Lo Nuevo

What Do Beverly and Dope Have in Common? ME!

Amores, the month of April is going to be extra hectic and extra awesome, with back-to-back openings for two different shows.

First, I’m extra-excited to be bringing TOUR GUIDES to the Beverly Arts Center, THIS FRIDAY (April 5), for THREE SHOWS ONLY! I hope those all-caps impart a sense of urgency, because this is my favourite version of the show, so far. Long time friends, fans, and enemies will be familiar with TOUR GUIDES, which is a theatrical love letter to Chicago, created and performed by the poets of the Poetry Performance Incubator at the Guild Complex. This is the FOURTH time we’ve remounted the show, and like the city we write about, the show changes every time we put it up. This time, we’ve swapped in 6 new stories and a brand new cast. (Don’t worry – we’ve kept many of the most popular pieces in the show, including a version of the pizza scene that I find impossible to direct because every time I watch it I laugh so hard I need to pee. TMI?)

Here’s the quick n’ dirty about the show: Tour Guides. April 5 and 6 at 7:30, April 7 at 3:30. Beverly Arts Center. For tickets and information, click here.

AND THEN… on April 25… drumroll please… DOPE opens at Free Street Theater!!!!! DOPE is a play, created by youth 14-19, that tells “420 Stories About Pot, Weed, Kush, Prisons, Parents, and People.” We’ve been working on it since October, and the ensemble is just so funny and smart. I mean, yes, the play has its share of stoner comedy, but it also offers a genuinely complicated look at the political economy around marijuana. Working at Free Street is such a gift… even on my most exhausted days, the youth make me feel really excited and hopeful about the future. That’s for real! For tickets and info, visit our website.

One Billion? Or Just One?

Sigh. Right now, as I write this, dozens of people I know–and thousands, if not millions, of people all over the world–are gathering to mark One Billion Rising, a V-Day project that calls for a kind of giant global dance party against sexual violence. All week, people have been asking me if i’m going to go. And all week, I’ve been shrugging my shoulders like the worst kind of grinch. Eh. I am just not that in to it. On the one hand, I’m happy about ANY event that keeps rape and sexual violence from being the kind of shameful, unspoken secret that people carry around inside of them like somehow they’re to blame for something someone else did. But on the other hand, I am JUST NOT THAT IN TO IT. My feelings about V-Day have always been ambivalent. I think their work is superficial, sometimes patronizing, and often fails to recognize the ways in which the specifics of women’s race, nationality, economic status, etc etc etc affect their ability to “rise” above rape. There is a really solid critique of the project here, and I’ll leave it there because I am too busy to go around reinventing wheels.

Despite my wariness about V-Day, though, I’m not a 100% hater. I don’t think that a global dance party will end rape, but I do think there is something to be said for responding to violence with joy and love, when you can. Not in the immediate, but in the aftermath. Too often, we talk about rape as the kind of thing that ruins lives, the kind of thing you never get over. And don’t get me wrong -rape changes a life, and not for the better, but it is also possible to heal from sexual violence, to get to a point where it is no longer the every-day-all-the-time-thought, where not every minute is marked with anxiety and terror. It is possible…eventually, with much support and love and help… to feel happy, whole, hopeful. Even after rape. It is not easy. It is not guaranteed. But it is possible.

I’m very open about being a survivor of sexual violence. I am less open about what that meant in my life, how deeply I hated myself, how ashamed and terrified I felt for years after the assaults. And part of the problem was not just that I was scared and hurt. It was that I could not imagine ever being happy again. I imagined myself as broken, as someone who had been robbed of something I could never get back. But eventually, I found a way to crawl out of that hole. I went to therapy. I became an activist. I listened to other survivors. I learned everything I could about systems of violence and how they worked together (sometimes people find this overwhelming, but I found it comforting. It made me understand how little I was at fault for what happened to me, and how much I could do to work for change.) But before all that, I found this poem: “To My Friend, Jerina” by Lucille Clifton. Oh my gosh. I cannot even begin to describe what shifted inside me when I read it, how less-alone I felt.  For years, I have carried Lucille’s lines in my heart, a mantra on the bad days: “but listen,/the girl is rising in me, not willing/to be left to the silent fingers/in the dark…” It was the first time I knew a poem could save a life. I really believe it helped save mine.

So, I’m not at Daley Plaza, busting a move in a flash mob. But I’m not rolling my eyes quite as often as I usually do when someone mentions the Vagina Monologues. Do I think One Billion Rising is really the start of a revolution? No. Do I think it risks being the kind of low-key one-off event that substitutes for deep and sustained grassroots activism? Duh – yeah. But do I think talking about rape matters? Yes. And even more, to talk about it with a kind of hope, a show of solidarity? It won’t change a system, but you never know… It might change a life.


Thanksgiving Poem, 2012

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m 37, ready to be Thankful for smaller things, everyday miracles. (more…)

The Truth About Lipgloss!!!!

Ja ja ja… That’s a misleading headline, but here’s a interview I did on Vocalo.org about performance, environmental racism in Chicago, and why I’ve switched to organic lip gloss:

Coya Paz and Jerry from PERRO.mp3 on Vocalo.org 89.5

Please Join My Mailing List!

I’m trying out a formal, opt-in mailing list, because I don’t want to be a spammer or a stalker! Sign up for OCCASIONAL emails and information about upcoming events:

Unnatural Spaces is HERE!!!!!

Unnatural Spaces Unnatural Spaces opens in just two days! Whoa! I am so excited. Working on this show has been an incredible blessing – it has brought me into contact with new people and new ideas, and dramatically (I mean, dramatically!) transformed my environmental politics. Before I started working on Unnatural Spaces, I thought “environmentalism” was about recycling, about maybe riding my bike to work. Now, when I think about “the environment,” I think about the relationship between toxic metal syndrome and violence in Chicago. I think about the relationship between lead poisoning and school test scores. I think about the relationship between food additives, poverty, and lowered life expectancy. I think about the way that our culture produces not only disposable products, but disposable people – large chunks of the population who are consistently on the front lines of toxic waste.

But this awakening has not brought with it a sense of judgement towards others. From the beginning, the poets and performers working on the project have been adamant that we didn’t want this piece to be “preachy,” that we didn’t want to assume a position that we were experts, that we had answers. Instead, we wanted to ask questions and to complicate, to look at “the environment” from diverse points of view and from a place of human generosity. (In general, this is the guiding principle of my work, to approach from a perspective of “critical generosity” that acknowledges the messiness of human lives.)

We also wanted to be funny. I know, I know… a play about environmental justice created by collective of poets doesn’t scream “must-see comedy of the year!” And Unnatural Spaces definitely isn’t a comedy. But in trying to get to the “honest place” in our conversation about the environment, we’ve found a lot of humour. After all, people are weird, funny creatures, full of contradictions. And believe me, there is comedy gold in asking people to list all the reasons they do things like pee in public pools or wear their flip flops in the shower.

So, yeah… it is two days before opening and I feel so READY to share this piece with the world, to sit next to friends and strangers and find out what kinds of conversations the show opens up. Want to join me?


Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7pm at the Hairpin Arts Center (2800 N. Milwaukee Ave)

Tickets are $15 dollars general admission, $7 for students, and $5 for groups of ten or more (bargain!)

For more information, please visit guildcomplex.org