During the holidays, I become a hermit. I mean, I plan special holiday-type stuff with my kids and all, but for the most part, I don't talk to anybody. It's the one time of year when I just insist on being to myself. One of the main reasons for this is that though I try very hard to have "holiday cheer," I really don't like the holidays--lots of bad memories of holidays past. So each year during holiday-time, I endure through January 3 and then try to emerge from the funk . . . and this year, lo-and-behold, I'm back in cyber world reading emails about Bao's posts on the Star Tribune blog (he also wrote another one besides the one Catzie mentioned below about his memories from a decade of Asian American Spoken Word and his favorite APIA CDs of the decade. Check it out here
) and then in going to post about it on our blog, read Catzie's own post. And Giles' FB and blog post. And Catzie's "thank you" to me at the end. And I had to take a day b/c I was not expecting--nor wanting--to feel all mushy-gushy.
In truth, the past 10 years in the spoken word scene has been very difficult, inside and outside of the APIA spoken word community. I only had to look at Bao's recent post about APIA spoken word artists and see the fucked up, spiteful comments from other hatin' APIA's and maybe some white people and Bao's own diplomatic, keep-his-dignity responses to have all the heaviness rush on me with full force. And it pisses me off. And it makes me sad. And it makes me tired. But like Bao, I want to focus on the positives so badly . . . but, see, I'm also notorious for saying all the things that need to be said no matter how raw . . .
So how to strike a balance? *sigh* First of all, I want to say to Catzie that I am honored to be Yellow Rage with you. You mention the Something to Say wksp at AAI and "Who woulda thunk?" we would ever be here 10 years later having done and seen and felt all that we have. When I think back over the last 10 years, there are certain things that pop up in my memory immediately, like, Sapna and the first time we slammed for DPJ at Brave New World and that fucking snowboard (remember?) and freestylin' to the blue backstage light bulb in Aspen and running for the train in DC and the first time we met Beau and "You ain't Asian--you're Puerto Rican. I heard you speaking Spanish backstage . . ." and getting a standing ovation when we taped DPJ and being in NYC right after 911 and "Omar, drink water!!!" and the mango poem ("Who's cleaning the microphone?") and FABA (Yellow Rage and Yellow Peril, baby) and the Summit and . . . OMG, I could go on forever b/c one memory leads right into another. But the point is, that all of these memories are special b/c I have you to share them with. The stage and the road can be a lonely place and people can drive ya nuts, but you have been so instrumental in making it all bearable and worthwhile. No one can ever really know, truly, all the hate we've gotten over the years nor felt, profoundly, the love we have been blessed to receive. You have been there to keep my spirits up, to make me laugh, to hear me bitch and rant, to give me a reality-check, to get out of my way when I'm pissed, to offer advice when I needed it, to not judge me in my most embarrassing moments, to accept my shortcomings, to forgive my fuck ups. You have inspired me, forced me to be on my game with the lyrics, and supported me on stage. I'm thankful for your creativity and humor and honesty. I'm fortunate and blessed to have you as my poetry partner. You are my little sis, and I love you. I don't say it enough.
To the APIA spoken word/hip hop/artist/activist community: OMG, you all keep me grounded. And there's something to be said for not having to prove myself over and over again, you know? B/c I know there's love here and respect and support. Similar to what Bao said in his post, I'm all for cross-community alliances and building but sometimes it's so stressful. And the disrespect in and from other communities that I've gotten this past year has been . . . breathtaking. But I mention my desires and frustrations of trying to find folks to do youth violence prevention work with to my friend Rodney Camarce, amazing visual artist and former member of Isangmahal and former founder/host of the Mantra open mic series in Philly, and he says, "I got you, Michelle." And it's done. I'ma be working with youth in the Philly school system through the Mural Arts Program. Done. And I said to myself, "Why do I even bother with folks who don't know me?" Same thing with Bao Phi. OMG, I owe Bao so much. He is so patient and intelligent and generous and sincere and sacrificing. He has seen the ugliest parts of me, heard me bitch like no one else, listened to so many--too many--humiliating confessions. And he has forgiven me. And has had my back like no one else has. And when there's community work to be done and supported, and I tell Bao I want to be there, it's done. The Up in Arms Fong Lee Fundraiser this past Oct--done. Not only did he and other organizers put on a massive, beautiful event, but the love that I got was so moving. Juliana, Bao's partner and amazing poet in her own right (and fellow fierce Hapa sister!), brought me to the stage with one of the most amazing intros I've ever received and her about-to-burst 9-month mama-belly. So warming . . . God, there's so many wonderful people I could go and on about--Robert Karimi, Anida, Sham, Jenny, Regie, Taiyo, Magnetic North (Theresa and Derek), Kelly, Jessica, Gary, Gayle, Omar, Theresa W.--my dear, beautiful, generous friends Kao and Lisa. And inspiring, loving people, like Yuko and Rufus--who is not APIA but is one of the family :) Artists who sent me beautiful, spirit-lifting emails this past year, like Kristina, Traci, Makoto. Fans and supporters. I'm sure there's someone I'm forgetting . . . I love you all. You give me hope. You lend me strength. You keep me fighting.
To my spoken word poetry family at Community College of Philadelphia: OMG, you guys (is Stephen making fun of me? :), where do I begin? Lindo, Stephen, Rell, Alisha, Steve, Melissa, Virter: Probably no other people in my life right now know me better than you guys. I love you all for that. You are the rare few who gets to see Shelly-Shell, but you accept me for all of who I am. You have seen me bawl my eyes out, lose my temper, almost get into fights, cuss up a storm, hate on people, diss poets (even ones you've liked), and be mad insecure. You make me laugh, treat me like family, eat my food--which I do make with sooo much love :) You write me letters, texts, emails, and poems. You take my creative critiques and work on your craft. You listen to my new work and come to my shows. You worry about me. You know when to give me space. You get protective of me, especially when you think I put myself out there too much . . . You tell me and show me, each in your own ways, that you care about me. You are all so funny and warm and sweet and creative and fearless and smart. I cherish you. You have saved my life. There's too much I can say . . . I love you with all my heart.
To my family: Finally, I could not breathe or speak or write or perform or live without the inspiration and support I receive from my family. I have sacrificed so much to be a poet, to be part of Yellow Rage. To try--no matter how corny it sounds--to make the world a better place. Which is so ironic b/c I never aspired to be Yellow Rage or a poet or an activist . . . I have missed birthdays and not called my mom or my brother for weeks. I have written poems when I should have been spending time with my kids. I have went to perform in shows when I should have been figuring out how to talk to and reconnect with my oldest daughter. I have blogged or negotiated contracts when I should have been working on my relationship with my husband. And we all have suffered for it. But no matter how painful that has been, the truth is that I couldn't create, perform, or give back to the community without their continued love and support. They have believed in me even in my darkest moments and loved me when I didn't deserve it. At the end of the day, it's kissing their faces and holding their hands and hearing their laughter that make me smile. And I just hope that one day, when the dust settles, they will understand what I was trying to do and can forgive me . . .
That is my retrospective of the past 10 years. Thank you for giving me the time and space to share and grow.
Happy New Year, everyone. I send you best wishes for the year(s) to come, but also hope you count your blessings now.