential but are only now being called so. In April, I earnestly anticipated a Jubilee- rest for workers and land, debt forgiveness, and land redistribution. It felt imminent. On the day the world will be one. But economic self interest marches on. At the height of the pandemic, in Washington Heights, the trains were still packed with the most vulnerable communities of workers, in elevators going down twelve flights to subways platforms, the city’s arteries, to service the needs of the rest.
When I am prey to discouragement, I recall the generosity that emerged: a testament to our true human desire to care for each other. In Brooklyn this desire takes the shape of neighborhood mutual aid groups, buying and delivering food to those who need it, the speed with which bial funds overflowed, the networks of friends who quickly found housing for refugees, the care with which folks past out sunscreen, hand sanitizer, sandwiches and rice balls, masks and gloves at protests, the text threads we maintained to keep eachother safe when we are in the streets, the normalization of talk of community safety and abolition and reparations. The bright vision of young Black activists who brought us to this resurgence and are leading it forward now, and the guidance of revolutionary predecessors who remain steadfast.
And there are those ancestors who are gone, who could have learned from us. I recognize my grandparent’s martyrdom in me when people started leaving the city- the tangle of anger and disdain for those who stayed in facist Europe, or who abandoned the fight in Palestine. I feel you, and hear you in the rock doves. I learn from you, and I invite you to learn from me. We who stayed to fight in solidarity. In June and July I joined as we flooded streets and bridges and parks. We- white, black, brown, indigenous, queer and straight, cis and trans were lead by Black trans women, by the thousands in front of Brooklyn Museum. We repeated the words of Raquel Willis as sacred oaths. “I believe in Black Trans Power.”
I decided to study one of my ancestral languages, to speak to these ancestors more directly? It takes me off the streets to learn Yiddish for six weeks. And now the collective momentum has shifted. Protests still occur daily. But most of the energy like the trees, is contracting (not dissipating) into the ground. I say goodbye to summer on the beach at dusk with a group of Jewish friends. We welcome a season of reckoning in the Jewish calendar, a month of self reflection and appraisal as we move toward The Day Atonement. For the first time in months, I experience multiple voices harmonizing in the same space at the same time. We call out our desire to dwell in truth always. Then on Yom Kippur, we’ll take collective inventory. There is so much for which to atone.
I dreamt that I called my own name and I heard myself as though calling myself from outside my body.
It was stern, but not unpleasant. Come. Wake up.
Intention. sound. I sometimes dance. But I sing often.
I am learning to feel energy through the screen. I have become more adept, even, at teaching my students to feel sound in their body. I direct with clarity and love the pitch from my body to theirs. With each repetition of the liturgy I teach them, I try to find my own intention and connection. I used to scoff at US bar mitzvah rituals- an empty recitation of words that USers don’t understand. Now I think it is a precious passage- the only direct transmission of an ancestral embodied culture most of my assimilated students will get. The tonal scales, the shape of the Hebrew letters, even after attempts at white washing them, even though these Jews are now white, somewhere in these phonemes are the last vestiges of ancestral, collective and sacred knowledge. Now, that I hardly think of my dance career, every moment is a place to be in time and space, in consciousness with my body and with other mind bodies, and it was actually always this way. The temple has been destroyed. The presence is everywhere.
It is not without pain. My body is aching, from sitting, from prioritizing study. The twist in my thoracic spine has increased. The asymmetries grow. I fight them, and then welcome them. I stay curious, another layer revealing itself.
Alongside intuition and listening. This is the daily balm: Wake up, mumble a prayer, learn a new nign,or teaching, or movement. Listen, call the prayer to listen, give something to someone- a song, a love note, a note of thanks, give attention, give money, give food, or time. Choose how to spend my energy today to make the world the liberated space I dream of with others. Learn to move through the day with more ease and/or increase stamina for discomfort. Open my heart when it wants to shrivel and remember the preciousness of time and the possibility and urgency of change.
chanting of liturgy that I mention- this section is about six winged creatures called serafim
Horah Medurah/Horah Fire
I wrote in May- reinterprets an Israeli folk song of the same name to call for freedom in our hearts and the world, also layers in some Jewish mysticism, and a folk song/prayer I used to sing with my grandfather, in Hebrew.