Last month, we commissioned Minneapolis-based theater artist and activist Shá Cage to write a featured article for us. Shá has been part of the Playwrights’ Center family for many, many years, and we’re always grateful when she lends her voice to the work of the Center. The result of the commission was RUN!!!, a powerful meditation on the past few months, written following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
After speaking with Shá over the past few days, in response to the murder of George Floyd, we have jointly decided to move ahead with publishing her article RUN!!! as written, along with commissioning a second piece that will be published next week, building upon the powerful narrative she has created here.
We look forward to partnering with Shá not only on these writings but on a bigger project with her company TruRuts that seeks to create a space for the building of an anthology of Twin Cities Black artist voices. Stay tuned for more details on that project soon!
Thirty-seven days into home quarantine and the walls have closed in and opened and closed again. The hysteria of a lack of ventilators (or as Trump calls them, “generators”), masks, access to health care, testing, and just truthful and clear information has been suffocating. Police brutality, homelessness, and unemployment skyrocketing. Racist attacks on Asians across the world, the senseless killing of Ahmaud Arbery, tapped out Relief aid, funding cuts and lack of transparency therein, the rise in domestic violence, inequities hyper-defined, challenges of homeschooling, theaters and places of entertainment closed indefinitely, Zoom becoming the new normal, artists falling through the cracks, and just day to day making ends meet. And of course, there’s the death toll numbers. The bodies on ice still awaiting burials. And the cases of people who weren’t able to have funerals in this time. I have friends in this number. Whose spirits were unable to get a traditional community sendoff as many of us are accustomed to. May they rest in peace. I find myself thanking the universe for the gift of prayer. Some days it’s all I’ve got. To rise up in the morning and get down again on bent knee. To meditate and pray for all that has been lost. Most days this practice is grounding and restorative and places me in a calm and understanding that allows me to face the tomorrow excited about what new can be built out of the rubble. But once in a while, the thoughts and dreams and late night news spin into an unstoppable tornado of mental madness. The darkest what-ifs threatens to explode, and the walls are closing in ever so slowly like in those old movies where the water is rising from below.
And then, out of nowhere, like a glimmer of neon or light or whatever the hell that thing is that feels like hope in a never ending tunnel of darkness. I realize that I am not alone. That there are others like me. We women of the sun as my grandmother used to say. Sun-kissed and blessed with kisses /no one like us/ can ever understand, because our past and present and our simple day-to-day is complicated. Shange spoke truth! Complicated in the ritual of putting simple pen to paper to illustrate the feeling of being brown and female and stuck in the belly of a pandemic who’s got it out for you and yours. Unable to move or yell or holler or break things when the voice inside of you is screaming, shouting, punching the insides of this strangely surreal dank place. You’ve been swallowed whole without notice or warning or, hell, not even that tiny pink note that the job gives you to tell you to pack your things and just leave. There was no time to RUN. Literally none. So you stood and looked out at the mess of madness and scramble for balance. For safety. You searched the faces of your people for answers and, like a morning dew falling delicately round sunrise, without announcement, there is a quiet peace. That light, that glimmer, that neon. Your sisters surround you like a blanket of dahlias. There is something ceremonious happening here. Their bodies are soaked in protective oils and they wear nothing but their babies on their backs and around their necks. I cannot see their eyes, for they are closed in prayer. In chant and silent song. There is union here. Kindred to our ancestor’s sway and whispers on boats across the Atlantic. One by one, I orbit each of these women. Straining to witness the wholeness of their prayers.
Woman 1. She wears a crown of locks that extend beneath her back, holding a child in each arm. Hers is aching stillness:
When I'm frozen in fear, unable to move, I go within. We've faced these troubled times before and it was our ability to get still that made our next move clear.
Woman 2. She rocks side to side. She has been here before and wears no face of fear:
I know I have young eyes on me watching and learning from me how to face mountains of fear. When I feel overwhelmed and that the task at hand is insurmountable, I draw upon the strength of my ancestors and remember that I come from a legacy of survival and resilience. Most recently, I am clearly hearing my ancestors speak to me and remind me of my connection to the earth and eternal life. This guidance has led me to planting my first intentional vegetable garden, and with each seed I plant, I return the pain I cannot handle back into the earth to be transformed into LIFE.
Woman 3. She bends down. Hair long and unwieldy. A streak of grey.
A silent scream in the ears of her bi-racial girl-children:
You are beautiful! Beautiful brown women! You come from hard-working Immigrants.
Work harder! You have to work 3 times harder than they do!!
Be better! But, you are good enough just as you are!
You don't have to prove anything to anyone!
Mistakes are not your luxury!
Be yourself—even when the world doesn't reflect you!
You are not invisible. Scream your truth!
But not too loud. You are not invisible. They are watching you more closely.
Jasmine from Aladdin isn't your only role model! Is she?
Woman 4. She cups her heart with her palms then extends her arms up towards the sun then back to heart. Fingers reach and shake with fervor.
During this time of uncertainty, it’s been hard to put down roots of creativity. I am constantly struggling with balance and motivation. People are losing their lives and I feel guilty for not using every minute of life that I have to improve myself in some way. Then again, I remember that people are losing their lives and that it’s okay to just be. Gentleness, patience, and easiness is what I have to offer to myself. Tomorrow is a new day, and if I want to create art, then I will. If I don’t, that’s okay too. During this time, I instinctively reach out to my ancestors to get me through. As an artist, I feel it’s important to reach out and support each other. I am grateful for our artistic community leaders that have kept us engaged during this time. Because of them I have kept my mind, body, and spirit engaged. These are terrifying times, not only because of Covid-19, but because the virus of racism is constantly killing us too. What do we do with that? What do we do with the rage? How do we heal? I have more questions than answers. I’m hoping that as a society, we take this misfortune as an opportunity to create the peaceful reality that many of us crave.
Woman 5. She sways her limbs as if dancing. A brown body on ice:
Right now, my days consist of incessantly reaching for calm while swimming in chaos and fear. The moment I think I have it in my grasp, letting up on the throttle, I find myself confronted once again by the stress. My body is telling me I am moving too fast, too reactive. Trying to heed this wisdom yet again, I promise to obey my boundaries. Right now this is life, this constant buoying back and forth between myself and the world.
Woman 6. She anoints her midnight blue black skin with warlike symbols in gold and glitter. Her smile wickedly curls on either side:
I feel like I have been PUSHED to come into a different body + mind of myself—A new glowed up version of myself, an instinctual one, that remembers the ways of my great great great grandmother's. I have been crying and grieving for my inner child for a while now, but now I know how important it is for me to heal so I can move on, especially in times of uncertainty.
The ideas of the world that I once had about land, politics, and people, in general, have changed—I'm seeing how our minds have been conditioned & colonized to believe in untrue ideas of ourselves. That isolation is normalized. In isolation, there's body awareness. Emotional + mental health, healthy thoughts can be fleeting at times. I struggle with anxiety and depressive episodes in a high-functioning way, at times. Some days are okay, some are good and horrible at the same time. Some days are real sweet. Some days I walk and feel the sun. Some days I'm extremely moody and I sleep + rest.
As an artist, it's hard not to compare or feel the need to be productive, coming from a capitalistic mindset. You see other artists doing so much, and you can oftentimes wonder if you're doing enough. It's hard not to compare, but it's good to be compassionate towards YOURSELF. I want MN artists to get paid what they deserve and be valued as artists here. I want us to get compensated for our creative ideas all the time. I miss performance with people in the room. Performing is my playground, and I'm feeling less fulfilled without it. To be dark skin and queer right now is tough, but when hasn't it been? They been killing us. You see the strength of black trans, queer, femme, and non-binary folx right now— they are finding JOY and holding onto it. That's our power, it lies in our joy.
Woman 7. Her hair is wrapped with indigo cloth, and she wears a bag strapped across her body with herbal remedies from her garden. She sings:
This time I can rest. This time I can rest. Where my sacred spaces had turned into office space… I take a moment to pause… clear out the deadlines and rest. I rejuvenate, return, re-establish, relax, reconnect, remember… that we are resilient, and we can get through with breath.
This time I can rest. This time I can rest.
These women speak all together and at once. A lull. A whisper. This is a salutation. Slowly, I take my place in this circle that has been made for me. A bright rush of Joy. Tears flood my face, and I am running. High speed and free. Arms swinging wild and wide then falling in sync. Yet my feet are steady on the ground; but running. How so? Clarity washes over me. The race is happening. Has been for some time. These women of the sun are weaving. They’ve been here all along. Surrounding me. Sculpting. Blessing. Crying. Creating. Healing. Waiting. Watching. Protecting. Dreaming. In this circle, we mourn all that we are leaving behind and will never look back to collect. For this race we are running is of a different nature. What we need, we already possess. We are ready!
Contributing women: (1) ShaVunda Horsley Brown, (2) Keegan Xavi, (3) Aamera Siddiqui, (4) Hope Cervantes, (5) Deneane Richburg, (6) Ashe Jaafaru, (7) Aishe Keita