Steam Car of the Muses
"Calliope, halt your well-made chariot here..." (Bacchylides, Fragment 5, trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV, Greek lyric C5th B.C.), "...queen of the groves of song, uplift thy lyre and begin the tale..." (Statius, Thebaid 4. 32 ff, trans. Mozley, Roman epic C1st A.D.), "...begin the lovely verses; set desire on the song and make the choral dance graceful." (Alcman, Fragment, trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II, Greek lyric C7th B.C.)
What fuels this? What fuels me?
A reprieve from the 92° cloudbursts and thunderstorms of recent weeks, it is merely a steamy 83° in mid-July Brooklyn today. I have parked my MacBook at Coleur Cafe with chansons, salmon crèpes, and espressos in the air, my Android on hand as my lyre, and two cream-puff puppies sleeping at my scarlet-sandaled feet. Like if by some century-long industrial volcanic eruption, hardened concrete flows to the water in every direction, such that it is strangely easy to forget these are islands—an archepelago even—until the long bellow of a barge carries on the wind through Victorian tenement windows to my ears at night. When I was pregnant a few years ago, feeling rather like a whale if not an actual barge, I would bellow the call back toward the sea.
But that is not the kind of pregnant as with Calliope.
At a certain point, a person realizes she is quite good at certain things. And those certain things serve the world in a certain way that is valuable. And being certain about all of this, a person further realizes that she is in a position of power. And with that power comes the awesome ability to actually shape the nature of the work and, through that, the industry, and a small part of the world. And within that world, a responsibility to re-create things as they should be. As I near 40, a woman and a mother, a musician and writer and creator, a connector with an ability to determine to some extent what stories are told and amplified in the world, I am ready to be one of these leaders.
With Calliope, I am committing to venture past my circles, to seek out brilliant women and people of color in the performing arts, in addition to the wonderful and talented men working today. Stories told and art made from a variety of perspectives are not only more true they are also more interesting. They reach deeper and wider. I grew up soaking in the words and teachings of the ancient books and letters collectively called the Bible. I loved, and still love Ecclesiastes: a little fundamentalist girl's first exposure to poetry. But I will never forget the first time that I, as a college student, picked up No More Masks! An Anthology of Twentieth Century American Women Poets and, be still my heart, Women Who Run with the Wolves. It wasn't until feeling so deeply understood and known by these women who wrote—from the womb?—that it finally occurred to me almost everything I'd read up until that point had been written by men. AHA! Whereas the Psalms of David and letters of Paul and prose of Hemingway were intellectually engaging and passionate from a kind of distant blocky infrastructure in my mind the words of Gwendolyn Brooks flowed straight through me and all around me, like running headlong and diving naked into the salty ocean. King Solomon writing, "All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again," feels so profoundly different from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés writing, “Be wild; that is how to clear the river...to create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”
I have had similar, indulgent experiences in recent years watching films like Little Miss Sunshine, Get Out, The Big Sick, and Lady Bird. What a gift to be shifted into the world of someone very much like you or very much not like you, as the case may be. The richness of it, the nuance, the authenticity and universality found in the personal experiences of others. And if I felt relief and resonance seeing the stories of women as written and portrayed by women, what must it be like as a person of color to see one's own stories as told by one's own people? And how tiring is it to have our stories awkwardly and inaccurately told without our voices? I once read a New Yorker work of short fiction by a male author who referred to a woman reaching into her panties and "jerking." What on Earth, I wondered, would she be doing that for? And to what body part? It was so distracting, this glaring error in detail that escaped the writer and all involved editors, that I had to put the story down. The creative work suffered for lack of perspective.
This is not to reduce us to body parts or to exclude anyone from the table—all friends and colors are welcome here—but to illustrate what we lose (and whom we lose) when we fail to listen and explore the variety of voices around us. Nepotism is simply lazy networking. So here I am saying that if I, as a publicist, continue to rely on word of mouth for my clientele I will swirl in a shallow pool, indeed. It's much better, much livelier, and a much greater adventure to travel far and wide to spot those artists and organizations who are telling stories both familiar and strange in their own ways and from their own unique perspectives.
This is what interests me for Calliope. And for me this work is an extension of my own creative life, a collaboration as I ally with artists and engage with the media in ways that might bring richness and life to the public as well as to those intimately involved in the process. I'm looking forward to it; welcome to Calliope!
"We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” —Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird