Everyday Should Be a Good Day to “Come Out…” (Part 1)

I wanted to dedicate a couple of blogs to honor my many friends and family who are proud members of the GLBTQQI community. Last January, I was invited to attend the movie Pariah with a group of friends, most of whom were Lesbian. What follows is NOT a movie review, but my initial reaction to the movie. To my readers who have not seen the movie, I implore you to go rent, purchase, or pull it up on Netflix (http://www.focusfeatures.com/pariah). Those of you who have seen it, I invite you to comment as to how you experienced the movie.

My next  post will be a far more personal glimpse into my life as an Ally.

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“I am not running. I am choosing:” My reaction to the movie, Pariah.

It isn’t often that watching a movie will inspire me to want to write. It’s even more rare that watching a movie forces me to feel so full of emotion that I have to write. Pariah was that kind of movie viewing experience for me. So here I am, at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning: Writing. Reacting. Feeling.

I am like a lidded pot of grits on a hot stove-so full of emotion that my entire body slowly bubbles and my soul is on the verge of boiling over. I am compelled to get this out quick, so it will not contain literary perfection. Somehow, I feel that is fitting. Perhaps later, I’ll compose a review-style response to the movie. For now, I just need to write.

Initially, I thought I would enjoy the movie because it told the coming-of age story of a young, Black lesbian girl. I supported this because I know the transformational power of stories and I understand how crucial it is to have every voice represented. I’ve never heard this story voiced on the big screen and I wanted to offer my support, financial and otherwise.

To my surprise, I found that my laughter, tears, anger, confusion, and triumph had less to do with the idea that Alike, the main character, was a lesbian, and more to do with the fact she was a pariah who made the brave choice to create her own space in a world that refused her. In so many ways, I was Alike. As far-removed as it seems I should be from that 17-year-old self, I still remember her: lost; confused; lonely; simply wanting and needing to belong-though not quite sure to what or whom. In the end, Alike chose. In her words, “I am not running, I am choosing.” In the end, I chose. In the end, we all have the power to choose.

People underestimate the power of watching. As I watched Alike being rejected by her mother, (the most hurtful and profound rejection anyone could ever receive), I cried. But these tears were not only for Alike. I cried for my many friends who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer. So many of them have experienced (or are still experiencing) rejection, simply because they are not running, but choosing.

I cried for my 17-year-old self who made the courageous choice to choose education over fear.

I cried for my 19-year-old son who, though outwardly confident , is also struggling to make that same choice.

I cried for my 15-year-old-son because as a teen with autism, he often feels like the walking definition of a pariah.

I watched Pariah and experienced the power of something much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, Pariah was a movie about a Black, lesbian girl. Yet it was so much more than that. Pariah induced a raw vulnerability in me that could only be felt from watching: eavesdropping and bearing witness to another human come into being. I cried because I watched. And through these tears came a cleansing that I didn’t even realize I needed.

Thank you, Dee Rees, for being a watcher and for passing along your power to see what others choose to ignore.

Writers Write.

I love it when the universe conspires in my favor. Last week, I had one of those completely unexpected life experiences.  I would be exaggerating just a bit by referring to it as life-altering, but it was an experience that, without any warning, invited me to think and change.As part of a field trip excursion, I was welcomed into the host’s private art studio. The host, a high school art teacher, amazed me at how prolific he was! Well over 500 paintings in his studio: most of them complete! On top of that, he was working on several commissioned pieces he was creating for family and friends.

In awe of the depth of his creative body of work, I inquired, “How do you make time to do all of this?”

I didn’t know him well, but what I knew of him led me to assume that “free time”was not something he frequently enjoyed. As a teacher with a wife and children, it seemed the only time he would have to paint would be weekends or perhaps summers.  He confessed that his weekdays were busy. He said that most of his creations came to life on the weekends, while listening to music or using his frustration (often with the Minnesota Vikings’ lack of defense) as inspiration to simply focus on something more positive: his art.

Me, 2001: English teacher at Arlington High School, St. Paul, Mn: Always working to instill the love of writing in my students.

It was one of those moments I wish I could have captured on video. But not the normal kind of video. The kind of video of the future, where what is seen by the viewer is narrated by the innermost thoughts of the person taping the scene. The camera would pan around the old, rustic barn studio and you would hear:

Wow. This man is a real artist. I know this because his body of work is tangible, right before my eyes. He is practicing the same kind of art that he teaches his students to create.  He is nurturing the art that feeds his soul.

 I call myself an artist too: my body of work? A collection of words. Strokes so carefully painted across my page to elicit images just as clear as those seen on each canvas before me.

If I had a studio, where my words could be displayed for all to see, would it be this beautiful?

Prolific?

Inspiring?

Would I even be proud enough to invite others in to see my work?  

Certificate from my first Young Author’s Conference, 1984. 5th grade. I found this in my Grandmother Meme’s belongings when she passed away in 2006.

My attempt at answering those questions would leave me unable to deny the difficult truth. As a self-proclaimed artist, I have not been nurturing the art that was meant to feed my soul.  I have been neglecting my spirit and instead, have allowed myself to make excuses for not living up to my artistic potential.  No more.

A year ago, my brother said something that directly relates to my most recent experience. Seeing my colleague’s studio brought my brother’s words to a concrete level of truth that was necessary for me to witness.  My brother said, “T:  intellectuals think. Prostitutes f*ck.  Writers write. You cannot call yourself a writer if you are not writing.” While I laughed at the crude humor inserted in his statement, in all of its simplicity, it was quite profound.

The man who invited me into his studio is an artist: a painter. He paints. Daily. Weekly. Yearly.

He has a brick and mortar studio where he can display his body of work; where he can tune out while tuning in. I do not have that kind of private space, so I must learn to create a studio in my own mind: A space where writing becomes the only thing that matters. My studio must begin inside of me.

Am I a writer? Well, I am today.

And tomorrow, I will let the words speak for themselves.