Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Howl Manifesto

Liv and I sat in Cafe Lalo talking wildly with our hands about the pre-election fog that hovers heavy over everything like a great depression. Elegantly hunched over her steaming cappuccino, she said, "I wake up, I feel like I'm in mourning." I nodded, picking at my gourmet brownie which I could barely taste for all the grief stuck to my teeth.

I mean: Haiti underwater.
Galveston wrecked.
The Ninth Ward still barren.
Sex torture in the DRC.
An aerial wolf hunter running for Vice President.
A prison industrial complex reminiscent of slavery.
A crashing economy.
An expensive-ass war on terror.
And we still ain't found Bin Laden.

These are weep-worthy times, my friends.

I rented The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman, a film about an alien virus that conquers the human body during sleep. When you wake up, you still look human and can access your human memories, but you've become an unearthly monster with an outerspace agenda and the urge to bite, contaminate and clone. Kidman's character struggles to stay awake in an effort to stay human. She quickly learns "to pass" as one of the invaders since, unlike us, they don't emote. The aliens speak in even tones. They glide. They state. They process information neutrally. They remain centered and calm ― even as they kill. They are action without reaction. Terrifying, efficient.

If these creatures raided my planet, I realized that I, too, could mimic them successfully. I equate a cool demeanor with street smarts and, on the street, I epitomize Poker Face.

I didn't flinch, for example, when a stray New York City stranger shouted "Skinny Nigger" at me as I exited the subway one morning. I didn't blink when another urban lunatic called me "Cunt" while I waited for the 2 train one lonely afternoon. Random acts of aggression tend to throw me into trance. I stare at unexpected aggressors like I'm watching the evening news. It's not that I'm desensitized; I've just learned how to appear to be. I can float above an appalling situation, analyze it objectively, keep my sanity and quietly proceed.

This wasn't always the case. Years ago, I wrote a slam poem called "The Fuck You Now Manifesto" in which I gave my fed-up self the permission to be expressively angry at aggressors, to fight fire with fire, to fiercely defend myself. When I perform the "Manifesto," I seem to channel Kali. It's a heroic, empowering piece. It makes everybody laugh.

But rage is the cocky version of despair. And I wonder what would happen if ― in stunning moments of public, unfiltered cruelty like the ones I've cited above ― I simply allowed myself to be a broken-hearted human being. What if I responded with my honest-to-God, present-tense, flesh-and-blood sadness instead of channeling the superhuman power of Kali or Pele?

So next time someone calls me out by name, denies global warming is man-made or threatens to drill into earth, I'm gonna admit how much it hurts. I'm gonna grieve aloud and loudly with the urgent candor of a newborn child. I'll make a sweeping, sorrowful scene, thrash about like a toddler, tug on my dreadlocks, stomp the pavement and moan. I'll use my fists to pound my chest and the sound will resonate in solidarity with all the suffering of this world. I'm gonna fight fire with water, with tears. And maybe you will join me. Maybe we'll form a spontaneous siren chorus of urban, grieving women.


In the face of this violent alien virus, may we stay wide awake and howl. May our mourning ritual begin to heal the planet.

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