Telling the Truth

Mar 6, 2015

Oh, month of March -- I greet you with an ambivalent heart. After all, the snow still falls outside the big window in our little kitchen – that relentless lake-effect sifting that isn’t a storm, it’s a state of mind.  Still, I tromp through the crusted drifts to our forsythia bush to cut twigs to force into clustered canary blooms in windowsill vases.  The twigs are rough bronze on the outside but fierce green within.  Dead? Or Alive? I’m forcing them – and myself – to remember what hope looks like. 

I’ve been dwelling lately on a little poem by 20th century British writer Stevie Smith, who captures an ocean-side view of a swimmer who is either waving … or drowning.  Who can tell?  People on the shore misread the flailing arms … and the dying swimmer finally moans: “I was much too far out all my life/And not waving but drowning.”

I’m not sure I can read my own flailing right now, as I work to stay afloat in turbulent cultural waters. I watch the trailer for the documentary, The Hunting Ground, about pervasive sexual assaults on college campuses … and I feel utterly pulled under. Look up the trailer and you’ll see why many of us are organizing to show this film in our community. Universities are struggling to implement Title IX reporting of this violence, but many victims aren’t waiting – they are just speaking up, naming themselves as survivors and telling their truths, moving from drowning to scissoring to the surface.  Their creative activism, like the “Carry the weight” campaign, has inspired students nationally to carry dorm mattresses throughout campus – a powerful visual of private horror made public -- in a communitarian refusal to accept the status quo. Defiant, coordinated, clear: not drowning but waving.

That same energy surged through our local One Billion Rising flashmob under the State Theater marquee a few weeks ago, as bundled-to-the-eyeballs dancers shared in this global “rising” inspired by Eve Ensler to publicize the statistic that one billion women worldwide suffer from sexual violence in their lifetimes – 1 in 3 women.  That number could stop your heart, but One Billion Rising is a visual reminder that there are as many people – more of us, right?– who are willing to rise to stop this madness.  Together.  And with joy.  The day we danced, school had been cancelled because of the brutal wind chill, but still we rose: little kids and baby-boomers and college students, busting our moves stiffly, in snow pants, to “Sara Bareilles’s anthem “Brave,” pumping our arms and shouting into each other’s joyful faces the chorus:

Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave.

This time of year, I swing between the weight of teaching my college students so much bad news about global gender inequalities … and my delight in their outrage and energetic responses: Let’s organize an event!  Let’s write to the newspaper!  Let’s show up at a council meeting and just tell the truth! Their muscular optimism keeps me afloat.  I met some of their parents at recent Michiana Monologuesperformances, and I couldn’t stop smiling at the interplay between these pairs, seeing flickers of moms and dads in the faces and gestures of students I know pretty well this deep into semester.  There’s one more performance of this theatrical fundraiser for local non-profits that work to end violence. Come to IUSB’s Campus Auditorium at 7 on March 7 and you’ll hear electrifying local stories performed by a vibrant cast of women whose ages span 50 years.  Maybe you, too, need to shake off some paralysis, to wake up with the absurdity, rawness, and shock of the truth.  Add in a heart-thumping opening act by a hula-hoop troupe, the Northern Indiana Flow Jams, and you’ll remember that our ordinary bodies create an extraordinary chorus when we rise, speak, and move.  Not drowning alone, but waving, together.

Michiana Monologues performance, February 2015.