Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Wake up! There are three snakes in your bed

June 11, 2010

Imagine yourself awaking, stretching as you leisurely unfurl yourself, eyes closed, into a regal recline. You are the mother of two rambunctious, loveable rascals whom have not as yet arisen.

You are luxuriating in the resonance of an audible inner exhale that thrills your every cell as it breathes from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, when, surrendering to the “Ahh,” your Zen is shattered by a helium-high pitched “One. Two. Three.” In stereo!

Welcome to one morning in my world. The boys were up. I opened my eyes to witness them cocksuredly laying out on the other pillow in my bed, their catch of the day, three lithe, not so little, garden snakes. Do you have any idea what freshly captured garden snakes smell like?

There they stood, Moses and Malik, wide-eyed, breathless, proud as peacocks, grinning Cheshire cats; the cats that got the cream. I could conjure another cliché, but you get the picture I am sure.

My gut reaction, the girly-girl in me. Yes, I know this is non politically correct language, but this is the truest way I can describe that particular bit of the many bits that make up the whole of me. Do you want to know what the woman/hag/crone/angel/witch/goddess/mother in me, wanted to do to my darlings?

Anyway, as I was saying, the girly-girl in me wanted to wretch, scream, hurl – all over Moses and Malik, not the serpents – but then I remembered Gwendoline. Gwendoline, heroine, star, of my little picture book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!”

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what Gwendoline is made of, but, Gwendoline loves all things squiggly, wiggly, creepy and crawly. Yes! Gwendoline loves bugs! Forgive me but, cheek-to-cheek, in full pillow-patter pose with three ticked off ophidians, there is no distinction between a worm and a snake.

As I thought of Gwendoline, my stomach settled and I found my breath. Did you know you can breathe through your skin? I sat reclining, admittedly at this point more rigid than regal, smiling wanly, somewhat stupefied, and questioned how my life had come to this. No prince charming on my pillow. No knight in shining armor, only three Thamnophis Sirtalis serpents on my bolster, and Moses and Malik, fruit of my womb, standing to attention, positively glowing in exaltation. Had my offspring presented me at that time, with the Hope diamond, or a hundred-million-dollar winning lottery ticket, they could not have been more certain of their worth and entitlement to my deepest gratitude and undying love. I marveled at how I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I am she of the wild reverie,) imagined that this would be my life.

Do you know what? Looking back I am so glad I had never imagined so many of things that have been my life, for had I, I would have run hard and fast the other way (whichever direction that might have been.) Boy would I have missed out on so many weird and wonderful experiences.

I mean, one has not lived unless one can truthfully say, “I have reclined in bed with three snakes simultaneously – the reptile kind!”

This column originally appeared in the May, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

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The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville

May 12, 2010

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, I organized, directed and performed in (alongside twelve other “Vagina Warriors”) Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues.” The show, a “The Ladies Who Dare!” production took place at Bloomfield Great House, Restaurant and Bar. A benefit production for the V-Day movement and the Montego Bay Home For Girls (Melody House,) it was the first-ever performance in Mandeville.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville, Cast

Vagina Warriors Are We!

Vagina Warrior, Dr. Glenda Simms

Doing The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica was for me a personal quest. They say life is a journey and I concur. As I travel this life journey, raising my two sons in a country that is their country but not my country, and liberating myself from an oppressive marriage, I am surprised to find myself discovering my Jamaican roots. Crazy as it may sound, I am being directed, by my ancestors, to my spiritual home. The grandmothers are attempting to remind me as I trundle along in this my turbulent life, of the often forgotten yet most crucial, rest stop on the road to wholeness and home.

My parents are Jamaican. They immigrated to England before Jamaica’s independence, to partake of their “piece of the pie,” and help themselves to some of those golden ingots that paved the streets of London. Leaving behind their secrets, shames, and unresolved grief, to create a new life in a better place and then, as quick as one can say “Abracadabra,” become better people.

Unfortunately, shames, secrets and unresolved grief, all wrapped up as they are, with your spirit and soul, cannot help but follow you wherever you go, wherever you are and if left unattended to, wreak havoc on your life.

Prior to The Vagina Monologues in Mandeville, I had been lucky enough to visit Jamaica a few times over the eighteen or so months prior to the production, however, there were certain things “culturally” that bothered me. I experienced many a moment that had me wondering, both cerebrally and increasingly vociferously, how I could get The Vagina Monologues to Jamaica; how I felt Jamaica needed “The Vagina Monologues.”

More often than not, people would giggle and then rapidly recoil from me. I swear I could hear ladies’ brains questioning “… but, she seemed like such a nice girl?” followed fretfully by, “Where the hell is my husband?” He of “the little brush” on the other hand, had a tendency, once he recovered from the shock of such a word tumbling so nonchalantly from the lips of one who had one (a vagina that is,) would move in closer, pressing, ever-emboldened now, on my personal boundary barrier.

Nevertheless, at times shaken, but ultimately, undeterred, I kept coming back to Jamaica, and, because that is who I am, I continued voicing my opinions with regard to The Vagina Monologues. (What I now realize is that along the way, I was finally fully discovering, exposing and embracing, “the Lady Who Dares” in me, myself and I.)

Abuse, in its myriad forms, has been an uninvited guest on this life journey. My father beat my mother. My mother beat her children. My oldest brother beat me up because, being first-born, con willy, he had license you see, obtained free and clear from mummy dearest, who relegated to third power-position behind my dad and her eldest son, considered me someone who needed to be brought down a peg or two. Then chiseled and chipped a little, and still believing in fairytales, I met and married my very own white knight in shining armor – sparkling, solid, stainless steel, commanding and wholly impervious to emotion it was.  (In truth, I think there was a mix up at the bookstore and I somehow ended up with a white, bearded smiting dude.)

Still, such is life, you live and learn, as the saying goes. And I choose to seek and accept, my lessons, and laugh, and dance, and sing, and love (beginning with myself – warts and all,) and heal.

Abuse, particularly against women and girls, is subtly sanctioned by the mores of society, innocuously mixed in with the adhesive that adheres the, acceptable labels (and accompanying characteristics and expectations) assigned to she; woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, girlfriend, grandmother and friend.

I am attempting to end the cycle that inflicts my family (me, myself and I, and my two sons.) I am calling it what it is. I am exposing it, and I shall not be claiming it as my shame, something to be hidden, covered up and endured in silence.

Contrary to popular belief, mandates, dogma and doctrine, abuse is not woman’s burden to carry. It is not my burden to carry and pass down to my children packaged in with the bone china and family heirlooms. As I continue to learn about my Jamaican heritage and history, I am beginning to understand more and more the cycle of abuse as it relates to me.

As I commit to the struggle of becoming aware and wholly conscious, of me, who I am, naked of all labels, and step away from those same civilized mores, discarding the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of life and, as I like to say, “reclaim my vagina,” what I have discovered is that the universe gifts us with opportunities to aid in our quest for enlightenment; for our own truth. The Vagina Monologues was, for me, one of those gifts.

I have performed in The Vagina Monologues in the US several times. In fact my first ever rehearsal was on my 40th birthday. (Dr. Glenda Simms said that women don’t begin to come into their own until their forties… I will admit that I am a late bloomer, although in many respects I was born old.) The effect it has had on my life has been profound, or destructive, dependent upon your perspective. It has empowered me. It clarified abuse in my own personal world and the world at large, and its disguises, as it tore me open, and shamelessly exposed how entwined, how encumbered humanity is in its madness. Especially women.

It showed me how it is all the same thing, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, societal; whether we wear bruises the world can see, or we carry the pain, internally and constipated, its aim is to diminish us, to negate us, to crush our inherent, life-giving, life-bringing, life-bearing, omnipotent power and have us fighting and fearing ourselves and each other.

Quite simply the aim of abuse against women and girls is, at its core, an effort to contain and control our life force, our creativity – our sexuality. It shouted out to me that abuse of any kind, whether directed toward woman, man, flora or beast, is never about love. It is always about control, and the two sides of the same anger coin, insecurity and fear.

It touched me so deeply; it changed my life – opened the door on a little chaos some might say – yet here was a medium for healing, empowerment, enlightenment, education, entertainment, lots of laughter, lots of tears, and liberation. My being a part of it accelerated me into awakening and pushed me gently back to breathing on my own. I was a genie in a bottle (a blue one) I rubbed, I am out and I am never going back. Performing in the Vagina Monologues helped me find my stroke.

I believe that every human – man and woman – needs to see it; needs to be touched by the power of it, so they too can know where and how abuse touches them, where and how they abuse, and begin to work to stop it. “To help us all remember the inherent, life-bearing, omnipotent power of woman; that without She, there cannot be, You, He, She, nor We.” I too believe that every woman, (every Jamaican woman,) needs to be afforded the opportunity to perform in The Vagina Monologues, however small a part, for the participating is, in itself, empowering, imbuing a sense of pride and accomplishment, unlocking the long-buried memory of her inherent, awesome, inner strength.

To see it, or to be in it, can and will assist in opening up much needed dialogue, for oneself and for others, about abuse and its suffocating side-kicks, pain, shame, secrets, rage and fear. I absolutely believe that dialogue, daring to say, to tell, to speak out loud, is the first step toward healing. Putting it out there allows other women to know they are not the only one.

By organizing, directing and performing in The Vagina Monologues on the island of Jamaica, and, serendipitously, in the parish of my parents and my ancestors, as I continue on my personal journey of healing and liberation, I find that I need to be the universe’s messenger and share this power-filled gift with the Jamaican woman.

I am grateful to have been able to meet ladies brave enough to dare to make it happen with me, to share themselves and their voices in order to give voice to the unseen and unheard among us (and those of us who truly don’t know it is abuse, for it is our norm, it is all we know,) whom though invisible and silent are out there, all over our world, ever increasing in numbers, being swept up in the hurricane of abuse against women and girls, then discarded on the outside, disheveled, disorientated feeling powerless and in pain, struggling just to survive and, inevitably in their shame-filled silence, becoming the fuel that keeps the cycle flowing and repeating itself.

The madness of abuse emotionally and physically cripples, not only women and girls, but men and boys too, and humanity is dying spiritually because of it.

I am deeply honored, and humbled, to have played a small part in helping to shine a light to expose this truth, so we can all work individually, yet collectively, to end the madness and begin the process of healing.

See photos from “The Vagina Monologues, Mandeville, 2009” here:
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100009
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100038
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100024

Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Where I am from

January 22, 2010

I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from sorrow and sadness and survival and shame
I am from whippings and welts and wounds and weeping
I am from broken promises and pride and palpable pain
I am from struggle and survival and assimilation and success
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from unresolved grief and joy and untruths and blind rage
I am from maligned myths and mutilated memories and hunger and hurt
I am from detachment and deception and disappointment and dreams
I am from learned malaproprism and miseducation and petrified hearts
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from imposed schizophrenia and divinity denied
I am from beatings and bashings and banishment and betrayal
I am from coughed up colonialism and regurgitated rhetoric
I am from misappropriated majesty and ingested iniquity
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from laughter and distrust and religious oppression
I am from the fable of good versus evil and heaven and hell
I am from serpents and mermaids and magic and melanin
I am from stolen stories and language and lineage and lore
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from fear and forgotten and humanity hindered
I am from rehabilitated human relics reassembled all wrong
I am from beauty and darkness and inviolate inner strength
I am from currency corruption and conquest and con
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from ancestors restless and whispering wisdom
I am from ancestors uprising and possessing and guiding
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing
I am from love

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Neighbor’s exclaimation reveals the heirlooms that bind us to our past

September 11, 2009

Aaaarrghhhh!!!

That was the sound of delighted recognition, involuntarily escaping the throat of my neighbor’s cousin, upon spying a strainer in a cupboard.

It was Independence Day. Invited to dinner at a neighbor’s house, we ladies were in the kitchen and the boys were outside practicing legalized pyromania, under the supervision of a responsible adult, of course.

Boisterous chatter and laughter filled the air, mingling melodically with the distant staccato crackle of sparklers and Pop-its. Suddenly, my neighbor ducked beneath the counter to retrieve a utensil, but her access was impeded by uncooperative cabinet mechanism. Her cousin bent down to assist and then, screamed.

My vivid imagination shifted, immediately, into overdrive – unlike my legs or body, which, I will confess, did not even deign to feign activity. Picturing a cache of rodent droppings, or a rodent(s) deep in rigor mortis, I was quite content to be on my side of the counter and was congratulating myself on my good fortune, when comprehensible conversation resumed.

“I have that strainer, but mine is bigger! It’s got to be 60 years old!” Exclaimed my neighbor’s cousin.

“You do? This was my grandmother’s!” Responded my neighbor.

“It might even be 70 years old.” Said her cousin.

“I bet it came from a set.” Declared my neighbor.

Passing the strainer tenderly between themselves, my neighbor and her cousin (whose grandmothers were sisters) bantered excitedly back and forth, delving into their memories, reminiscing. I marveled at how a simple strainer had so effortlessly opened a pathway to their pasts, their present and their familial connections. It was as if magical memory tentacles poured forth from this strainer and bound them, no, hugged them, together.

Their excitement was palpable. I sat utterly enchanted, smiling, my heart filling, honored to be a sentimental observer, allowed to bask in their joy, when out of nowhere an ill-mannered curmudgeon clonked me out of my heart and into my head.

Abruptly, I was no longer in my neighbor’s kitchen. I was inside my own head, and thinking. Thinking how I didn’t have kitchen accoutrements with memory tentacles that had been passed down my family tree, to me. How I had no fancy wedding crockery, not even a chipped mug, with sentimental, scream-inducing value, for my poor, evidently deprived, sons to inherit.

I don’t recall purchasing a ticket, but I had boarded the “Woe Is Me” train, which was hurtling down a track that I was laying. About to sign the papers promoting me from “track layer” to driver of said train, the Universe mercifully intervened, bonking me on my noggin, bringing me back to “Life.” As I “regained consciousness,” I heard my guardian angel, (or was it my inner child?) admonishing: “You don’t even believe in fancy china, Silly Billy!”

Puttering alone around my house the next day, I caught a glimpse of my late father’s red guitar. Halted mid-putter, a silent scream ricocheted and resonated within me. Instantly, I remembered how my siblings and I had loved to sit at my dad’s feet, luxuriating in the sound of his strumming and singing; how my dad had insisted I take the guitar from his house when I had, once again, rushed back to England to visit him in the hospital. (How I couldn’t do it because it would have meant admitting he was going to die.) I recalled how, when I finally received the guitar, (my dad died a year later, peacefully at home), I taught myself to play, beginning triumphantly with the D, G and A7 chords. I chuckled when I thought about how when I play this red guitar, my sons will sometimes, unconsciously, sing along with me. (Don’t tell them I told.)

And I realized that I did, too, have my own scream-inducing family heirloom. Only my “Aaaarrghhhh!!!” is more of an, “Huuummmm!” and definitely in the key of D.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Are there family heirlooms in your life that make you squeal?