Monday, February 29, 2016

No One Owes You Anything. #Artist

Enter Lucy Van Pelt.  
It's the last day. The last day. This is it. Help me! Help me!

It's a brief scene from "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown". I always knew Lucy was an extremist. 

I had to step on a scale at the airport in Vieques so they could have my weight on file before we boarded the 6 passenger plane back to the mainland. Needless to say, the camera adds 38 pounds. I can take things to the extreme too, Lucy. Muscle relaxers help though. 

These past 28 days have taught me a lot about responsibility. Responsibility for myself. Accountability. Here's something anyone who bothers to create something needs to know:

No one owes you anything. 

This is hard for any person, creative or not, to accept. The money I have spent on therapy talking about my feelings of self-worth as an artist and a person in a community I sometimes feel doesn't want me, could finance a down payment on a lovely condo. Self-deprecating monologues about other people's careers and how I just know they directly effect mine. "Why do they think Molly Pope is doing something brilliant?" "Amber Martin is a joke. Don't they know what she did to me?" Virtually stalking the staff of Joe's Pub, a group of 20 somethings and nothing-somethings who are making creative decisions for the same twenty people over and over again, while they've stopped returning my phone calls and emails almost a year ago. Going into a tailspin of "They don't want me anymore. I must suck."  New York City being as small as it is, I can fall into other tailspins over members of other communities too. For example, I see people that look like me. Fellow black, gay artists walking around town. Some of whom I used to be connected to. They look at me now as though I've changed. 

"You've changed. You're daring. You're different in the woods" ~ the baker's wife

You have one little falling out with a community you never had much more than a similar skin tone in common with, and you can spend years feeling blacklisted (pardon the pun). There has always been a long history of black folks not supporting black folks. Ever since the first house nigger told the first field nigger "You can't come in here" that thing has existed. It's not about who has the most toys. That's what, I assume, white folks fight about. It's about never having had a toy in the first place, and then being told you have to share it. 

In whatever the situation I find myself. I have to remember:

No one owes me anything. 

And, more importantly, my story is different than his. Which is different than hers. Which is only important to me. Which should only be important to you. Your stuff is your stuff. And hers is hers. My toys belong to me. Your toys belong to you. Now tell me about them. 

Some of the seemingly racist things that have been said to me over the years (since the fourth grade):

"Do you get sunburns?" (2009)

"You know how black attracts the sun, right? Are you hotter than us?" (1992)

"So, wait. The inside of your palms and the bottoms of your feet aren't brown. Are you sure it isn't dirt?" (1985)

"Your teeth are seriously so white. Uggh. I'm so jealous." (2010, 2013, 2014, just the other day)

"I'm so sorry for your people." (1986)*
     *We had just learned about slavery. Rachel Levy came up to me afterward and said this. Verbatim. In response, I said "But didn't they put y'all in ovens?"  I got sent to the principal's office. 

The fact is, we can all get caught up in these things. I have. We all get caught up in the wires that make our own individual machine run. It's how you maneuver around them. Like a fox? Or like a Tasmanian devil?

I told you the other day how I got caught up in my phone going for a swim on our last day on the island. It could've sidelined everything. I didn't write for a day like I promised myself I would. I beat myself up for it. I am the only one responsible for what I am doing here. No one else is to blame. That's a hard pill to swallow. On its own. On my own. 

Having to sit down and orchestrate, create, write these entries each day for the last month has freed up the space that I was saving to dwell on unimportant people and their insignificant behavior patterns. I let go of "Well, she's never had to have a job in her life.  Why does it all have to work out for her?" and "He's not even reading any of what I'm writing here.  He obviously doesn't care about me as an artist or a friend." I let all of that go.  As soon as I did that, everything else became clear. As soon as I got out of my own way other things started to show up. 

Next week Michael and I get to perform "Jackson on Jackson: Niggahs With Attitudes" at The Duplex. A few weeks later, I'm singing in Sondheimas at 54 Below for Stephen Sondheim's birthday celebration. Then The Black-Ups have been invited back to DROM on April 2nd. Followed by a return to 54 Below to join Michael and the cast of "A Strange Loop" on April 26th.  And then fast to work on The Black-Ups heading to Club Oberon in Boston. None of this will be possible if I'm standing in the middle of the pathway toward my own self, stomping my feet, and complaining about someone else's story, which I'm not even reading. 

What helps? Writing. Building. Creating. Communicating. This project. Which, I'm very happy to announce, I will continue even though the month has ended. Not every day though, as I have stuff to prepare for. But a few times a week. "Sundays Are For Music" will continue each weekend. And a string of other stories I've been working on. It is fulfilling to me. To only me. I want the same for everyone.  I want to read and hear the stories of other people too.  It is allowing me to share. To share with myself. So I can remind myself of just how important I am to myself. My third or fourth show at Joe's Pub years ago was named after my favorite Zora Neale Hurston quote. It's also the title of her autobiography. 

"I Love Myself When I'm Laughing...And Then Again When I'm Looking Mean and Impressive". 

I like myself. A lot. And that's a battle enough.  From crosswalk to crosswalk, I have to remind myself of that.  I don't have time to worry if you like me or not. Life is far too short.  I only have a responsibility to be a good and genuine and respectful and truthful human being. In my travels, I  hope I meet you and you are so impressed with how much I love myself that you wanna come up and meet me at my level. And I will always do the same for you.

Thank you.
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