All life is a story.
There are a thousand ways to tell the story of a life.
The facts of a story can’t be changed: I was born, I breathe, I will die.
The meaning of the facts, however, can be changed. Facts can be interpreted to mean whatever the story teller wants to tell.
Everyone tells stories. We tell our own story. We tell the story of others. We tell the story of events: of catastrophes and miracles.
How we tell these stories can change everything.
I could tell you that my life has been plagued with troubles since the beginning. That sickness has followed me, that my hopes are often disapointed. I could tell you that I’m a dreamer who has fallen into the pit of a mediocre and stark life.
If you look at the facts of my life, you could say that this story is true, if not a little over dramatic. Sometimes this has been my story. At least this has been the story that I would tell myself when sorrow and disapointment knocked at my door.
But I say that this story isn’t true. I am refusing to tell that story to myself and to others any more.
In that story I was ‘the girl who had no luck’. In that depressing tale I was destined to be crushed by the harsh realities of life.
To heck with that.
I’m choosing a different story. I am choosing to be ‘the girl who chased a wild horse’.
My life has been charmed. The presence of sickness has tought me the value of health. Disapointment has tought me the value of dreaming. Boredom, apathy and depression have tought me the value of joy.
To tell my story otherwise, to say that I have no luck, is to say to myself that I have no control, no choice in how the story of my life unfolds. I would be opting out of life and coasting along until I hit the final fact of life: death.
I don’t want to go quietly into the dark. In my metaphorical mind I want to chase a wild horse; dance in the waves of oceans; and be a girl who broke out of sadness and ran towards hope.
I am the girl who chased a wild horse. Will you join the chase?
A movie plays in your head every time you imagine what your life should be. Pulling espresso for customers in your chic coffee shop, standing over the drafting table in your wildly successful and innovative design business, watching the guest post requests flood in when you’re the Freddy Krueger of blogging.
You’re going to make it and make it big. That is, as long as the mundane day to day doesn’t get in the way of your shiny, colourful 80s montage of glorious achievement.
The reality of hard work is dreary compared to the seductive charm of living the dream of overnight success, isn’t it?
Overnight success can take a thousand nights to achieve. A thousand days and nights of paperwork, blistered fingers, HR nightmares and bill payments. It’s enough to make the casual dreamer hang up their vision and ride their desk to a distant and secure retirement.
But not you. You can endure.
I used to see my future success unwinding before my eyes in an epic 80s montage of kick-ass moments. Me sitting at my desk getting it done. Me pulling books from the library shelf. Me handing in perfectly crafted, genius level papers that would make my professors rethink their entire field of study. Me getting thumped on the back by enthusiastic team mates.
Yup, success is sexy.
Except when you’re actually AT your desk and have to actually DO the work. Except when you’ve stayed up all night reading terrible reference material to pull together a barely passable paper.
You can endure. You can stick with it and claw your way to the life of dreams.
Flip the script. Don’t embrace the 80s montage as a picture of what life should be like. That glitzed up dream is the way of disillusionment. The montage isn’t something you watch, it’s something you’re building. The work you’re doing right now is raw material for the movie that is sure to be made about your life. Just imagine it, you’re seconds away from quitting, chained to your desk with a zillion empty coffee cups and cookie wrappers scattered around your disheveled shell of humanity.
This is your moment.
Cue the music.“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…”
This is you drinking your coffee and furrowing your brow over the forms you have to fill out. This is you, tired and worn out, waiting in line at the Municipal office, but never defeated. This is you, unshaven and sticky, toughing it out, climbing those stairs like a champ and sweating like an animal.
Every time you want to give up cue the music and remember that if you don’t do the work, there is no montage. Success is not a destination, it’s one foot in front of the other. You will achieve moments that stand out as a photo op of winning. Collect these moments and paste them into your scrapbook, but don’t let them be your everything. You will have to go through a thousand normal moments in between the Kodak moments, so don’t waste them wishing you were living in a photograph.
The warm cup of tea you are holding in your hands is your life. The feeling of the keys clacking under your fingers is your life. Cuddling with your family in those quiet moments between all-nighters is your life.
And when you wipe the greasy, crummy counter of your coffee shop for the hundredth time, be fully there in the moment. This is your 80s montage moment. This is the glory shot from your motion picture. Take the time to appreciate where you are and how far you’ve come.
You’ve done it and you’re still doing it.
Cue the music.
A poem from me to you.
You are a magnificent creature
Yes you are, don’t argue
You are significant
Sometimes a little extravagant and a little arrogant
but I love you.
So when you tell me you’re giving up I can’t believe it
Can’t even conceive of you not giving life your all
You are a rare and fiesty, gleaming beacon,
There is no reason for you to despair
I know times are tough,
That you’ve been through the ringer and it’s rough
You don’t think you’ve got the stuff to make it through, and what if it never improves?
What if this illness is all there is for you and depression will never leave you?
What use is there to go on living, if it’s always in tears?
Shut up. I don’t want to hear that from you.
You have not ceased to be
so stop telling me you’re an ex human being
Darling, remember what you’ve got
The sun shines down on you every day, no matter what.
And if the sun goes out today, you’ve still got the stars,
let them be your navigational charts
And if they all blink out, and go extinct,
You’ve still got the firelight, even if it means setting fire to your life
When it all goes up in flames, you’ll have the light from the blaze
And if your sight goes too,
I’ll always be here for you
We’ll paint pastel pictures with words,
Go on safaris across the earth,
and I’ll describe it all to you
And when your hearing fails
Your beautiful heart has the words to recall all this beauty back to you
You’ll see the colours that only God knows can be
Far more than the limited mixture of our three best primaries.
When all the world has slipped away into permanent dark
You’ll be in good company,
I’ll be beside you all the way,
Holding your hand, making you stay here on this earth
Where you truly are a person of worth
And you’ll keep writing for the world
So long as your fingers can find the keys
And if not, I’ll transcribe all your witty words and purple verses
And you can freestyle to the beat of your own drummer
And when your voice dries up and is no more.
You’ll have the rush of oncoming air.
I’ll take you sledding in the snow
And we’ll go running on a ribbon of desert heat.
We’ll have the salt spray of ocean sailing,
The mischievous wind making trails in your hair
Tying promise knots in your long hair
I’ll be there to untangle them and make sense of the wilderness outside you
And your smile will guide me through the darkness,
Because yours is a brilliant beacon.
I’ll never leave you.
And when the strength of your muscles fails,
And your smile is forever gone,
I’ll listen to the song of your breathing
And touch talk to the tips of your fingers
And when all the world has left you out of touch
And you can’t be sure if I’m still with you, know this much
I’ll be there inside your magnificent heart
You can call me up, and spend your days
Imagining adventures for us
We’ll play in the surf and surf in the upper atmosphere
We’ll talk about light and living and love without fear.
My laugh will ring out in your mind,
And yours will ring out in mine.
We are meant to be together forever, love.
You and I
And when only breath is left to you,
Know you’ll have me too.
And when the universe reclaims the last breath and sigh from your tired lungs,
You will always have my memory to keep with you.
No powers of dust or earth or sky can take from us this life we’ve shared,
So never ever tell me that you’ve given up,
That the long road is not worth walking,
Because long before light and sound and breath are ever taken from you,
You have me,
And I have you.
New Year’s eve is the day of dreaming about brighter futures and a better you. Maybe you’re busily scribbling down resolutions for yourself, goals and achievements you want to have under your belt to keep next year’s turkey and potatoes company.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, never have. All that planning and goal setting and guilt tripping just isn’t for me.
But, goals or no goals, I already know that 2013 will be the best year of my life.
How do I know?
Because I’ve decided that it will be. I will fake it until I make it the best year of my life.
The act of making declarations is very powerful. Earlier this year I declared that I am a writer and have been making it true ever since. I declared that I am a poet and not only started showing up at spoken word events and poetry slams, but started writing more poems than I have time to polish with still more pouring out every day.
The year 2012 has been a beautiful year. It has been the best year of my life. Not because I made resolutions in 2011, but because I decided from the beginning that it would be the best year and took every opportunity to make it true. I stepped out into areas that scared me, took on challenges that seemed too ambitious and too audacious. I brought my best and took risks because I already knew the year was going to turn out great. I believed in my bones that every experience, good or bad, was valuable and would make me stronger and more capable, more confident.
So all you have to do is declare 2013 to be the best year of your life. Say it out loud in front of your mirror, tell a friend, write it on your blog. Send it out there, own it and see where it takes you.
Here’s to 2013, the best year of your life, happy new year,
So, what is this spoken word thing anyway? Is it just poetry read aloud? Some is. Sometimes spoken word is rap or hip hop. Sometimes it is structured verse and iambic pentameter. Sometimes it’s Emily Dickinson reading from the page, and sometimes it’s Walt Whitman working himself into a foam, delivering words for the tragic and profane masses. What ever spoken word is, it isn’t meant to be absorbed as dead words on a page. You have to experience the words and the performance of the words together.
I have shared some of the text of my poems, but reading it isn’t the same as watching the poem unfold. The performances from the October 12th Urban Legends Slam are now up on YouTube, so if you’re wondering what slam poetry looks like check out a few of these amazing poets doing their thing.
I had the chance to perform two pieces that night: “A Matter of Mistrust” and “Don’t Give Me Words.” These two pieces are part of a series exploring the feminine voice in a world where girls and women are so often taken for granted. I feel I should mention that the language and style of these spoken word pieces is different from my page poetry and articles and may be NSFW.
I performed the third piece in the feminine voice series, “No Means No,” on Saturday night at Capital Slam. A fourth piece is in the works and will likely debut at the VERSeOttawa women’s finals in January.
Ever since I jumped into the spoken word scene back in September, all of my creative energies have been focused on the art of spoken word. Having the chance to share brand new writing with supportive audiences every single week has been an incredible motivation for me to work hard on my writing. Feedback is important for growth, and live feedback is intoxicating.
I’ve been chasing this wild, poetry horse, what dreams have you been chasing?
This week, a hero was shot down.
A girl, barely become a woman who spoke out for a woman’s right to education and literacy.
She spoke out about the militants invading her valley in Pakistan.
She was on her way home from school when cowards opened fire on her and her schoolmates. She was struck in the head and neck.
But those cowards failed, she breathes still.
Her courageous heart beats still.
The world is praying for her.
And all I have to offer is this poem, meant to be spoken, meant to ring out like freedom.
Brave Malala, a girl barely become woman
Yet fully possessed of the courage of women
You stood tall in your native Pakistan,
Speaking out about the invading Taliban
For denouncing their views in plain view,
And writing your dreams to shame them in the news
You were shot down, coming home from school
Such a simple wish as yours, interrupted by fools
You know the worth of words and works
Of stepping out and reaching for higher worlds
Believing in better days, played out in the sun
Woman and men robbed of dignity, indignant, and joined as one
Cowards with guns turned on you in their ire
Barely men, not worthy of the word, they opened fire
But your blazing heart is stronger yet, beating them as you live still,
Because a father’s pride, in you a pride of person, instilled
Malala, my hero.
Gleaming jewel in the crown of your people
Your idyllic valley invaded by militants’ evil
Crushing schools and silencing music
But to fear and trembling you would not submit
Your warrior heart does your people credit
With military might, Allies pushed Taliban out of Afghanistan
But by dark of night, Taliban dug in, spreading hate into Pakistan
Women and girls became a threat in their own home
They would have to hide their hearts, and let learning go
Firing guns, throwing acid and intimidations?
Ensuring that girls can’t rise to lead the nation?
These goons and puppets of empty ideology
Hating all of those who would be free
Cowed by a woman
Couldn’t cover up your light
Couldn’t hide you under a bushel
So they ambushed you
Tried to stomp out your spark
Holding on to their dying dark
If you die, they say you’ll be a martyr,
But all I want is for you to have the chance to become a mother
To give birth to hope, in order that the cycle is stopped
And light of day will break on that valley, called Swat
They say if you live, they’ll come after you again
Nowhere is safe for a woman who speaks against
Their littleness and evil vision, their twisted mission
But where is safe, when we pretend this cancer’s in remission?
Brave Malala, a hero of might
Brave Malala a candle burning bright
Barely a woman of fourteen,
And fully a woman, warrior and queen
You spoke for Literacy, Equality, and dreaming
Opening your mouth, as I do now, cost you dearly
So I will raise my voice for you, while you lie sleeping
And pray that a brighter world greets you when you wake from dreaming.
A new friend in the spoken word scene was explaining his writing technique for rap turned spoken word. It blew my mind and opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for my own poetry writing.
For me, rhythm and rhyme always happened by accident; I just let the words flow and their tendency was to fall into patterns
Except when they started to refuse, and I panicked and wondered if I would ever finish another piece or be able to modify unfinished pieces.
Enter rap bars and syllable counting.
The concept of a rap formula had never occurred to me for spoken word. When I googled “how to write rap,” the internet revealed to me the science of flow, which I had been treating as solely an art to be absorbed from the ether.
A Little “How To”
Rapping is like singing, but you use your voice as a percussive instrument, creating rhythm and flow.
Most rap is written in common time, or 4/4 time. This just means there are four beats per bar. If you’re not musically trained just listened to a rap or instrumental track and try and count 1…2…3…4…
Look for the downbeat that begins each bar.
To start out you want to fit your lines into these four beats. Two sets of four beats gives you two lines and you can round it out with a punch line right there or expand your phrase to fill up four lines.
There is no set number of syllables per bar. More syllables and you’ll be spittin’ fast. Fewer and your rap will be laid back and way easier to master.
You can alternate between slow and fast in your rap. It’s common to jump into double time in the middle of your rap. Just write double the number of syllables into the same line.
Remember to write in a beat to catch your breath or you’ll fall behind!
Eureka, we are back in business!
So now I’m intentionally writing my spoken word poetry in rap style. I’m hoping to have a new piece to try out at the Urban Legends slam this Friday!
Here is a sample I was working on today. The slashes mark the beats for each line.
My/ tongue/ is/ firm/ly/ root/ed/ in/ my/ cheek
Ex/cept/ when/ it’s/ all/tang/led/ up/ with/ yours
Of/ course/ you/ don’t/ mind/ now/_ /do/ you/, sweet?
All/ my/ best/ lines/ be/tween/ my /chest/ and/ yours?
When it/comes/to/ hold/ing/back,/ I/ ne/ver/ rest
Pro/tect/ing/scars/and/stripes/ and/ what/ they/ mask
My /truth/and/ tales/ in/terred/ in/ earn/est/ jest
Keep/ing/ dis/tance/ be/tween/ our/ dis/tant/ pasts