History as Territory

1 Jul
image by Luba Lukova

image by Luba Lukova

 

 

 

 
I went to a wonderful talk last night organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance on reclaiming feminisms at the grassroots.  The inspirational speaker, Sandra Moran, spoke about planting.  The first part of creating something new is developing an idea, planting a seed.  To do that, you must reclaim what is yours and decide that territory will be where something new can grow.

She mentioned 5 types of “territory”:
1. Your body; 2. Land; 3. Nature; 4. History; 5. Memory

This past year, I’ve been deeply engaged in reclaiming my territories of history and memory, and I’ve done that through writing and reading.  As I continue to revise my play, Tree of Seeds, I’m continually uncovering new connections to my Parsi history, especially that of Parsi women.  This article in particular, about Indian suffragettes in England, struck a chord with me. The first play I wrote (and produced in the 4th grade) told the story of a suffragette who organizes women to march for their rights, and is ultimately killed.

http://fwsablog.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/001489-Asian-suffragettes.jpg

Women’s Coronation Procession, 17 June 1911, courtesy of the Museum of London

 

 

Knowing the history of my people, makes my art more relevant and vibrant. As I reclaim this territory for myself, I can populate it with new knowledge, resonance, and meaning.

 

 

What task, what activity could help you to reclaim one of these territories for yourself?  It doesn’t have to be something public, but the simple act of doing something new will lead to regeneration and new revitalization.

 

Remember that? I'm going for another one!

Remember that? I’m going for another one, in a sari!

 

 

This year I’ve decided to write as much as I can.  I’ve started a novel and a TV pilot.

 

T.V. writing is leading me to fun and whimsy.

 
Yes, my TV pilot is about an undocumented teen growing up in Queens, but it is a half hour sit-com filled with humor and a light touch to explore a heavy reality.  I’m learning to go with the joy of using my mind and writing what comes.

The novel writing is the most personal writing I’ve done in my life and is giving me insights into how I see the world, how I see my own story.  I am looking at hurtful memories, crying while I write, and then writing some more.

So what might you want to reclaim for yourself? Which territory do you need to access and repopulate with your own power and brilliance?  Start something, use the talents you have, it will undoubtedly lead to a bigger and more hopeful world!

Free Expression — Free Dimensional

16 Apr

Friends,
I’m using this blog space to make you all aware of a wonderful organization I am on the board of – Free Dimensional.

Since 2006, fD has worked with nearly 200 artists and culture workers, from over 35 countries, who are at risk because of their art.  We help find them safe haven in artists residencies, small living grants, and we develop tools for our partners to use in supporting artists in danger.

Right now we need to raise money for:

  1. One-to-one case management for artists, culture workers and communicators in need of critical personal and professional support
  1. Design and translation of our DIY guidebook for artists at risk (called The Creative Safe Haven Advocacy Kit) into the languages where artists are most in need
  1. Development of 5 ‘artist safety networks’ around the world to provide immediate and accessible response when individuals are in danger

Your contribution will make a real difference in the lives of artists, culture workers and communicators who find themselves at risk, around the world.

Artists inspire us and their communities, but in return they may be harassed, face physical violence, torture, imprisonment or worse fD defends these essential voices, but to do so we need your financial support today.

Below, Lawman Lynch, a political asylee who we helped, writes about his experience.

We want to continue being in the world, helping other artists in danger. Help us to keep going.

by:  Lawman Lynch

Staying in the United States was not by choice, I had to. I woke up to see my car ablaze as a result of it being firebombed while I was asleep – the consequence of stating my opinion as an advocate on a sensitive matter in my home country, Jamaica. Reluctantly, the decision was made to seek political asylum for my safety in the United States.lawman with car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was granted political asylum in January 2011, I realized that to survive in the U.S. with limited resources is a great challenge, but to survive in New York without a support system is an even greater challenge.

… I had no relatives in the U.S. and there are limits to how much friends can help.  The minute I thought I was putting a strain on friends or “helpers”, I felt it was my cue to move on: I moved 17 times within the first 10 months of being an asylee.

fD opened the door for my stability and made my transition to life in the U.S. much easier. fD facilitated 6 months of live/work space at the Flux Factory, giving me a safe and stable space to live while I got on my feet. fD also ensured that I was connected to a network of individuals who were not only able to assist my growth and development, but also share experiences and strengthen each other. The first financial support grant I got from the Rory Peck Trust was facilitated by fD and that grant helped to offset critical living expenses I had, especially in my first year as an asylee.lawman profile

fD plays a pivotal role in the NGO sector, bridging culture and human rights, complementing other programs and building support networks within civil society. fD also makes the transition process of asylees and other vulnerable individuals much easier by connecting us to a network of not just “sayers” but “doers”.

Today I am the Center and After School Program Director for a Salvation Army location in Brooklyn and I’m happy that “The Lawman Lynch Foundation” is building a base here in the United States so that my philanthropic work may continue….

fd-donate-2011-button

 

Donate today! -  make your donation online or send a check payable to freeDimensional to P.O. Box 301, New York, NY 10276

 

 

New Day (Now Rouz), New Waves

19 Mar

Happy Spring! — Nowrouz Mubarak!

For those of you who have been thrashed around by the waves of winter, do not despair! The shore is near.

Spring Shoots

This winter, my experience of being in the world has felt like one of a sea lamprey attached to the fin of some great whale.  Yes, I get food, great soul-enriching sustenance from doing what I was born to do, but the ride is not an easy one.

I have been dragged down to the unmoving depths of the ocean where the pressure felt like my skull would cave in.  From this a single seed emerged! I completely rewrote my latest play, Tree of Seeds.

The reading in London, this past December, brought with it the opportunity connect with theater community outside of NYC, and to hear the words come alive.  It also submerged me into the world of this story and forced me to rework it furiously.

The postcard for my play

The postcard for Tree of Seeds

Small bubbles of air are rising up from that place and the latest version will have a staged reading at Queens College on May 15th.  Rewrites are still coming but the form will be brand new!

Come see it. (Literary agents and producing theaters wanted!)
Alternatively, I was being slapped and flapped about on the surface of the sea.

Just when the Afghan radio drama (One Village, A Thousand Voices)  I helped create for the U.S. Institute for Peace was getting a little international notice, it was also scrambling for funding and put on hold. We’re back now, temporarily.  OVATV HeaderChallenges appeared and plans evaporated.

The one thing I could figure out to do in this time was to be around other writers, artists, and social change-makers. In fact, it was a great contradiction to the chaos around me to have a few places to safely land and be myself. I joined a wonderful memoir and autobiographical fiction writing workshop at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop which has inspired me to write some short stories, which might end up as a novel!

I’ve found that writers and artists need to create spaces for themselves (duh!). For me, it isn’t about networking or getting in the right circles but about having a place for my work to grow within a thoughtful and creative community.

Day 1-3 (29a)

C’mon guys, let’s get together.

Moving away from a competition-based paradigm, working for financial confirmation of my work’s value, to one of camaraderie and closeness confirms the old adage, “another world is possible”.

In fact, the ladder climbing aspect of the work doesn’t even feel as important because my vision isn’t focused on riding a wave of popularity but on the expansive possibilities in building relationships and dreaming with other human beings.

It is not the rumbling ocean but the shore ahead.

This spring, may the waves of chaos bring you in sight of your own safe place, whose fertile terrain you already have the map for.

Love,
Kayhandokht (My full given name. It means daughter of the universe.)

Longest Night

21 Dec Tree of Seeds by Stedroy Cleghorne
posted by Farvartish

posted by Farvartish

 

 

 

Tonight, we will pass through the longest night of the year.

We will regain a tiny bit of light, with each new day.

 

 

The end of 2013 seems to have opened a thousand little doors of terror inside me.  This is the first time I am “properly” developing a play.  That means I’m not jumping right into a production process but taking time to write, re-write, show it to others, share my thoughts, and hear the words read aloud. It’s brought me face to face with many of my feelings of inadequacy, superiority, futility, and desperation.  It’s been a long night in the life of this artist.

(What corner of your life needs a tiny bit of light?  Where are those dry, cracked places that can be softened by the heat, smoothed over by warm touch?)

Tree of Seeds by Stedroy Cleghorne

Tree of Seeds image by Stedroy Cleghorne

 

I’ve just returned from London where I was able to attend one of the two readings my play was offered.

Hearing the words read aloud brought clarity to what isn’t working and offered me a sharp view into what needs to change.  Sharp and pointy and slightly painful, but that’s my own inner critic.  The world outside my head offered ripe fruit and juicy seeds to chew on.  It reminds of the thoughts in my previous post about how people, human beings, are the most sustainable and valuable resource we have.

Sharing my misshapen, oozing, little work-in-progress has been a magical window into kindness and consideration.  People across the globe are offering their soft hands, their light touch, to guide this piece along.  Friends and family rallied to help me get to London.  The cast and crew in London offered their talent, their time, and their best thinking  to help  move the work forward.  I returned home with over 60 pieces of paper, audience feedback forms, that give me strength and energy and new thoughts!  And, there are a few theater companies waiting for the new script.

In Central and West Asia, people celebrate Shab-e-Yalda (solstice) by staying up all night together, eating red and orange and yellow foods, especially pomegranate.  They make wishes and recite the poetry of Hafez to each other.  You are supposed to open to any page in a book of his poems and read the first thing you see.  That excerpt is meant to offer some guidance, some insight to you.  Here’s what I turned to today:

“…And the hundred graceful movements
Your body now makes each time
The wind, children and love come near.”
― حافظThe Subject Tonight Is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz

Thank you to everyone who helped me to move along with grace this past year. In the darkness, your hands, your voice, propelled me forward.

The warm wind blows up the edges on the thin grey shroud.  You can reach up and pull it down now.

It’s time.

Happy Shab-e-Yalda, Happy Solstice.

 

On Thanksgiving, Giving Up

29 Nov Go, don't go?

After co-leading a wonderful weekend workshop looking at the ways we internalize our defeats and let oppressive messages stop us from going after our deepest desires, I am still asking myself “do I have the courage to be happy?”

That depends. 

Go, don't go?

Go, don’t go?

Do I know what makes me most happy and am I able to see it and feel it clearly? By clearly I mean am I able to see past the layers; the media images of happiness, the broken record of social messages about happiness, the fear that covers any impulse to disbelieve the imposed voices.

While the U.S. is meditating on thanks and having (we talk about giving thanks but isn’t it always focused on what we have — a series of things on a checklist — like a Christmas list?)  I’m walking away from the deeply held notion that I need more money to do what I most want. 

Says it all

Says it all

 

It’s a big intention and it isn’t easy as an artist (and as a raised working class immigrant woman).  I have a clear understanding of how most artists are devalued, ignored, not seen as having importance in society unless their work comes with a huge price tag or media fanfare. 

Art is our human heritage and our birthright.  It goes beyond economics.  In fact, human beings are drawn to art not from a place of money and commerce but from a place of human curiosity, zest, emotion and connection.  Values which are necessary for human growth, social understanding and transformation. 

Friends are so good.

Friends are so good.


These values, are given little monetary value and we need to examine why.  More importantly, why do we go along with it?

Most of how we assign monetary value has little to do with what we truly treasure.  Human connection is what makes much of life bearable, livable. Our relationships (to each other and the planet) give us the sustenance we need to blossom and grow.  Yet we spend so much of our time cultivating relationships with things – thinking that this hamster wheel will get us to a better place. 

What could we think of if we stopped thinking in terms of money?

What could we think of if we stopped thinking in terms of money?

We end up worn out and alone, frustrated at ourselves for not following our intuition, for not acting on the knowledge that our liberation doesn’t sit at the edge of a dollar bill.

So I’ve decided to give up. I must live my values.  I’m giving up on holding back my energy, time, love, and creativity from myself and others because there isn’t money attached to that exchange.  I’m going to work on cultivating relationships with people who will make me a better person, I am going to think big no matter what!

I’m in the process of writing a new play, and somehow it’s blooming.

The postcard for my play

The postcard for my play

Being held up by others who are putting their creative minds into a project they believe in, for no money.  I am grateful for that.  For human reciprocity, sharing, community, and love. 

May you all give up.  May you have the courage to be happy.

Love,
Kayhan


Go, don't go?
Go, don’t go?

 

 

 

The postcard for my play

The postcard for my play

Circles

20 Jun

I haven’t written an update for months. I’ve wanted to, but every time I sat down to share a thought, or an observation, I was acutely aware that something was incomplete. And so, I said to myself, why offer a fleeting, shredded little thing when you can gather up your thoughts for something substantial? Little did I know, that the substantial is made from the tattered bits and pieces.

Image

Fresh catch.

 

 

Some of what I learned was really to appreciate myself, my mind, my smarts.   I started to notice the little inner voices that would tell me I couldn’t, I shouldn’t, it will never work.  But reality was filled with space, room for me to do exactly what I dreamed up.  That contradiction, between outside and inside my head, was just what I needed in order to recognize and silence those voices of doubt. 

Image

 

 

 

 

 

Through living as fully as I could, I was offered pieces of myself – pieces that peer back at me as I peer at them, initiating an act of uncovering.  It makes me think of revelation not as some passive gift that is offered from on high, but an endeavor that has to be initiated and carried out. Revelation comes when you push the limitations of your own mind, a new world is revealed as old thinking is moved aside and deeper knowledge is allowed in.

 

This work doesn’t necessarily need stillness and quiet – it can come through lots of interaction, stimulation and, sometimes, from being in a totally different context.  Though I suppose part of the work of reflecting is just that, recognizing your own mind amid a great deal of information. Recognizing how you see, how you get in the way of seeing and how you fit within a larger picture.  I am grateful to have had 8 months to hone the art of seeing, and to gain an appreciation of my place in this world.

ImageI am grateful to all the people who offered me kindness, sweetness, great food, and a a bit of their perspective on the world.  I look forward to completing my play, having it produced, to writing for other projects in India, and to running theater trainings and community projects in the U.S.  I’ll be MCing the Women in Islam awards this month in NYC, I’ll be in Little Rock, Arkansas next month, and I’ll be back in India come September to offer support to an International school in Bombay on their arts programs and curriculum.  So, the story continues.  Thanks for reading and let’s catch up sometime.

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