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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.

https://i0.wp.com/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!

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
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

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

Aerial Roots

22 Oct

The famous banyan tree in India has aerial roots.  That means small seedlings growing on its branches send down vine-like extensions that upon hitting dirt, take root and anchor the tree.  If left unchecked, a single banyan can expand into a maze-like thicket of its own creation.  A tree intertwined around another tree, creating shadow trees.

I’m living in a similar metaphoric spiral right now.  Thoughts shooting straight downward, leading to confusion, leading to pause, leading to insights, leading to growth.

 

 

I’m like the little guy at the bottom of the illustration; feeling my way through, tripping over the bumps.

The people I meet, my family and their friends are like the tree – patient and generous.

 

At my worst, I feel wholly unprepared to spend the next 8 months here.  I feel like everything I brought with me is useless, my miniscule language skills are useless and I stick out no matter where I go.  Though when I get that low, something happens to reassure me that I’m fine. Like the two big men who ended up sitting across from me on my 16 hour train ride from Mumbai to New Delhi.  I was a little nervous about sharing an overnight train berth surrounded by men so I was sitting there trying to look stoic, listening to my headphones.  I soon realized that they weren’t speaking in Hindi and I recognized many of their words.  In fact, it sounded like Farsi.  So I started speaking to them in broken Farsi.  It turns out they are from Kabul, here in India on some business.

What’s with the pole in this cab? I have a hundred questions.

One of the guys had traveled all over Iran.  In New Delhi, they carried my bags off the train, called my driver to tell him where we were standing and waited with me until he came.

 

It’s been a roller coaster and my knuckles are white from gripping the bars tight.  (On a side note, I was talking to someone and I referred to myself as brown.  She said, “No you’re not, you’re very white”.  This led me to reply, “Trust me, in America I’m not white”.)

Back to me and the banyan tree and feeling rootless amid a forest of roots.  What is the difference between feeling lost and feeling rootless?  Does being rootless lead one to be lost? What does being lost lead to? Liberation or nothingness?  Why such angst after only a week?  I’m not just dislocated, I’m anxious about the fact that I feel dislocated.  This coupled with the energy and pace of Bombay can make someone go mad.

To give you an example, getting to a destination on foot means you have to first negotiate the traffic – cars, scooters, motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs, oxen and men with hand carts loaded with goods.  You then have to negotiate the rivers of people walking on the sidewalk and spilling on to the gully since the sidewalk is covered with hawkers’ stalls and improvised huts.

A relatively mellow street near my aunt’s home. It’s the navrata season where the various aspects of the goddess are honored.

When you get close to the location you have to puzzle over an amazing kaleidoscope of signs, old and new in all colors and shapes, attached to the building in all directions to find the place you are looking for.

But good luck finding a place to stand and read the signs because you’re never out of the traffic, you’re always in it, trying to hold on to your own singular desire like a lifebuoy being steadily shaken and drenched by the waves of all the other human beings who want something too.

And the tension is palpable.  The middle and upper classes demand things now, quickly, to my liking.  The working and poor argue, steal, stall and walk out.

Complexity everywhere.

There is a great tension between obligation and freedom; sacrifice and care.  Dedicated family members denounce one another when things get hard.  Educated women verbally (and physically) abuse servants to get out their resentment.  Selflessness and dedication meet control and sadism in strange ways.

Another gift came in the form of a book by my friend and brilliant author Arshia Sattar.  “Lost Loves – Exploring Rama’s Anguish” is a reading of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, as a love story.  I’ve read the first few chapters and one thing that stood out was the thought that Rama was a god who oftentimes didn’t remember, didn’t recognize that he was a god.  He was living as a human, but that didn’t negate his divinity.  And so, we are we all in a way.  We can’t recognize our own divine light nor the light of others and so we battle on this earth for a little place to stand.  A footprint in the sand.

I am learning to see what I am looking at and not to make snap judgments.  Just like I learned how to approach an address I will learn how to approach a culture.  To see it as it is, not as I think it should be.  And like the banyan tree, my roots will continue to grow in many directions.

Here’s an image I created after being inspired by “Lost Loves”