Themes are very important to each performance session of The Listening. When we get together, it is crucial that there be a focal point, a purpose that brings us all together. In the past they’ve ranged from life-pondering (“The Listening: Legacy”) to reminiscent (“The Listening: Renaissance”), and allowed a variety of artists to share their own thoughts and passions about the subject. Operating with this kind of cavalier hope is both an experiment and a gamble, ultimately because you really never know what the outcome will be.
There is no guarantee that anyone will come out to perform, no guarantee that they’ll actually be bold and passionate. There’s no way to know for sure if people even understand the theme, that is, until they are standing in front of a few dozen people, sounding off and speaking out.
Some of you may know that a little over a year ago, the little world that my wife and I were building was amazingly and wonderfully changed with the birth of our daughter, Naomi Alese. She is awesomely unique and brilliantly new, and I mean no exaggeration when I say that. Would I have wanted my first born to be a boy? Of course, but don’t take that to mean that I wish ‘she’ was ‘he’. I am perfectly content in who she is, with no wishes for a do over.
Having a baby is a time-consuming affair, a lot of which is spent just staring at her.
Seriously. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent just watching her discover new things.
I watched her become suddenly aware of her toes.
She’s so brand new to everything, things that I’ve since grown accustomed or de-sensitized to. She gazes at green leaves on trees. She stares at our cat with confusion and wariness. She studies the water coming out of the showerhead, analyzes the texture of the droplets with her fingertips.
And there’s so much more in store. I’ve begun saying stuff like, “Just wait until you learn about bacon,” or “You think teething is hard? Algebra is going to rock your world.”
Only a year old, and I’m projecting nights of wrestling with the Pythagorean Theorem on her.
Simply put, in this stage of her life, the possibilities are endless. Her story has only been written by One Author, and it ain’t me. She can literally do or be anything in this world, in my parental opinion.
Of course I think she can be anything. And I will tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, anything she sets her mind to. Olympian Rock-Paper-Scissors Champion? Definitely. First Female U.S. President? Of course. Best-Selling author of dog food recipes? Without a doubt. I began to go down a list of possibly vocations that she could succeed in, when I became saddened by a worrisome idea.
What happens when she tries to become any one of those things, but gets repeatedly told that “it’s not for her” or she should “try something else”?
As our daughters and sisters grow up, at some point, they learn from the world around them that maybe, just maybe, all those stories and encouragements were not true at all. Maybe she’s not supposed to want to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Maybe she should be a model or a singer or a nurse. Maybe her brother should be an Mixed Martial Arts fighter, not her. Maybe she shouldn’t worry about being a poet, because that’s not what we meant by “anything”.
That saddens me, because women are so awesome and so multifaceted and so diverse, limiting our views and perceptions of their abilities seems borderline criminal to me. Why can’t she be the dopest Secretary of Defense our country has ever seen? Why shouldn’t she be encouraged, not just by her family and friends, but the world around her, to smash athletic records in both genders and in all sports? Why would she only be allowed to be the next Beyonce or the next Michelle Obama?
And on the flip side of that coin, what if she isn’t that great at those things? Would that be so bad? What if she just wants to simply be?
If I have anything to say about it, her womanhood isn’t an idol to worship or place on a pedestal. She is enough, not because of anything constructed by society or culture. She is enough, based completely and literally off of what she’s made of.
So, for this session, I wanted to challenge the local poets, songwriters, dancers to ponder that as a theme. Not feminism. Not gender inequality. But Her. Whoever she is. We've all been impacted by women in some way; let's talk about it. We want to hear about her, in all shades and stages. We want to hear about why Nicki Minaj is better than Lil' Kim. We want to hear about all that.
We want to know how you feel about Sandra Bland.
We want to hear about your mother, your daughter, that girl you’ve been crushing on since middle school, that woman that made you hate women, that woman that made you love women. From Mother Nature to Lady Liberty. Good, bad, ugly, and all in-between.