Happy end of January. Here’s what I’ve been up to this past year, what I’ve learned, and questions for 2019. Pull up a chair!
This summer, I took a two-week intensive course on theatre, ritual, and healing, taught by Hector Aristizábal, at the CUNY SPS MA in Applied Theatre. In the course, each participant went to the woods and performed a meditative ritual, then returned to the group and created theatre about what they’d found.
My experience in the woods was a turning point for me, and also a point of reference for my other work in the year.
In an opening in the trees, I found an old boulder bathed in light. I climbed up on it, lay down, and listened. After a while, I got the message, from the light, “everything is okay. You’re following your calling. You have everything you need.”
Last week, I wrote about the power of photographs to liberate and oppress, from Frederick Douglass’s Daguerreotypes to a Manhattan photo instructor’s fraught relationship with his model.
I am concerned to be on the liberatory side of photography history. Goodwill alone won’t take me there. So, this week, I am articulating what had been my nascent principles for portrait photography.
As I developed my thoughts for this piece, I found familiar influences from my coaching training. This didn't surprise me, because I've been thinking about those connections over the last year. I was gratified to also find the influence of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire. In his text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire lays out a philosophy for a democratic relationship between an educator and students. He theorizes a “co-intentional” relationship: the educator and students share power. They negotiate together what they will study and how they will learn, and the educator teaches by posing problems and questions about lived experience, rather than coming to the classroom with ready-made answers. Nonetheless, the educator is still responsible for being an expert in the issue at hand and for setting a course that will best serve the students. Thus, the alliance remains dynamic, supporting students in taking risks and making new discoveries.
My good friend Mike invited me to go the Women’s March on Washington with him. He was getting a van and he had a place to stay in DC. I turned him down. Even though I believe in the protest, I explained, being in protests is hard for me. I get anxious in the crowd and duck out early.
Mike pushed back, on phone and in email. This is important, he said. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, and we need people out there. I agreed. Nonetheless, when I have marched in protests before, no matter how cathartic or important they are, eventually my stomach knots up, my mind races so I can’t think straight, I start walking faster to avoid the people around me, and I jump out before I lose it. I told him I wasn’t going. I also resolved to get to the bottom of what was upsetting me and show up as 100% Michael at the sister march in NYC.
Two colleagues of mine were debating how much to bring identity politics into their work. For one of them, it was irresponsible to take the lead in conversations about their participants’ cultural identities: for example, in the first session, don’t ask a Filipino woman about prejudice she’s faced. She probably wants to show up as a person, rather than being reduced to this one aspect of her identity and the presumption she’s faced prejudice. For the other colleague, it was irresponsible not to get into politics: go ahead and acknowledge early that the client is a Filipino woman and that prejudices exist, so she doesn’t have to worry about bringing that up herself, and she knows that you embrace a core part of who she is beyond stereotypes.
The debate got me itching to articulate my own stance on engaging cultural identities in coaching.
In the ‘90s, Nicholas Cage spent a lot of time in his movies sort of being a badass. More than I would like to admit, he became a part of my psyche. Now and then, I close my eyes and see him there. The Rock Nic Cage is shaking off his dweebishness to stop terrorists from nerve gassing San Fransisco; Gone in 60 Seconds Nic Cage is stealing cars and saving cops’ lives; Con Air Nic Cage isfoiling hijackers to get home to his wife and girl, dropping one liners in his greasy tank top.
Wouldn’t he like to take a break? The Nicholas Cage in my psyche, I mean?
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a little boy who found an egg. The boy loved the egg and kept it warm, and when the boy was ten years old the egg hatched into a dragon.