One of my very good friends, Karen Grace (above), lives in New York City. Her activist heart is filled each work-day as an employee of our country’s first LGBT homeless youth center. In the evenings, her overflowing creative juices are captured as she competes around the city as a highly respected and recognized slam poet.
There are recent times we have talked where she reflects on how hard it is to wrap her mind around her everyday reality, literally living her dream. It’s been quite a journey to this spot, as her current existence is a far cry from the very conservative and rural Louisiana home in which she was raised.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to New York to watch her compete. That evening was a regional qualifier for the women slam poet world’s most high profile national competition. I had no idea what I was walking in to. Over the years my friend would perform some of her material to an audience of one, over Skype. Her poems are so raw. So heavy. So real.
Yet at the same time they are a fragile assessment of how her story fits into the world’s larger narrative (or if you’re a New Yorker, you feel New York is the world’s larger narrative). I could see why she was gaining so much respect in a city, and a sub-culture, that doesn’t dish out praise too often.
What I didn’t realize that first evening as I walked into an upstairs bar in the West Village, is that my friend’s passion for the art of crafting one’s tender and intense inner journey into stanzas timed out to three minutes is not unique to her, but also to so many others with shared experiences. I stood, packed tightly in this bar with a hundred others in the audience who were each preparing themselves to enter into the most honest of spaces; spaces that feed their souls like what I had always been taught church was supposed to do.
Round after round those women walked meekly onto the five-by-five stage, stepped up to the standing microphone that never quite stood as tall as it was intended, and with each word they ripped their beating heart out for all to see; judge; relate; revere.
I couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming captivation of the moment. It felt like each of the women were walking around the bar slapping us all in the face as hard as they could, as if we were the ones causing their pain. And when our cheeks were red and puffy with an indented hand print pulsating to the beat of our hearts, those same women circled around each of us to hold us and tell us it will be ok.
Unlike any other, women hold the binds of time in such opposing juxtapositions. They have been placed with the responsibility to be everything to everyone, from raising children (theirs and others), to be perfect citizens, while also being saddled with the unrealistic expectations to have the perfect image to not only surrounding society, but also sexually.
I think to the complex women in my own life: comforting and cutting; righteous and insecure; soft and strong; powerful and gentile; carriers of deep painful yet fully alive. Women are the survivors of expectations. Like only how women can.