Stories are Doors

door.jpg

القصص أبواب = stories are doors 

The first word I learned on my first day of Arabic class was الأمم المتحدة, the United Nations.

Five years later, I walked inside COP22 in Marrakech, the U.N. talks on climate change, trailing red Moroccan mud on my shoes.

observer

After passing through airport-esque security (no, my shotgun microphone is not a weapon; no, I’m not concealing anything in my hair), I waited in line for my accreditation badge to be printed. I stood behind a delegation from Sudan and an ambassador from the World Bank. The World Bank man liked our green shirts printed with the words “Climate Justice Storyteller” across the front.

I studied Modern Standard Arabic for four years (2009-2013). Save for layovers* in Doha and in Abu Dhabi, I had never set foot in the Middle East before attending COP22 this November.

*Airports don’t count, right? But they are beautiful intersection points. See Naomi Shihab Nye:

Harvard students who take Arabic fall into neat categories: the vast majority who want to work for the State Department or the CIA; aspiring business leaders; the ROTC guy who occasionally came to class in uniform; and a poet obsessed with words (*points at self*). Our vocabulary lessons were skewed accordingly. It was two years before I learned how to ask to use the toilet. Official state functions were deemed more important.

In Morocco, my Modern Standard Arabic was woefully useless. I could introduce myself politely and barter for a taxi or a handful of oranges, but not much beyond that. The dialect spoken in المغرب diverges sharply from the formal stuff I learned in class. If I spent a few more months focusing on immersion, I could probably pick it up. Living breathing languages are beautiful for their twists and turns, but COP was about something else.

One thing I love about learning languages is that it teaches me to be a better resident of my own tongue. I’ll never be done learning Arabic, or English (!) for that matter.

Language is an approximation, always. The words that describe the thing (round, asinine, plastic, vertigo) can never BE the thing. Ceci n’est pas justice climatique. 

I’m most interested in the ways that stories (and poems) become doors, portals through which we access experience that is outside of what we would have come across otherwise.

I remember the first poem I ever read: “Zinnias” by Valerie Worth

Zinnias
by Valerie Worth

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched
Arranged to please us
In the house, in the water, they
Will hardly wilt– I know
Someone like zinnias: I wish
I were like zinnias.

That poem, for me, was a door. I had never seen a zinnia before, but I felt like I could feel the flower’s texture. I wanted to be “stout and stiff”––as if looking at a flower could make me more confident, more alive. It wowed me (and still does) that words could do that.

How can the climate movement harness the power of a poem? How can we be “like zinnias” and “stand no nonsense”? Where do stories come into play?

@SustainUS celebrates the end of #COP22

A post shared by Devi Lockwood (@devi_lockwood) on

A group of 13 storytellers from as far afield as Utah and Hawaii joined together to find out. We were selected as part of a Storytelling Challenge run by SustainUS.

Hundreds of people applied. I had my second round interview when I was super-sick, an amoeba wreaking havoc inside my intestines in Cambodia. I must have said something semi-coherent, though.

It was a privilege and an honor to receive the call from Morgan Curtis on July 4th: “Will you join the delegation?”

I said yes.

sustainus

SustainUS Climate Justice Storytellers at COP22

Fun fact: I met Morgan Curtis through this blog! She wrote to me about a year and a half ago asking for tips for her bike trip to Paris for COP21, which resulted in this post. And on Monday we’re meeting up for vegan pies in Oxford. LOOK OUT, WORLD.

In the months before November, the SustainUS delegation had weekly Google Hangout calls to work out travel logistics and figure out how we wanted to show up together inside the U.N space.

At a retreat in Oakland, California, we gathered to do a version of Joanna Macy‘s Work that Reconnects and to practice the basics of Nonviolent Communication, a method that involves listening without the intention of responding. Instead, I learned how to listen for needs.

It is a huge privilege to have access to the U.N. space, even as an observer. I wanted to honor the stories of climate change that need to be told; the voices that weren’t present inside the tents of COP22 because they were not allowed access, or the voices that, even present, were systematically silenced within. Why don’t indigenous nations, for example, have a seat at the negotiation tables as sovereign nations? Tribal sovereignty and environmental justice / climate issues go hand in hand.

I view my purpose as one of amplification.

jamaa

I spent the eve of COP22 on a rooftop with local activists talking solidarity across movements. Stories = fuel.

Earlier that I day I attended COY, the Conference of Youth that proceeds the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. I stopped in at Green School Bali‘s booth, a storytelling space inspired by this episode of This American Life where a Japanese man uses an old phone booth on top of a hill to communicate with the dead. Inside the Green School booth, you could sit down and tell your own story of climate change. The personal is political is ecological.

speaking

presidential

November 9, 2016: we are mourning, we are taking action

And while we listened, the world changed. My country elected a climate denier / sexist / homophobe for president. OH JOY.

The day after, SustainUS gathered with international youth climate activists outside COP22 to mourn the election results. The president elect isn’t going to do shit for the planet, so it’s up to the people. We sang. We stood in solidarity with youth climate activists from around the world.

If I had to be in this struggle, there’s no other youth activists I would rather be in it with. Our work starts now. The next four years are critical to take action to limit catastrophic climate change.

I am inspired by how this group shows up, together, in the face of systems of oppression and extraction that feel so heartless.

prayercircle

prayer circle for Standing Rock held outside COP22

We brought human stories to the UN. We listened.

There’s no other group of people I’d rather be facing the climate crisis with. Now the real work begins.

keepitintheground.jpg

At the midpoint of the conference, I marched in Morocco’s first climate march with thousands of other activists.

climatemarch

“People change not climate change. System change not climate change. Today, today, before tomorrow.”

climatemarch2.jpg

Local activists marched alongside the international community. In their eyes, the Moroccan regime used COP22 to greenwash its crimes. SustainUS stands in solidarity with local Moroccan activists fighting against an oppressive regime that values profits over people #300kmsouth.

I traveled to COP22 not because I believe that the U.N. can solve all the worlds problems, but for stories. I believe that storytelling, listening, and amplifying voices can be tools for social change.

Manari Kaji Ushigua Santi, President of the Sapara Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon, took the time to talk with me about climate change:

“We have to get to know ourselves again – who are we? We are part of a chain of life in this earth. We are not a being more important than all other beings. No. Where do energies come from? From the sky and from the earth. We don’t want people to exploit all these natural resources. Each resource: petroleum, gold, uranium, copper – all of those have life. They are elements that help us balance with the sky and with the earth, so that the earth sustains itself. What happens if we exploit all those resources? The world starts to dance.”

Since the end of COP22, I’m thinking more about the dancing world. The unsteady world. The world in which I will grow old.

(P.S. For an awesome book about dance, check out Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I’m in the middle of it now and the way she writes about movement is stunning.)

How will people look back at this time: the age of screens? The age of environmental indifference? The age when we stood by and let destruction happen––the destruction of species, of the oceans, the Arctic, our coastlines?

Stories are the doors I build and walk through.

How can we tell the stories of the climate justice movement so that it brings in more people than it shuts out? COP, for example, has an old white man problem. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

I want to move through and move beyond closed doors and into new doors. Old doors. Doors where I dismantle the hinges, piece by piece. Doors I ram through and slam my body against, day after day. Doors I repair. Doors where I have no idea what’s waiting on the other side.

a city of doors 🚪 #marrakech #morocco

A post shared by Devi Lockwood (@devi_lockwood) on

A post shared by Devi Lockwood (@devi_lockwood) on

Hungry for more? Here are a few door-like essays that I wrote during COP22:

Truthout: “From Standing Rock to Morocco: Indigenous Protesters Act in Solidarity Against Corporate Polluters”

Earth to Marrakech: “Meet Andy Costa, a Cycling Activist from Cote D’Ivoire”

Everyday Feminism: “Five Alarming Ways that Climate Change is Racist”

Earth to Marrakech: “Indigenous Leaders at COP22 Stand in Solidarity with Standing Rock”

Pacific Standard: “How Youth Delegates at COP22 are Mobilizing Ahead of a Trump Presidency”

Sierra Magazine: “Dispatches from a Youth Delegate at COP22”

(If you’re wondering to yourself––how can I keep this little storytelling boat afloat?––pop on over to my Patreon page. Any and all support is much appreciated. Plus you’ll get access to cool stuff like 1x poem every month written by yours truly.)

Until next time,

indigogirls

Imlil, Morocco; mountain dance

Advertisements

Commit Random Acts of Dance

commitrandomactsofdance2

Hey world,

Happy International Dance Day​!

I was planning on cycling north from Wellington (gotta catch that cargo ship up in Auckland, eep!), but my lovely friend Charlotte convinced me to stick around for a day of dance classes taught by local teachers at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

I learned some intro capoeira, grooved along with a hundred or so others to a complex 20-second stint of hip hop choreography taught by the inimitable Braedyn Humphries, and rekindled my passion for both leading and following in salsa. Gender roles, go home!

commitrandomactsofdance

Dance brings out joy.

After the event, Charlotte and I boogied our way along the harbor, re-enacting our 20 seconds of hip hop choreography to the tune of street musicians, and then again in the middle of a crosswalk, just because we could.

Three folks told me water / climate change stories along the way, too! I listened to a man who thoroughly doesn’t trust climate scientists, a seven-year-old who told me that one day the ocean was sucked dry, and then a big elephant came back to make the rain fall again, and a lovely woman on her way to perform improv who told me about her summers on the water growing up.

The current count: 310 recorded stories. My goal is 1001.

I took out my sharpie, because, well, because because. Because there was a particularly greenish stretch of wall that needed a voice. And then this happened:

commit random acts of #dance

A post shared by Devi Lockwood (@devi_lockwood) on

Commit random acts of dance. I dare you. A tiny dance celebration is pretty much guaranteed to make your day better.

Call for dancers / choreographers / folks who write about dancing

CALL FOR DANCERS / CHOREOGRAPHERS / FOLKS WHO WRITE ABOUT DANCING:

Hi beautiful people, this year I am traveling the world (mostly by bicycle) with an audio recorder in hand, collecting stories from people I meet about water and climate change.

(about.me/devi_lockwood)

When I was doing this project in San Francisco a few months ago, I went along with a friend to my first modern dance class. I studied ballet for thirteen years before I turned to sports (ice hockey, rowing, and most recently, long-distance solo cycle touring).

After the modern class I had an aha! moment––a vision of a performance where a group of dancers embody an edited track of the water/climate change stories that I have been collecting on this trip. More on that story here: https://onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/release/

(I’m struggling with how to word it best, because the idea for this performance still seems fuzzier than words. I hope that this makes some kind of sense. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.)

I’m reaching out to as many folks as possible––geography is not a limiting factor. Do you know of dance groups/ choreographers who would be interested in this kind of project?

If so, please get in touch, either in the comments here or via https://onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com/contact/

It’s a far-off kind of proposal, but I like to dream big.

devi_onebike_coverphotofb1

Dancing While Female

2014: Fiji

I hate soda but I’m drinking it anyway. Beads of sweat from the glass bottle cool my hands. This club is called Pontoon, and the air is a salty soup of dancing bodies and booze, sweat and sticky floors. It’s a Friday night in Labasa, Fiji, and I just want to flail.

My strategy for dancing in clubs is to find a gay guy or friendly girl to dance with, or just to walk out into the middle of the floor, close my eyes, and pretend I am dancing alone.

This always fails. A guy grabs my hands, my hips, taking my independent, moving body as an invitation to force my focus on one thing: him. I don’t go out for the purpose of dancing with strange, straight men. I dance to free myself.

It veers into uncomfortable territory very quickly.

 

2012: Argentina

It’s not my idea to go out, but I do, convincing myself that an Argentine club would have to be relatively tame. Argentine men are gentle, right? Lithe tango dancers? Not aggressive creeps?

Nope. It’s everywhere, this dance club abomination. This lack of respect for my moving body.

The club is tiered. Within five minutes in the black light cave, I’m craving fresh air. I wander alone upstairs to the balcony, on my way to the restroom. A guy pulls at my arm.

“Quieres joder conmigo?”

“No.”

Angered, he knocks into my shoulders as he drunkenly bursts past. I almost lose my footing and have to grab onto the railing for support.

 

2015: Tuvalu

Tuvalu’s one dance club is in a converted chicken farm. Angie brought me here, insisting that I had to celebrate my last weekend in Tuvalu. Four-foot tall speakers blare the great classics at max volume––“Move, bitch, get out the way” (ugh) and “Turn down for what?”––plus an improbable mix of Latin American pop songs that Tuvaluans sing along to without understanding the words.

I down a beer, make peace with necessary hearing loss, and dive onto an empty floor to dance with Angie. In less than twenty seconds we have a crowd of men vying for our attentions. They grab my elbow, my wrist, and hold fast.

“Stop! Let go!”

This is the first time my “no” has not been respected. I struggle against their grip, but it is futile.

I don’t know whether to feel relieved it has taken this long to be violated (well, I made it for 22 years, that’s not so bad) or just outright afraid.

One guy, Angie’s cousin, seems kind enough. Almost. His lean frame is an inch shorter than my own and he doesn’t grab at any part of my body. It’s a promising start.

We dance for three songs, after which Angie leaves me in his care while she jets home on her motorcycle to check on her one and a half year old daughter.

When she is out of sight, Angie’s cousin grabs my wrist (there, the concealed force. Shit.) and leads me out to the airstrip. I focus on naming the constellations above the tarmac, making up new ones when my knowledge runs flat. A kite unrolling spools of footprints onto the sky. Rock candy. Orion. My whole body tenses.

Is this how I am raped.

No.

No.

No.

I try to calm myself but nothing works. I am hyper alert of shadows on the runway, a pack of wild dogs fucking, couples sitting with their legs intertwined.

The cousin asks where I am from (the states) and if I am married.

I tell him I am not interested in men. He presses.

“Why not? Why don’t you come closer?”

He scooches his bum towards mine on the gravel. I look up at Orion and scooch away.

“I’m just not. Please respect that.” I consider dropping the L-word on him but don’t.

He talks about himself to fill the space. I learn that he works at the Public Works Department, installing water catchment systems on the island’s north end. He is 19. He has two sisters and a brother.

Keep him talking.

He has never heard of Boston. Everything he knows about America comes from Hollywood. He likes action films best.

“Does everyone have a gun in America?”

Angie comes back in time for the three of us to ogle at the rising moon in the east, a waxing gibbous, orange and low on the horizon, open like an eye, staring back.

~

Dear Dudes Who Feel Entitled to my Body in Dance Clubs,

Stop.

~

I prefer to dance in wide-open spaces with no one around. I dance where there is air to breathe. I dance barefoot. I dance without music.

Once, in an hour-long line of cars to enter the USA from Canada, I danced my way across the Rainbow Bridge, mist from Niagara Falls cooling my face.

10628274_3164998959013_2469964731971391684_n

I only dance when I feel safe,

and it fcking sucks that there are so few spaces where I do.

10532930_3164998719007_6174055017477494107_n

 

Release (and Dreams of a Performance)

This post describes an “Intermediate Release” modern dance class that I took with Christine Cali at ODC Dance Commons in San Francisco (www.odcdance.org) back in mid-October, 2014. First time students pay $5. I knew from the first five minutes of class that I had found a home in this space, in this new form of movement. If you find yourself in SF, make a trip to ODC for a class. You won’t regret it.

waterodcsf

Starting from the floor up, we move our limbs and joints, one by one, at Christine Cali’s instruction.

“Constant motion!” she calls out over the music. “Don’t stop the flow. Walk around. Look in each other’s eyes. Use the whole of the floor space.”

We shuffle positions to avoid the hierarchy where confident dancers stand in front and everyone else follows. We face different directions. There is no front or back of the room. Only motion.

I grew up a ballerina, taking several classes a week at my local dance studio in CT for the better part of thirteen years. At some point I got fed up with one too many body critical peers and left dance for team sports. Dance led to ice hockey. Ice hockey led to rowing. I rowed for four years in college. On the stretching mats, my teammates always told me I moved like a dancer. It never really left.

This intermediate release class is like flirting with ballet’s older sister. More wild. Free. Unhinged.

Don’t get me wrong––I love ballet. Ballet is where I come from. But for this time in my life, when I have no idea what I’m doing, twenty-two and traveling alone, when I’m winging every day and trying to remind myself to find the joy in all kinds of movement, wherever I may be––the class releases something I didn’t know I had been carrying.

I haven’t felt this grounded in my own body in years, since before I tore my ACL and had it surgically reconstructed in 2012, likely.

~

The warm-up isn’t so much a preamble as it is an hour-long exercise in the fine art of being alive. Trust. Strangers. Motion. Christine instructs us to grab someone’s hand and sit all the way down, to feel the tension across our backs. Its support, lengthening. A stretch.

“Are we warm?”

The second hour of class is devoted to a sequence of choreography that builds. Routine pointing and flexing of the legs. French words I remember but cannot spell. Tumbleweed arms. A one-legged handstand jump. Circling our bodies around on the floor. Not writhing, but almost. Something more joyful. More absolute.

I never have the right words to describe dance. Every attempt feels contrite. Dance is the emotion that comes before language. I acknowledge the wholeness of my body.

Christine’s choreography isn’t tethered to a specific piece of music. We divide into two groups and cycle through many songs, different rhythmic patterns.

“Don’t freak out at this one, ok?” Christine says, laughing. “Just go with it. It’s faster. Release yourself.”

And we do. We do we do we do.

~

After class, I wipe the sweat from my forehead and walk over to where Christine Cali packs up her laptop and shoes, meeting her smile with my own.

“That was the first time I’ve done modern,” I exhale, still high on the newness of it all. “And I loved it. Thank you for this gift.” My words tumble into one another. I talk too quickly. “I’m blowing through town this time around, but I would be back in a heartbeat if I could.”

Christine laughs. “I can’t believe it was your first time! You have wonderful, strong legs. Come back for another class when you can.”

I have wonderful, strong legs? I’m glowing. Body insecurity be damned.

I struggle to love my legs, and no one has ever called them wonderful, ever. As if I needed more reasons to love modern, there’s a dose of body positivity to be found here, too? Count me in.

~

“And you can do it to any kind of music?” I ask Julia, the dancer who brought me here, over lattes.

“Yep,” she says, taking a sip.

“I’m hooked.”

~

Julia and I wander through the Castro after class, pausing to look at window displays of hand-printed notecards with octopi in blue-ink, tentacle arms askew. We take the liberty to step into a chocolate shop where free marshmallows and samples of dark chocolate with unpronounceable names line the walls. I tour the shop’s perimeter, tasting everything. The air is thick with conversation and swirls of cacao, but somehow an old woman’s voice finds me through it all.

“Tell me a story about water? What is that cardboard sign all about?” I can hear the Russian heritage in her voice.

I explain my project. A handful of chocolate shavings melt in my palm. I turn on my audio recorder, making sure to ask if it’s all right before I press record.

The woman takes a sip of her hot chocolate. A man who I take to be her partner nibbles his chocolate croissant, skeptical.

“I teach chemistry. You want a story about water? Here:

everything unique about water can be explained by its shape. Water molecule is bent. Because water molecule has a bent shape, it forms hydrogen bonds with itself. Because of the hydrogen bond, water molecules attach to each other. Because water molecules attach to each other, even with a small mass, water is a liquid. Because water is a liquid, we have life on earth. If water was not bent, water would be linear and it wouldn’t form a hydrogen bond. And because of its small mass, water would be a gas. All ocean would evaporate and we would have no life. We have life because water is bent.”

She looks up, satisfied. I have to regain my footing because I have just fallen headfirst into the rhythm of this woman’s voice.

I’m on a stage, or someone is on a stage. I’m looking down from above. A dancer gives life to her story. The chemistry teacher’s voice is the music.

I barely have time to thank the woman before she winds her scarf around her neck, stands up, and leaves. The shop bell tingles on her way out.

~

It’s a dream, but I envision a performance piece coming from this project. A modern dancer, or many dancers, given the task of interpreting that story into movement on stage. Water and climate change stories, performed into motion. Modern dance is a perfect medium to achieve this.

Long story short: I need to get back to San Francisco. I’ll bike there from the east coast if I have to.

Water Conservation

One of my goals for 2015 is to use less water.

funafuti

Today I was taking a cold shower in Funafuti, Tuvalu and found myself instinctively turning off the water while I lathered up my body and untangled my mess of curls, a habit that I have picked up since I started this trip in September.

Hot showers aren’t an option in Tuvalu, and with the average day well over 30 degrees Celsius, I can’t say that I would opt for a warm shower even if I could. All water for drinking and household use in Tuvalu’s nine coral atolls comes from the rain. In decades past there was a groundwater supply, but those sources have become salty in tandem with rising sea levels.

Fortunately it is the rainy season, but between rain showers there is always the question: will there be enough water in the tank to get through the day? And if not, how can we cut back?

Alofa, my host, gets around this hesitation by sneaking into her workplace bathrooms after hours to bathe. She has the keys, and no one else is using the water in those big tanks, right? The bigger the roof, the more water that funnels into the water tanks, and the Tuvalu Telecom building, a mere two-minute walk from her home, has one of the largest roofs in Funafuti. I don’t ask Alofa if it is kosher for us to bathe there, but the whole ordeal has an air of secrecy about it. We always enter through the back door.

Under the Telecom shower spigot I relax. Cool water drips down my back, washing away days of caked-on sweat. To my surprise, a layer of memory unearths itself, too, distant in both time and space.

Dance class, the early 2000s, suburban Connecticut. We were allowed one trip to the drinking fountain in the middle of class, but only if we asked nicely. The water fountain at the end of the hall was a two-tiered production across from the basketball court. The water pressure was such that you couldn’t drink from both fountains at once. We were always in a rush––our dance teacher would be testy if we took too long. Ballet was serious work.

Once granted permission to drink all fifteen of us would sprint down the hallway in our ballet flats to see who would get to the fountain first. Those who arrived last would linger by the door to the basketball court, watching the boys play with a kind of wide-eyed intensity that mystified me even then. I always chose a second helping of water over a glimpse a so-and-so’s supposedly dreamy arms.

Courtney was a slow runner, but lo on you if she was behind you in line. That girl was pushy. “Save some for the fishes!” she would shout, nudging my shoulders while I sipped from the fountain’s arc. This was code for: get out of the way, I’m thirsty. That girl ruled the roost and she knew it.

But it isn’t the fishes who need water saved for them. It’s us.

~

In San Francisco I met a nurse in a cancer ward who caught the water that came out of her tub in a watering can while the tap was warming. With this water she grew a back porch vegetable garden. The simplicity of this gesture struck me as so beautiful. She kept the watering can by her tub, always at the ready.

~

What steps can I take to save water? How far am I willing to alter my daily routine to accomplish this goal?

When, as in the case of Tuvalu, might it become a necessity for us all to conserve?

Is waiting for that point too late?

Many Worlds

 

“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.”

                                                                      ––Joy Harjo

 

Travel makes the passages between many worlds more apparent. They are always there, within reach, but something about being constantly in motion––and constantly confronted with new experiences––makes the windows and doors between worlds more apparent. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is how I wander. 

~

A tropical remix of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” comes on the speakers and two by two, Fijian dance couples take to the floor. The fluorescent lights overhead have been wrapped with pink and green streamers such that the light coming through them is dim and colorful.

tutu7

The partygoers who have chosen to sit this one out rest on woven mats at the edge of the room, snacking on shortbread cookies and taking long sips from coconut halves full of grog or plastic cups of mango juice.

A Fijian guy grooves over and taps my knees to ask me to dance. I get up and walk into another world, another time: Farmingville Elementary School, the fourth grade spring concert. The cafetorium is hot and thick with the collective breath of a hundred nervous students and their assorted teachers and parents in capris and sundresses.

We practiced the line-up of Disney songs for months: “Be Our Guest” and “Wish Upon a Star” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and a few others I have forgotten.

I tried out for a solo, thinking I wouldn’t get one, and I did! My moment of fame: the closing “weeeeeeeeeeeee-o-eeeeeeee-mum-bo-weh” to round out the song about the sleeping lion in the jungle. It is a complicated task; to get to the microphone, I have to navigate from the uppermost of four levels of risers down to the center of the cafetorium floor.

Meghan opened the song with her solo, an identical version to my own. All is going according to plan. I sing with the whole of my lungs and try not to look out at the audience. Seeing my parents would definitely make me lose my marbles. I vaguely remember our chorus director’s instructions that if we feel nauseous, we are to walk down the center aisle of the audience immediately so as to avoid barfing on our classmates and ruining the song. My stomach turns inside out and back again but miraculously holds. 

Back in Fiji, the song winds on:

Hush my darling

don’t fear my darling

the lion sleeps tonight.

And back in Connecticut, it is my moment to shine. I wave my way through the tightly-packed risers of fourth graders, mumbling excuse me and pardon me at appropriate intervals so that people move out of the way. We had practiced this. I am ready. So ready.

At long last, I find terra firma on the linoleum and walk with almost-confidence to the microphone, removing it from its cradle with my barely shaking hands.

“Weeeeeeeeeee,” I begin. The boombox that accompanies our music charges on… but no sound comes out of the microphone. I recover and tried to pick up “o-eeee,” but it is hopeless. Voiceless, I start to cry. This is not how things were supposed to go. (Bonus points: my dad has the whole thing on tape somewhere.)

Mrs. Bennett, the chorus director, walks over to the boombox to start the song again. “We’re going to do this one more time for Devi,” she smiles. “And Meghan, don’t turn the microphone off this time.”

The second rendition of the song is much, much better.

Back in the sticky, converted dance hall the song is over. I sit against the wall and stretch my toes and smile. A bit of rain from outside drips on my shoulders through the slatted windows. The bass line of a Fijian song vibrates the left side of my body closest to the speaker set. I let my eyes trace the outline of palm fronds and flowers gathered from outside that festively decorate the walls.

I close my eyes and drift in and out of past forms of myself. I am many worlds at once.

~

I move through many worlds. Some are shimmery and difficult to explain. Many are tangible. There are worlds where I eat mangos at every meal and sip from oceans of black tea while I perfect my rudimentary understanding of many languages. There are worlds where I write all day and never stop. In one world I tear through fabrics, all sorts of fabrics: ocean fabrics, clothes fabrics, mosquito netting. There are worlds where I walk and walk and never stop walking, worlds where I am a passenger on a very tippy boat, worlds where I beam messages to people I love in far off places, worlds where I am re-living my mother and my grandmother’s stories, and worlds where I am alone. Worlds of fish. Aquariums. Coral. Turtles. Worlds of silence. Worlds of sleep. Worlds of waking dreams. The passageways between worlds are never twice the same. Sometimes I gain entrance by dancing through. Sometimes I am pushed from behind. Some worlds can only be entered in flight. Wherever I go, my worlds go with me. Wherever I go, I am constantly in motion.

DSC01825