¿A quien eres adentro...en tu corazon? Who would you be if the world were not hard? Who would you be without your gun? Who would you be, if there were no Knight Riders, no lynching, no little girls without fathers? Who would you be if these things were no more?"
----Cilo from the play, Good Bread Alley by April Yvette Thompson
I get lots of offers to speak on panels, interviews, classes, universities to talk about the "the problem with this or the problem with the American Theatre, the problem with Black Women & Natural Hair, the problem with Black film, the problem, yadda yadda, yadda....You get the picture. I always turn these offers down and I haven't been able to articulate a satisfactory reason why until something smart that a dear friend, Travis Allen, said to me, "By the time, many people decide to come to you, it's already too late in the game."
I spent all weekend thinking about that wisdom and it gave me some insight into my aforementioned dilemma: Many people have a lot of great ideas, but once folks find out how much work is involved with solving a problem or even focusing long enough to come up w/one plan of action; they get so overwhelmed by the volume of work involved that somewhere in the back of their minds, they confuse discussion with action.
I spent most of my college years discussing and educating people on what "the problem of the day was" and left college exhausted. I even did it in personal relationships. I realize that that was my way of getting to a solution and streamlining what my primary interests were and what my life's work would be. Once I figured that out and made a game plan around centering every event, endeavor, job, relationship around my primary goal, I no longer had time to discuss the problem. I was, in my own steady focused way, pursuing activities that were in line with my goal of resolving the problem. And slowly, as my activity has become more focused and specific; people, opportunities and visions for solving a problem started falling in my lap.
The key is to ask myself everyday: Is this thing in front of me in a direct line of getting me closer to solving the problem of my life's work? When it's not, it feels exhausting, taxing and difficult. When it IS in line, it feels easy, it feels like kismet, it feels like yes...yes...yes...to life! I just have to be courageous enough to honor it and say "no" to stuff without feeling the need to justify it...but, rather to see that decision as a positive act of embracing my life...and what I was put here to do...
Often musings about the problem and statistics (which I love because they feel so absolute and then you're relieved of having to do anything) and discussions are a clever way of getting away from a fundamental truth. The problem may exist as an issue in the wider world: racism, gender inequities, self-acceptance, social/economic problems in the black community...yadda yadda yadda...but the most fundamental change is not in a discussion or an affirmation, but rather in a shift in what you personally believe about yourself and others.
We are handed down a set of dreams and fears from those who came before. I was daring to write about something taboo about the black church and my mother lovingly suggested I step away and my very fabulous gay uncle said, "Honey, that's your fear, don't lay that on April." God bless you, Christopher. These fears that we've inherited have total validity (u might genuinely get your ass kicked for going where no one has gone before); however, at the time the fears and dreams of our ancestors, parents, teachers, elders were being created, they had a set of tools that have now become obsolete. We have access to a whole new set of tools. Sometimes we use the tools, but never read the manuals because we say, "well, my people did it w/out a manual, why do I need one?" Well, because my predecessors often worked miracles with broken tools and broken systems, so I could get the brand new ones. Why would I not read them?
Well, because if I actually read the manuals and used the new tools, I would then have to stop believing that the problems have the power defeat me. So the questions becomes: Who am I and what am I able to accomplish in the absence of my "problems." Sure, I get that the problems are there (racism, sexism, temporarily-without-funds-ism) but in the moments where I create a story for myself in which the problems don't exist, I begin to make new stories in my life. And each action that I take in behalf of my goals is the most powerful thing in the world.
It's loving myself and my dreams ahead of my fears. It's not a discussion or an daily affirmation, but rather it is a physical action in behalf of my self. It is a revolutionary act of self-love that I had to physically take on and step up to the plate and take a swing at it. And no matter what happens, there's something magically, life-altering that gets a foothold in my soul that won't let go. I wake up w/the experience in my mind: the blood rushing through my veins, shaky pulse, sweating palms, the rush and fear and excitement of loving my dream into real-life action stays with me. Each dare, each tactic I use to turn around a long-held belief in my life, wipes out all the "problems." They exist, but they can't touch me, because they no longer apply. I can look back on them and say "Thank you, problem, for pushing me to get away from you, I feel so much better and clearer because i did it. I did what you told me I could not and that's mine. The problem is now yours and I'm kindly handing it back to you because it has served it's purpose..."
(to be continued as i figure this shit out)
April Yvette Thompson is a Tony-winning producer, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer in search of beauty, truth, love & flights of serendipitous grace.