I thought I saw Jiwon on the train yesterday. She’s been missing since April 1st, missing from our New York comedy scene for a few years. I thought about Jiwon a few weeks ago, or, well, maybe Jiwon thought about me. Out to me. My body felt a physical shock as I was walking down the street. My psyche shouted, “JIWON. What happened to Jiwon? Write to her and find out how she’s doing.” I think she was calling to us from her past through the ether. I think you can do that. I think she needed to know that we hadn’t forgotten her, that her years of work in comedy meant something. We all wonder that all the time. Do I mean anything?
Yes. You do. You mean everything. There is no meaning outside of what we give one another, and what we manage to give ourselves. Creating communion through laughter is powerful. It is a gift. If you do that, you are a gift, too. We are all a gift. We all want to be looked at the way a great gift is looked at, with delight and deep appreciation. Often we treat each other like gifts being shipped, though, banged around in the back of some UPS truck.
Let’s all chuckle at getting banged in the back of a UPS truck.
I sat in the park with Spike Lee the other day.
It fucking freaked me out. It tweaked me out. I’ve never felt so white in my life.
I was in Fort Greene, a neighborhood I deeply love, home of Spike Lee’s father. It was 9 o’clock on a Saturday, like in that Billy Joel song, except it was morning. A bright, sunny, beautiful Spring morning, and I had just dropped my daughter off at dance. She takes lessons at Mark Morris Dance Center. I’m proud and humbled that my little daughter can dance there and be free there, but suddenly, sitting next to Spike, I questioned my entire self. Was I a jerk? Some yuppie white woman who brings her daughter to dance at the white dance school who drinks white people coffee while her daughter dances white in a black neighborhood?
Of course I’m not those things. Nor is the dance school white. But you can put those things on me, and I become those things. It depends on how you want to look at it. Black people have suffered from other people’s viewpoints for hundreds of years. Maybe it’s time white people took a turn. If fair means everyone has to experience negativity to the same degree.
As I sat there with two other white women whose daughters were also at dance, I watched Spike watch us. His face was so smug. I guess that’s probably just his face, but I felt his judgment burning through me. I think Spike is mad at the world, and I understand that, because I am often mad at the world, too. But it was so beautiful out, I didn’t feel mad. I felt happy, then immediately self-conscious. I listened from outside of myself to us talk about meditation and working for non-profits. We talked about housecleaning, and (gasp) having people clean for you. We were SO WHITE. We were THOSE PEOPLE. I got heated. Very heated. I’ve never had anyone clean my house! I watched Spike make a few phone calls. He looked annoyed. He probably always looks annoyed. He was making the faces he makes in the pics they take of him at Knicks games. The ones where he sits courtside. Because he’s a millionaire. I bet he has a maid.
And that was when the flush of righteous indignance that is part of what makes me feel connected to blackness in the way that I do fully washed over me. Who are you to judge me, Spike Lee? You don’t know me. You don’t know my life. I’m a single mother, Spike Lee. I live in a very small apartment. I am not rich. I am not even NYC middle class. I work my ass off and have been since I was 14 years old, Spike. My mother beat me when I was a kid. She railed at me and hurt my feelings in a way that I think sometimes I will never fully recover from. I’m an artist, too. A poor one. Or a broke one, depending on whose metrics you’re using. And yes, I like to spend $3 on coffee in Fort Greene to make myself feel better. And yes, I am a fat girl eating an almond croissant covered in powdered sugar in public, which may be the worst offense of all. My mother paid for my daughter’s dance classes, Spike, because people who can be horrible can also be wonderful and grandparents are trying to get into heaven. You know that. You’ve listened to Cosby, haven’t you?
It’s ironic that a millionaire made me feel judged because I was sitting in “his” black, working-class neighborhood, the neighborhood I learned to love when I was in love with a black man. But powerful people with mean streaks have always made me feel intimidated and made me question all of my incredible strength. It’s like it melts away in front of their meanness, and I am left only as a little girl standing there whimpering, “Why? What did I ever do to you?” I just want to be friends. Or maybe I don’t anymore. I am less and less impressed by jerks. Less impressed, and less afraid, in spite of being triggered.
The world is ending and no one cares. It’s too late to stop climate change. That’s what someone said today on Facebook. I said it’s not too late if we start today, but we won’t because everyone is too willing to say it’s too late. Powerful business women write books about how women need to be more confident, and they’re right, but as a means of empowering a capitalistic system dead set on destroying us? I don’t know. My voice means nothing. I’m an amoeba in the big, big world. But our voices have power on the stage. I watched Anthony Atamanuik harness the power of all living things last night as he went on a rant as the great-grandson of Hitler, warning us that history repeats itself if we’re not careful, or even sometimes if we are. Those are the moments that carry meaning, when we create art and when we express love. The rest is just time.
I’m trying not to be so reactionary anymore. I’m highly skilled at it, and it benefits and detracts from my life. Let’s see what happens if I start acting. If I can figure out how.