May 142012
 

Roz: who sat in the cafe writing her first poem in a dozen years, preparing for her moment of stage glory. She blitzed it, gentle grace.

The N word.

A young black man steps up to the microphone and blasts poetry from his mouth that begins with the N word.

Nasty, sharp.

He is talking to his brothers with words that twist and turn like the rope of his hair, callin’ them to attention with N, N, N, callin’ them out, callin’ them in, callin’ them he sees how they treat ‘their’ women, he sees them lazy, he sees them steppin’ back from their responsibilities as men.

But all I can truly hear is N, N, N.

Lady Vee steps up to the microphone: ‘Let’s give it up for free speech,’ she says.

But not for the N word.

Lady Vee DaPoet is a woman of power and presence, a performer and poet of grace and skill and our MC for an open mic night in which I am the guest star.

She’s clever too – you can find her given name in her stage name.

(I’ll put Australians out of their quizzical misery – it’s DaVeata.)

Before intermission and after a steady line of delicious performance in that crowded Urban Grind cafe, Lady Vee introduces her next guest with such gusto, passion, enthusiasm, intelligence and respect that I look around the room thinking ‘wow, whose this gonna be …?’ – and it’s me.

The room is mostly young; they are confident, their hearts bursting with their own promise. They perform their poetry and sing their songs like for all the world they do this every week, which they do, and the world is waiting for their gift, which it ought to be. Theirs is the bold entitlement inherent to all Americans blessed with a microphone and a stage.

It’s my turn. I step up. I look around. The room is all black. In America’s South I have a new box – I am not just a woman, I am a white woman. And everywhere I go at the moment I am the only white woman in the room. It took me a while to realize this. And I am starting to wonder why this is so. I’ve not had a single white person in my audience in the South. On the surface it looks like the South has come a long long long long way in race relations. Black people own big houses and drive beautiful cars. You will find them on both sides of the counter, just like whites – the waited upon and the waiting on. I wonder if white people do not come to black events on purpose. Or if the cultures at their most comfortable simply celebrate differently. Or if black people would prefer white people stayed away. And if trust is yet a while away at the South’s social core.

I suspect there is still a big conversation to be had in the USA. Or perhaps some folks is tired of havin’ it.

Lady Vee asks me a question about my journey with my son. It is supposed to be a Q&A. As I draw to the end of my answer I look over to find her sitting down – I am on my own. So I draw my story out and then I read, three passages that bring the house down.

My publisher is pleased.

I’m relieved, because I had decided this was an audience who needed to hear some things and rather than play safe with beauty and mild adventure in prose, I slugged them with stories of worlds they know in ignorance, with a short history of what things were like for women just a generation or two before me and my favorite story of all: the one about how the men of the Arab world gave me the greatest gift of all, the gift of self; how they modeled for me what it is to fill your own space with nothing but . . . yourself. Speaking as a woman, that was an extraordinary experience. These are men so confident in their own bearing they do not spill their energy beyond their own boundaries. Every woman on Earth should feel, as a birthright, what it is to fill our own space and unapologetically possess all of it, right out to a circle of about three feet around us. All mine. No encroachment. I have never experienced this in the West.

On the drive back to my hotel, through Atlanta’s Saturday night traffic rushing home in the rain, I thought again about the N word.

And was reminded of my experiment with the C word. These two words, as far as I’m concerned, are in competition for the ‘Worst English Word on Earth’. They are sickening words, hateful words. Many years ago, a few friends were experimenting with the C word, with speaking it out loud. We would call each other a C and roll around laughing, doing our best to take the sting out of a hateful word.

One day I went too far. I emailed my sister (at work!) with just one four-letter word. It was bold, red and typed in font so big it filled the entire screen. I thought I was being funny. She never said a word. And to this day she never has.

Imagine, opening an email at work and staring down that word. A big loud angry C word, in your face. My sister was not part of the experiment. That word came out of the blue and must have slapped her so hard it took the wind out of day.

The N word. Perhaps he was experimenting with claiming that which hurt like hell, a way of possessing the power others think they have over you.

Like women who reclaim the C word.

And now there is a whole movement of women reclaiming the S word with an annual event called Slut Walk.

I understand their mission, but I cannot join them.

 May 14, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »
May 102012
 

Lucinda Clark, Dr Ira E Harrison, Stephanie Dale

CASCADE LIBRARY, ATLANTA, GA

 

Wowowowowowow. That pretty much sums up Dr Ira E Harrison’s response to an extract of My Pilgrim’s Heart, at the Cascade Library in Atlanta, Georgia, last night.

Ira had been skittled by the paragraph at the top of page 9.

He stood before his audience of writers and readers of poetry and prose to introduce me to the group, stumped for words as he read out the passage.

He had us all laughing out loud.

And me deeply appreciative that he had picked up on a small piece of writing that I loved – and not a single  other reader has picked up on until Ira.

It was this:

My husband and I venture a conversation. And then he says one of the few truly honest things he’s ever said to me: ‘I wanted a wife to stand behind me,’ he said. I remember thinking ‘yes’ and saying nothing. I remember thinking ‘I am behind you’. 

I am behind you and I am in front of you. I am above and below you, inside and outside of you. I am a woman, as well as your wife, and I am wherever you put your attention. In this way, I flit in and out of your view. I am omnipresent and multidimensional. I am beyond your control.

Atlanta is two and a half hours from Augusta, where I’m staying with my publisher, Lucinda. As we raced down to the road to the Cascade Library, I was struck by iconic road signs, at least to an Australian with a love of country music.

Chattanooga (choo choo). Montgomery (an angel, Bonnie Raitt – who always reminds of another woman I adore, Susan Sarandon). Birmingham (not a song, just heartbreak and courageMontgomery too, for that matter).

But wait! There is a song for Birmingham, a long long time favourite by Emmylou Harris.

 

 

 May 10, 2012  Tagged with: , , , ,  2 Responses »
May 082012
 

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA

 

This big house in Augusta, Georgia is my now-home.

The room on the right with the open windows is mine.

The house belongs to my publisher, Lucinda, whose welcoming smile and southern sense of hospitality have carved out a space for me that is all mine.

All morning I wrote a speech, getting ready for tomorrow, the first true book event of my US tour, a couple of hours down the road in Atlanta.

This afternoon I took a walk down to the Savannah River rapids. If I’d heard that name, Savannah, when I was pregnant with my daughter she’d be named for the power, grace and beauty of that word.

Like maintenance free communities all over the modern world, the wild places in Martinez, Augusta are to be found in scattered weeds, pine needles that refuse to be hemmed by trimmed lawns, treetops and puddles.

The temperature is perfect. Warm and humid, the breeze bringing stories from the east.

I find the river and sit on a low rock wall listening to the shush of the water over the stones I cannot see. I long to go down to the water’s edge, but the fact I left my windows open in that big Georgian house is pecking at my brain – I swear mine are the only open windows in all of Georgia and, after all, it’s not my house.

I walk back the way I came, for a moment scissored between clipped urban woods, a mile or so back up the road. In the house, I follow the darkened corridor to my room, the slow fan twirling on the ceiling, afternoon sunshine shooting through those wide open windows, and I close my door against the chill of the air-con ranging through the rest of the house.

. . . there’s a reason warm and sultry places throw up warm and sultry women.

 May 8, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
May 072012
 

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

 

Downtown Atlanta looks like it’s preparing for a party whose guests never came.

Those party streets are as empty now on Sunday morning as they were when I arrived at 8pm last night.

I’m just out for a wander through the empty streets, headed towards the shining gold dome lit up by the early morning sunshine – the Capitol Building, of course.

All the parking spaces for the Governor’s staff are filled; they’re mighty committed to Georgia, I must say.

Across the road is the imposing Shrine of the Ascension, the white-tipped church of the Roman Catholics, and, before that, the smaller, somewhat sweeter grey church of the Presbyterians.

Why am I not surprised there is only a thin line between church and state in Georgia?

On the street are the tired, all crumpled and worn; the weary, pushing little trolleys loaded with their worldly possessions away from the rising sun; and the early for church in their Sunday bests. All seven of us.

A squirrel bounds across a wide road, a bus bearing down upon it. Sometimes I wonder if squirrels are all that’s left of the animals of the lower half of the USA. Little bitty animals sitting right at the top of the food chain.

Atlanta, in case you don’t know it, is home to Coca Cola. I think that says a lot, although I”m not sure exactly what.

Today my publisher scoops me up from this footpath and the business end of the book tour begins.

Watch this space.

 May 7, 2012  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »