Here was a space where "matter being alive" was more than a mantra jumping off a page. The yoga of rustling Pennsylvania leaves, neither shy nor shrill, not restless but not still, was a mirroring metaphor of the Pendle Hill residency, performing just how utterly vulnerable each attendant fell, swayed, followed the collective dance. And no, you never have the same set of choreography, perhaps any set choreography, when you put a group of Transformative Language Artists together in the same space, even if that space is a muddy menagerie of trails in woods and warmth-emanating cottages. You end up with the gently nerved and the seamlessly muscled, the medal decorated and the spray painted, the battle crying and the bird chirping, and of course the resiliently re-creating, refusing the most glorious or meticulous "the"-prefaced Medal of Honor of a word I can provide. Think that's a mouthful? Follow me.
Imagine a lush, foundationally-Quaker residency, a bedrock of contemplative silence, resilient political stance, and communion with nature's elements. Now imagine it housed with writers, poets, artists, singers, activists and teachers whose core focus is healing, reimagining and re-enacting at the levels of self and society; personhood and planetary citizenship; mourning, celebration and reinvention; body and soul. They have gathered to engage, to participate, to stretch and listen and spell wonders in the face of fire and dire trigger of so many calibers. This is the Power of Words conference of 2013, and the featured speakers alone are enough to embody to you the breadth and depth of communal stretches that happened here.
We have Taina Asili in the house, powerful, beautiful singer-singwriter-recent-mother-
We have Dick Allen in the house, poet laureate of Connecticut, grew up by the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and grew wiser, gentler, and more generous on this earth, sharing poems of witness across the Arab Spring, Democrat-Republican feuds, domestic tensions, and one one-of-a-kind cat named Zen. Finally, we have Michelle Myers in the house, one of the heroines that pampered and propelled my marginalized upbringing. I met her, beheld her, even introduced her to a live audience at in the gorgeous auditorium that held our prayers by morning, and – no wonder – I could not get the script perfectly right. She is like a human filament that stretches so far, and so wide, and never ever snaps: across home and immigration, rage and forgiveness, politics and lives, raw reality and feminist mythology, mixed-race experience and visionary re-imagining of what a collaborative community can be.
As you can see, this was an intergenerational house of many eruditions, trading recipes and tasting the possibilities of cross-fertilizing our gifts and stitches across lands and time, sharing a multi-cottaged ecology but always around the same community-cooked meal for dinner. One of the folks I first met at a dinner there, a kindred soul of many talents named Doug Lipman, taught me wealths within the days about telling a good story, proudly earning your livelihood with writing, trading family stories of migration and family across Jewish-Muslim heritages, and receiving a compliment well from a man who sat oceans deeper and mountains' heights more accomplished than I.
For my next blog, I will draw from the embodied writing careers of soulful folks like Lippman to reflect on the experience of seeking, and struggling, for right livelihood as writers, artists and educators – one of many tenants of building a Transformative Language Arts practice. In this page, the experience at hand is that of potential family: a supportive network of informed lovers, intuitive fighters, collaborating singers and shouters and workers of silence. The Transformative Language Arts Network is where we gather together and study the topography of each other's arts as a personally and socially empowering practice, comparing notes and trading breaths for the later harvesting of praxis should a community need to know it is not and won't be alone, or should we need to know that we still have so much re-building and change work to learn and do. In this sense, the Network is a perfect harbor for bridging generations across language, class, gender, sound, voice, and priority: for the whole priority of a healthy home on this spacious, vulnerablly immense earth.