Mockingbirds

EDIT EDIT: I did my first spoken word reading in Korea last night at a bar in KSU called Cafe Radio. It was so great to be back in front of a microphone reading my words again. When I was there, I was surprised by how much I had missed the concept of reading poetry in general. Of course, I miss Barley Rhymes and Hops on Birch, because they are populated and run by the best people in the world.

As it turns out, though, I also miss just sharing my work. I miss having a reason to put poetry together. I miss the bravery it takes to stand up in front of people (beer in hand, of course) and lay everything bare, to be open, to say here I am–well, part of me–take me or leave me.

WordZ Only gave me the opportunity to do that again. I’m looking forward to attending many more events in the future, and writing a lot more because of it.

Tell me what you think of my reading in the comments!

EDIT: Nick was actually featured reading this poem in Episode 3 of Barley Rhymes’s web series! Yay! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTd4lmi88_U#t=449

I don’t really fit here.

Korea is beautiful. The ocean, the mountains, the forests… I see amazing, beautiful things everyday. But I don’t fit. I think maybe there are places where you feel immediately at home, as if you always should have been there, and there are other places that you merely exist in, no matter how much they have to offer. For me, Busan is the latter. There is nothing wrong with this place, but it’s just so very far from the person I am.

I wrote a poem on this theme, my first in quite a while, and I wanted to share it here with you all. (My brother also read it at the best spoken word poetry EVER, Barley Rhymes! You should definitely check out their web series. Nick doesn’t appear, but tons of other great poets do!)

Enjoy.

Mockingbirds

There are birds here,
black and white,
that look like mockingbirds.


A thin, dark-haired woman,
smiles, wrinkling the corners of her narrow eyes.
Every morning she tells me
about something beautiful.
Today, she says
that when a Korean hears the song
of the black and white birds,
she will know
good luck is coming.


I step out of her car
and the bird we’ve been watching
picks insects
from between blades of grass–
silently.


In the hills behind my school building,
there are dozens of tiny farms.
One day, I stand on a road and watch.
A man squats over a row of cabbage
while the birds
fly in arcs from field to forest
above his head,
landing first on green house,
then rooftop,
then nesting in the nearby trees,
singing.


The sun sinks and their black bodies are silhouetted
against the grey and pale pink sky’s
dimming light.


Sixteen birds on a wire
turn their backs to my bus as it passes.
If they are singing, it is a sound
I don’t hear.


Are you mocking me,
bird in the grass
with your beak too full of bugs
to speak?


Or do you know
I’ve already had my share of luck,
enough to bring me here
to a country road
where you shower a man with your song,
to a setting so pastoral,
it seems pulled from a painting
in a history book,
removed from time
and set here
on this hill
just far enough from the highway
for the song birds to stay.


One evening, I walk through woods.
My path winds its way
around houses with crumbling concrete walls
that were once washed in brilliant white,
and then between fences
built to keep farms
and farmers in,
and then between clumps of bamboo shoots
and trees with fall reddened leaves.


Among the farm plots
sit small shacks, of plastic sheeting
placed against itself at right angles.
From one shelter,
across the ravine,
I hear saxophone notes.
They follow one another slowly,
then a few burst forth
all at once,
unable to endure the wait,
to sit back in a man’s breath
while the others
ring out clear,
in the cool air,
building a melody that settles
on foreign ears,
ears that are deaf to all language but this.


The notes rise and fall
and drag from her a sweet sadness.
She thinks of her home
and she smiles and cries all at once.
The notes penetrate her chest
and massage her heart
until its beats slow,
fill her lungs until her breath
comes deep
and low.
Her eyes close.


She stands there,
her non-conforming blonde hair,
her clothes that aren’t right,
her voice only capable of forming words
that don’t belong here,
and she listens.


The notes sweep up the hillside and break
against the edges of the ravine,
like water over the spillway of a dam.
The melody surrounds her
until she is no longer separate
from this country, from this world,
until she is no longer a woman
among the trees and
the breeze and
the sound.
She is sound.
She is breeze.


She opens her eyes
and a bird that’s not a mockingbird
flies silently by.


My luck has all been spent,
she thinks,
chest tightening,
eyes closing.


Alone in the forest,
slow saxophone tones
carry her home.

The Word of the Day Is: Vulnerability

UPDATE: I linked you below to the Barley Rhymes Facebook page because they’re YouTube site was unavailable, but it’s back! Watch Barley Rhymes Episode One here!

I started out my morning reading this post on my favorite blog, Paging Dr. NerdLove, and he hit on a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit recently. NerdLove’s piece is skewed–necessarily given his audience–toward how being vulnerable is a boon to your dating life, but underlying the how to get better with women premise of the article is woven a complicated story about the myriad ways that vulnerability affects our relationships with others and with ourselves.

I’ve been thinking specifically about vulnerability and performance, because I have plans to do A LOT of performing, both in very public, on-stage kind of ways, and in more private, among my friends sorts of ways. A while back, I saw a TED talk by Amanda Palmer (one of my pop culture heroes) called, “The Art of Asking.” This talk focused on developing close personal relationships with your fans and allowing those connections to fund your art as opposed to the more traditionally corporate way of making money via art by signing with a label and so on. The talk intrigued me in a number of ways. I was employed by a non-profit at the time and was very interested in how its themes crossed over with and might be applied to asking the community to support my organization. But perhaps what hit me the most, and the reason that it comes to mind for me many months later, was Palmer’s emphasis on vulnerability and connection.

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us,” Palmer claims, “if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly.” I love that language, and that idea–connection with other human beings is giving fearlessly, receiving fearlessly.

Maybe I like it because I spent many years doing everything I could to be invulnerable. Because I spent many years afraid. I was prone to trying to show just how unflappable I was even as a kid, and then I spent a good long time dating a man who controlled me, in part by invalidating the pieces of myself that I exposed to him, so I conditioned myself to keep–well, myself–pretty well under wraps. Around that same time, though, although it terrified me in some ways, I found that I actually really enjoyed being on stage. I gave a talk at my college’s undergraduate symposium/benefit concert (about connecting with people actually…it’s been a long running theme in my life), and I sort of loved it.

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I totally failed to post any pictures before like I said I would...)

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I failed to post any of the other pictures I said I would.)

As I gradually started to rejoin the world, I found myself more and more interested in developing the part of myself that got such a thrill from putting myself out there, eventually on stage. I began dancing in public, singing karaoke, and reading poetry at my favorite bar. (Shout out to Barley Rhymes and their excellent new film series!) I talked to one Barley Rhymes audience member once who told me that she couldn’t do what I had done; she couldn’t make herself so vulnerable on stage. I knew where she was coming from, because I was scared every time I did it. As Dr. Nerdlove puts it, “Vulnerability is about willingly, even deliberately, opening yourself up to rejection, to judgement and humiliation.” Those are pretty valid things to be afraid of.

At the same time though, when you get up on a stage (or step onto a dance floor, or speak up about in a crowd, or sing aloud), you are saying to the world, I’m here, and I’m not ashamed of it. Some of the people watching or listening will judge you; some will reject you. You might say or do something humiliating. You might fail. Then, when you do that thing anyway–when you willingly expose deeply personal parts of yourself, all that potential failure and judging and possible bad stuff just sort of falls away. Maybe you do fine. Maybe you make a huge mistake (hell–I’ve seen countless videos of Amanda Palmer, ROCK STAR, stopping mid-show because she screwed something up, but then she just laughs it off, picks back up and keeps going). Either way, you let yourself be yourself in the world–you let people see you.

Not everyone needs a stage to do this, of course. There are plenty of intimate conversations that have the same effect. Even the fiction I’m currently writing, even this blog post, expose me to your judgement. But, I’m getting to the point where I’m interested in sort of the next level of human connection. The one where I stand in front of a crowd people and become open to their judgement. Maybe it’s an over correction after doing my best for so long not to have a presence. I want them to see me. I want them to feel like, in a way, they know me. And I want to know them.

Here, in this new place, I’ve picked up some hobbies, that I am planning to use to further my education in being vulnerable…and reap the benefits of the confidence and sense of self it gives me. I am learning to play the guitar. And while I’m doing in because it is just a really good way for me to spend my time (I’ll likely post another time about that…), I am also doing it with an eye toward performance. My goal is to be good enough to perform at an open mic night by the time my birthday rolls around in February. I think I can get there–I won’t know many songs, but all I really need is one!

I’m also singing with a group, which will improve my open mic performance, but also gives me a broader range of musical skills, especially when it comes to harmonizing and connecting with other musicians. I’m still getting used to sharing my voice with others. I had a sort of confidence crushing moment years ago that I’m really working to overcome, so using my voice at all is a huge level of vulnerability for me. Singing with this group is a good conditioning for getting me ready to sing on stage.

Additionally, I’m joining a group of newbie burlesque dancers. I’m looking forward to the kind of control and command of my body that dance will give me. I’m also looking forward to participating in a performance that allows me to communicate that I not only to I have a presence, but also a body and a sexuality, and I’m not ashamed of any of them.

I hope that in communicating those elements of myself, I am able to leave things open for a reciprocal exchange–that by saying hello people, this is me, I will open the door for others to authentically share themselves with the world as well.

Korea for me is turning out to be a place where (at least in my off-time) I am much less prone to letting life happen to me, and much more ready and willing to take charge of it. I am becoming an agent in my own experiences. I am choosing to be vulnerable. And I feel stronger and more capable than I ever have.