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Smoke signals from that September

It was back in 2001, and I was worried about the state of the world, and of this country in particular. We had a president who I’d never liked (and who publicly had stated more than mere dislike of my religion), who had paid millions to hide his abysmal environmental record and other aspects of his tenure as governor of Texas; a president who many believed had acquired that office through a variety of underhanded tactics rather than fairly elected (a claim that I thought was likely true, but I tried to keep an open mind). With a born-again President, the more judgmental of the religious right were being more vocal, as if having a conservative President made them feel more free to insist everyone else should believe and live according to their own ideals.

This was particularly stressful at my house, since I live with a transgender woman who does not “pass”, and who suffers from severe anxiety disorder as well; although Milwaukee is much kinder to folks who look different than her previous home (Kansas City), with the renewed vehemence from the TV evangelists and their followers, she was afraid that her presence could bring violence to me and my young daughter. As summer drew to a close, the President had a falling approval rating, in which I found hope. I felt that people were seeing him and his policies more clearly.

We went to a women’s festival in Kansas in September, and took my daughter as well, sending a note to her school. It was a wonderful, magical experience. There was a workshop on sign language by a deaf woman named Ocean. There were drumming workshops by Ubaka Hill, with a sign-language interpreter; the deaf women were loaned big drums or allowed to sit with their backs against a drum someone else was playing, so they could experience the vibrations that they could not hear. There was a workshop on deaf culture and singing two notes at the same time (at which I failed miserably).

There was a workshop for women who’d been sexually abused, right in the middle of the merchant’s area, so I got to listen to part of it as I shopped. That alone speaks volumes about the level of trust and good will at this gathering, that women scarred by violence felt safe to attend such a workshop in the heart-center of the site, with people not participating in the workshop able to see and hear them.

There was a wonderful, beautiful and respectful presentation and art exhibition of nude photographs and sculptures by artists who wanted to express their belief that all women’s bodies are beautiful, regardless of weight or age, scars or natural lopsidedness. The images were beautiful, and powerful, though none of the women pictured looked like a Hollywood model. It took my breath away.

I sold some t-shirts, sang some songs, and did some painting. Angel got the very precious, to her, chance to spend time in women-only space (this festival had decided that people who would sacrifice so much to be women should be accepted as such; this is far from a universal attitude.) My daughter got to run free, and go swimming, and experience a very different bit of life than going to a public school in an American city (albeit a very special and wonderful public school). I took time from packing up, the last day, to go to the ending ritual, where we got into two circles, one inner and one outer, faced each other, and sang to each woman or girl we faced, in turn, “All I ask of you is forever to remember me inside your heart”.

I returned home having been reminded that people can live in harmony and friendship, honoring the beauty in each other despite differences of shape, color, perspective, and culture. And despite the scars of having been hurt, or belittled, or rejected. I returned home with hope in my heart.

And after the very long drive home, sleeping in part while Angel drove and in part in my bed after unloading the car, I went to work the next day. Early that morning, I got an instant message from a friend, who knew better than to send foul language to me at work. I wrote back to chide him, but that was quickly forgotten. It was September 11th.

The rest of that day, and that week, seemed so very surreal, the images in my head so very different, almost like different worlds

Smoke rising from a shared campfire,
smiles, and live music,
animated sign language,
creating and sharing beauty,
gifts of healing received with honor
talk of building bridges together
Smoke rising from the ruin of a building, 
would-be rescuers killed,
adults, children, all races, all creeds--
so many dreams destroyed together,
so many ugly images, us vs. them
talk of revenge
Ordinary people taking time to translate,
time to talk, time to listen to other viewpoints,
to sing and dance and make beauty,
to be respectful, to consider before taking action.
Elected officials rushing to vote on a huge bill
without taking time to read it or discuss it
(even in my shock, I wondered
how do they know it’s a good bill,
and who had time to write all those pages,
and when, and with what motives?)
Tears of healing 
Tears of pain
Open hands
Hands with weapons
Words of Welcome
Words of War
There were so many contrasts, so many many things that showed me that how we see the world, how we look at each other, and how we choose to act, individually and collectively, creates the kind of world we live in.

I read once that we are faced every day--every time we can do one thing or another--with the choice to act out of love, or out of fear.

The contrasts in my experiences that September seem to embody the extremes of both paths. There’s no guarantees of a good outcome either way, of course. Love and trust can be abused just as fear and hatred can be exploited.

But I know which kind of world I would rather live in, and which risks I would rather take, both personally and as a country.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it.

I had not thought of singing the antiphony; mostly I sing at SF cons, and it’s too easy to get burnt-out on songs about stuff like the Challenger disaster when lots of people want to sing their new songs, all in the same weekend.

I’m dyslexic, but the only problem I have noticed with reading music is lack of practice. Of course, at this point the only problems I normally note are with numbers; I’ve trained so much on writing that I regularly spell things for non-dyslexic people, something that I would not have predicted back in grade school. And I do music “by ear”, really, not by reading staff paper. The staff paper, when I have it, is more of a reminder than “reading”.

But I do like this thought of color music notation.

I have long thought that it should be possible to have a computer program that, with a hearing operator/composer/translator, could translate music into color-patterns. I think I’ve had this image in my head, to some extent at least, because I experienc music, especially when I’m deeply listening, on a seat-of-the-pants level, as movement and volume. Although there is more texture and taste than color in my internal experience, color would be much easier to do as a translation element than those other senses, though vibration could also be possible, with newer technology, now that I think of it in the context of the drums I was relating above. Ideally, this “translation” could be enjoyed by both hearing and non-hearing people. Hmm…for lyrics, one could either work written words into the translation or images of a sign language interpreter.

Did you know that even when translating for a band, sign language interpreters are supposed to be formal and not move around much? They are trained to try to be invisible, to not attract attention away from the speaker or singer. But, it seems to me that that leaves the music invisible, untranslated, and incomplete.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
You should go to a filk where judyfilksign is and watch. Or maybe someone has posted her on U-tube. She's quite talented--was nominated for a "best performer" award at OVFF for her signing.

I've seen her dancing to Kathy Mar's Edward (it has a line "Edward, I am dancing in your snow"); she explained that the first time, she got up to sign and tripped, and so turned it into a dance step and incorporated it into the translation of the whole song rather than admit it was accidental.

I understand (also from Judy) that The Wiggles put it in their contract for sign language interpreters that their interpreters must wiggle to the music...but that is very unusual.

As to the stuff on computers today, it seems to be a combination of computer- or pre-generated effects/images that the imaging program has canned regardless of the album/song playing, combined with something like an oscilliscope, connected to volume only, from what I've seen. Though I can't claim to have seen everything out there (at least I hope I can't).
Sep. 18th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
Beautiful. Thank you for posting.
Sep. 19th, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading! And thanks for commenting.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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