Getting COMFORTABLE with the UNCOMFORTABLE
PAGES has done it again: pushed the envelope, challenged our minds, opened our hearts and widened our scope! As is to be expected, the unexpected loomed but quickly disappeared into what becomes the rich and ripe opportunity which sits waiting for us in the atmosphere of the classroom. Like last year, I was invited to inspire and make connections between Wexner events and high school students to eventually manifest onto the page through writing. Last year I partnered with the film I Am Not Your Negro, using the text of James Baldwin to lead students toward tough topics and expression through their physical selves. This year we journeyed with performance artist, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s piece SEANCERS. The piece was inspired by the immense grief and loss in Kosovo’s life to be born on stage in its sometimes weird, sometimes beautiful, in snatches poignant and at times uncomfortable truth. This piece was text, song, effects, costume, props and a little bit of disco with some prickly parts strategically placed. It was live and in your face.
I went in with a focus on two words: “grief” and “loss” but it soon became apparent that the core of this work, for this particular project and meeting the students where THEY were, centered around the state of “being uncomfortable”. How could we collectively make some kind of gentle peace with this feeling? How could these students coming from different demographics, economic standing and racial and gender divides find harmony with their bodies. Although I struggled with my own discomfort at initially being unable to gain their trust to move almost at all, I knew I needed to make a shift. The first shift came from my placing any small bit of ego off to the side and not succumb to self-indulgence but instead to remind myself of my purpose: how can I serve? How can I help these students in some way? This is always the most useful question that I am faced to respond to when I am reckoning with my own discomfort. The next shift was trusting that how I prepared them for their visit-which would no doubt blow their minds-and although perhaps void of the kind of movement with them that I’d intended, all would coalesce and tiny crumbs of “the work” would begin to reveal themselves as Pages always somehow magically delivers. And there it was…that Pages magic. After we all dipped into the perilous and fascinating performance art of Mr. Kosoko’s work, things started to germinate, little light bulbs of questions flickered on, tiny yet monumental self-discoveries crept out into the open and these students’ worlds were dusted with just a bit more space, a bit more room and a sliver of possibility. There is magic in it but there is mostly the work of it. It is a collaborative in real time as we stumble and feel around in the dark to bring art, life and uncomfortable truths to the fore and always (borrowed from the PAGES creator Dionne Custer Edwards) “meeting them where they are”. As a result, the students were brave and wrestled with their discomfort which ended up being secondary to the experience of Seancers and really liked it! The cherry on top came in the post-visit when a new openness and willingness to share came without the strain and movement with their bodies were finding that trust and harmony.I had done my work, the educators had done their fearless work and the students were shining. This is what PAGES consistently does.
And is the goal really to make peace with being uncomfortable? Perhaps its learning and trusting just enough to recognize that we need that resistance to push through and move through because who knows what small precious jewels lay waiting on the other side. And shouldn’t that notion of possibility be reason enough to simply try.